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January 23, 2017

(Courtesy of the University of Massachusetts, Lowell)

Under a six-month pilot, University of Massachusetts Lowell students and faculty will be able to ride all Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) buses for free.

The pilot also includes a route on the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA), which will run through the university’s satellite campus in downtown Haverhill, expected to open in the fall.

Approximately 10,000 of UMass Lowell’s 17,850 students are commuters, and university officials hope the initiative will ease access to UMass Lowell's’ three campuses.

“Looking at the growth of the university, our growth in the student population -- where they're coming from and where they need to travel -- we felt it was really imperative that we work with these regional transit authorities to take advantage of the buses that are going through the city and the surrounding communities to support our students,” said UMass Lowell Chancellor Jacqueline Moloney.

The program is the result of months of polling, extensive surveys, and work with the LRTA to determine which bus routes were already popular among students.

These types of initiaves can encourage students -- especially ones at public universities, who are more likely than their peers at four-year, private institutions to have full-time jobs, and other work and family responsibilities -- to stay in school.

“Many of our students do have financial challenges and obstacles they have to overcome, so we had to look at ways that we could ease their access to public transportation,” Moloney said.

Moloney says the program will also help the school achieve its goal of reducing its carbon footprint.

The university plans to pay for the estimated $25,000 pilot, in part, with revenue from campus parking fees. 

Officials say the pilot could become permanent if enough students use the service.

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