Unlimited Bay Area transit pass trial begins with Santa Rosa Junior College students

The passes are not available to the general public, but transit managers are using the program to gather data in hopes that they someday might be.|

A new Bay Area pilot program is testing out an unlimited pass to the region’s buses, trains and ferries.

Under the two-year pilot, which began late last month, the so-called Clipper BayPass has been distributed for free to students at four Bay Area colleges, including Santa Rosa Junior College in Santa Rosa.

The passes are not available to the general public, but transit managers are using the program to gather data in hopes that they someday might be.

The passes can be used to ride free with any Bay Area transit service. In the North Bay, that includes Marin Transit, Petaluma Transit, Santa Rosa City Bus, Sonoma County Transit and Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit.

A pass holder in Santa Rosa could, for example, take a City Bus to a SMART train station, a train to the ferry terminal in Larkspur, a ferry to San Francisco and a San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency bus around the city.

At Santa Rosa Junior College, where the passes have been distributed over the past two weeks, “students are thrilled,” said Robert Ethington, interim vice president of student services.

“They love that it’s one pass and they can go from here, take three forms of transportation and be at a Giants game,” he said.

Santa Rosa Junior College is the only school in the Bay Area where the entire student body is eligible for passes.

The other participating schools are San Francisco State University, San Jose State University and UC Berkeley. At those campuses, passes are only available to about a quarter of the student body, which provides for a control group by which program managers can measure the success of the passes, said John Goodwin, a spokesperson for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which is running the pilot along with Bay Area Rapid Transit officials.

“The purpose of this pilot program is, do folks with Clipper BayPass ride transit more often?” Goodwin said. “And do they use a greater number of different systems than the control group does?”

Program managers plan to eventually expand the program by distributing the passes to some of the residents in affordable housing communities managed by MidPen Housing.

“We’re very keen to see what kind of use these passes generate so that it can inform decisions about future products that would be multiagency passes,” Goodwin said. “What would that pass look like? And is it all agencies, all the time? How do you price that? And how do the different transit agencies divide up those dollars?”

Santa Rosa Junior College students can register for passes at sustainability.santarosa.edu/transportation.

As of Tuesday, 2,640 students had registered and the majority had picked up their passes, according to Ethington.

You can reach Staff Writer Matt Pera at matthew.pera@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @Matt__Pera.

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