Elias Economou: Give students an incentive to use public transportation

If you asked me what the D.C. bus system is called, I couldn’t tell you. As a new transfer student, I tend to stick close to campus, or occasionally walk through Georgetown. I’ve already found that this is stereotypical of most GW students, who tend not to have the time or energy to leave Foggy Bottom.

But during the admissions process and since I’ve arrived on campus, I’ve heard that “GW uses D.C. as a classroom like no other institution” more times than I can count. I know that the District is bigger than the few stores in Georgetown and my classrooms in Foggy Bottom, and everyone is always telling us to “get out of the bubble.” But sometimes, it can be difficult to do so.

But there’s an easy fix. GW should give students an incentive to leave campus through a credit on their GWorld cards, which can be used to ride the bus or the Metro.

The idea seems unprecedented, but GW wouldn’t be alone in this initiative. Some schools, like the University of Pittsburgh, allow students to take advantage of unlimited transportation around their city with a simple tap of their student identification cards.

Full-time college students at the University of Pittsburgh currently pay $180 on top of their tuition each year as part of a safety, security and transportation package that gives them unlimited rides on the buses and subway. GW doesn’t need to adopt a program that involves free transportation, but adding a small fee to tuition could help encourage students to explore off campus. Just like money that students are required to spend at J Street, if they have it, they’ll probably use it.

I transferred from the University of Pittsburgh to GW this fall. As a student who used the transportation system the school had in place, I was encouraged to take the bus everywhere I went. In fact, when I think back on my time there, many of my most memorable conversations took place while I was on a public bus. Whether we were talking about the Steelers, what brought us to Pittsburgh or what we thought about the latest news article, there was rarely a lack of conversation.

And Pittsburgh isn’t the only place where schools have teamed up to create a transportation network for students. The Five-College consortium in Amherst, Mass. allows students who attend one of the five schools to ride public transportation for free. Although in Amherst, there are fewer attractions than in a big city like D.C., the University of Massachusetts transit system provides bus services to just about 16,000 riders every school day.

Especially at a school like GW where many prefer the Metro over the bus, students would benefit from having an incentive to learn how the bus system works. A bus system like the Circulator, which costs $1 per ride, is also far cheaper than a Metro ride – especially during peak hours. Plus on the bus, you can get to those hard-to-access areas like Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights. Students could also take a bus a few stops to the Georgetown Safeway for weekly grocery shopping.

When my friends and I would decide to go out to eat in a different neighborhood in Pittsburgh, instead of taking an Uber, we would catch the bus. We would sit next to people we didn’t know and often found ourselves chatting about the problems and current events in the city – gaining different perspectives about issues and neighborhoods.

Without money set aside for bus fare at the start of the semester, students might not be motivated to try it for themselves. And for students who are new to campus and the city, navigating a bus route might feel like just another task that they haven’t quite mastered yet. But if GW eliminated some of that hassle through a system specifically for students, freshmen would be much more likely to brave public transit.

Although the possible integration of a SmarTrip card and our GWorld cards could be costly, it’s clearly possible, and conversations with schools like the University of Pittsburgh wouldn’t hurt. Understanding the way their system works and adapting it to fit our needs would be extremely beneficial for students, and could also be a selling point for GW.

When prospective students visit campus, tour guides often emphasize the Metro stop on campus and the accessibility of the bus system. But helping students take advantage of that system would be even better, and would demonstrate the University’s commitment to giving students the full D.C. experience during their time here.

We say we are integrated into our communities and neighborhoods. It’s time to prove it.

Elias Economou, a junior majoring in finance, is a Hatchet opinions writer.

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