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Metro approves new discount rides for students, including part-timers

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 03:  Passengers board Metrolink subway trains during rush hour on June 3, 2008 in Los Angeles, California. Skyrocketing gas prices are driving more commuters to take trains and buses to work instead of their cars. In the first three months of 2008, the number of trips taken on public transport in the US rose 3 percent to 2.6 billion, creating pressures on some transportation systems to cope with increasing ridership. Transit officials in southern California and elsewhere are now encouraging employers to stagger employee schedules to ease the rush hour crunch on trains and buses and Metrolink plans to add107 rail cars to its fleet of 155 as soon as next year.  (Photo by David McNew/Getty Images)
David McNew/Getty Images
Metro's new discount program extends cheaper train and bus rides to part-time college students.

Students working on a college degree can soon get a discount for rides on the Los Angeles County transit agency system.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has always offered discount student passes, but not all schools participated and applications could take as long as a month to process. As a result, only 1 percent of qualifying students ever got the passes.

The new pass will be available at all universities and community colleges in the county. For the first time, part-time students can qualify. The minimum enrollment units for undergraduates will be eight, and six for graduate students.

Expanding the discounts to part-timers is crucial, according to Romel Lopez, East LA College student body president, who spoke at a Metro board meeting on Thursday.

"The part-time students for the most part are not part-time because they choose to be," he said. "That’s a single parent student, a student that has to go home and take care of their parents. It’s a student that has to work 40 hours a week and go to school."

Under the program, students can pay a discounted rate for the pass when they register for school. They’ll get a sticker on their student ID that works like a TAP card. The cost will be subsidized by Metro and the school, if it chooses.

The new pass will cost a maximum of $43 per month, but could be less depending on the level of subsidy the school provides. Currently, UCLA subsidizes half the cost of a pass, the University of Southern California pays for a third.

Aside from giving a break to students, Metro hopes they’ll keep riding — and perhaps come the November election, support the agency's proposal for a sales tax hike to raise billions of dollars for new transit projects.

“If students get hooked, there’s potential for them to become life-long riders, which would then benefit schools by relieving parking issues," said Mark Ridley-Thomas, Metro board chair and county supervisor who has championed the program.

"I anticipate that schools will also step up to the plate by increasing the subsidy and making the pass even more attractive.”