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Berkeleyan

New Bear Pass to help underwrite the costly campus commute

| 22 July 2004

UC Berkeley, the Bay Area’s fifth-largest employer, this week announced the start of a pilot program designed to lure many commuting campus employees out of their cars and help relieve area traffic congestion.

Under the new venture, which is unprecedented in its scope, more than 8,000 UC Berkeley employees will be offered an unlimited-use AC Transit bus pass for $240 a year — a major discount that is expected to propel a significant number of commuters to start taking the bus to work.

The program, called the Bear Pass, is scheduled to begin Oct. 1 and run for two years. If successful, it could become permanent.

“This is an important program for UC Berkeley employees and the community. I’m happy to announce it,” said Steve Lustig, interim acting vice chancellor for business and administrative services. “We’re dedicated to doing all we can, in partnership with local transportation systems, to promote affordable transit use and other alternatives for employees who currently drive alone to work.”

According to Jaimie Levin, director of marketing and communications at AC Transit, the program is virtually unparalleled. AC Transit and the city of Berkeley offer a similar pass to the city’s 1,200 employees, but the UC Berkeley program has the potential to reach thousands more.

“This is our largest program,” said Levin. “We look forward to this because UC Berkeley is one of the biggest trip generators in this service area. Anything we can do, working in partnership with the University and the city of Berkeley, to get more people on public transit using existing resources is a win-win for everyone. It will undoubtedly help improve the quality of life by taking more cars off the street and encouraging people to ride public transit.”

Levin said it often takes a threshold event to persuade drive-alone commuters to change their behavior, and the Bear Pass offer provides such an opportunity.

UC Berkeley employees will pay $20 per month for unlimited use of the AC Transit system, including Transbay service. The general public pays AC Transit $60 per month for a basic unlimited-use pass and $100 per month for an unlimited-use pass that includes Transbay service.

The campus bus pass also compares favorably to the cost of an annual UC Berkeley parking permit, which ranges from $81.50 to $113 a month for many employees … particularly considering that purchase of a permit does not guarantee a campus driver a parking space.

The $20-a-month Bear Pass fee will be deducted directly from employee paychecks on a pre-tax basis, providing an additional cost reduction of 12 to 46 percent depending on a employee’s tax bracket.

The Bear Pass is similar to the Class Pass, a student transit pass that UC Berkeley proposed and that students approved in 1998. It has continued every year since. That pass provides Berkeley students with unlimited AC Transit bus rides, an offer that up to 27,000 students take advantage of each year. The Class Pass generates more than 3.5 million student rides and $1.3 million in revenue for AC Transit annually, according to campus transportation officials.

Following the success of the Class Pass, UC Berkeley employees as well as Berkeley community leaders called for a similar program for campus faculty and staff.

“Our campus neighbors have urged the university to implement a program like the Bear Pass,” said Irene Hegarty, UC Berkeley’s director of community relations. “We expect that this will help relieve the traffic that flows through the neighborhoods and major streets leading to the campus.”

Over the years, the campus Parking & Transportation Department has launched numerous programs that provide employees with financial incentives to carpool, vanpool, or take public transportation to work. Currently, 49 percent of campus employees and 89 percent of students commute by some form other than a single-occupant vehicle — providing UC Berkeley with one of the lowest drive-alone rates of any major Bay Area employer.

Annually, the campus will help to subsidize the new Bear Pass program by paying AC Transit $50 for each employee who signs up for the program. The AC Transit Board of Directors agreed to the payment structures and the overall plan at its July 7 meeting.

Campus transportation officials are completing the final details of the plan and expect to provide employees with applications and more information about the Bear Pass program at the start of the fall semester.

Information will be posted on the Parking & Transportation Department’s website (public-safety.berkeley.edu/p&t/) and will be available at its office at 2150 Kittredge St., Berkeley.