One of the archetypal images of the college experience is a student, toting bags of laundry, waiting for a train or a bus to get home for break.
For many Wesleyan students, at the least the first leg of that journey can be free.
Starting this semester, Wesleyan students are able to use their college ID cards to ride all local Middletown Area Transit (MAT) and 9-Town Transit buses for free via the WesPass program in a collaboration between the University and Middletown Area Transit taking place during the 2021-22 academic year.
Funded through Wesleyan’s Finance Office, Allbritton Center for the Study of Public Life, and Sustainability Office, WesPass is a pilot program designed to create an affordable and accessible platform for Wesleyan students to increase local transit use while reducing Wesleyan’s contribution to Connecticut’s greenhouse gas emissions.
“Transportation emissions make up the largest single chunk of greenhouse gas emissions in the state. That’s primarily from people driving individual cars,” said Jen Kleindienst, Wesleyan’s Sustainability Director.
Kleindienst hoped to meet and exceed 300 rides for the semester. Students had taken 250 trips by the end of October, so she felt confident that the University would reach its goal. “This is successful enough that we are going to continue it into the Spring semester and then we can decide what makes sense for the future and what a reasonable price for the service should be going forward,” she said.
Students tend to go to the usual haunts, Kleindienst said – grocery stores on Washington Street, nearby doctor’s appointments, and occasional trips to the mall in Meriden. Perhaps the most important places students travel to for free are local train stations, giving them another possible way to get home if they live in the region.
“The feedback has been generally positive,” Kleindienst said. “We are working with the Allbritton Center’s Civic Engagement Fellow and students to help roll this out and to address student concerns and questions. There have been a lot of basic questions, like how do I know what the schedule is, where do I get off?”
Kleindienst and her team have developed posters, social media posts, and updated the website to help students make a bit more sense of the system. She and others at Wesleyan are also working closely with MAT to investigate the feasibility of a downtown shuttle, which would serve Wesleyan students and the greater Middletown community. “We are still very early into our discussions with Middletown Area Transit, but there seems to be some openness and interest on all sides in doing something like this,” Kleindienst said.
She said it is important for the relationship with MAT to be mutually beneficial. To that end, she hopes that routes can be put in place for Wesleyan students that also make sense for city residents to use. “We are just trying to think about how we might improve the bus service so that it serves our students better. But we are also trying to do that in a way that includes the broader community. By getting students out and about in Middletown and in the broader area, it is good for economic development. I also think it is beneficial for students to get out and explore where they live,” Kleindienst said.