In an effort to improve parking on the University of Kentucky campus and lighten traffic throughout Lexington, UK and Lextran will allow all UK students, faculty and staff to ride city buses for free starting July 1.
The university will pay Lextran $160,000 for the partnership — an amount well worth it, said student body vice president Jenna Hollinden, who is one of the 70 percent of students who do not have cars on campus.
"I remember when I was a freshman having to ask people for rides to get to the grocery store," Hollinden said.
As a sophomore and junior, Hollinden lived off-campus, along with most upperclassmen, and often sympathized with students who lived too far away to walk.
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Students make up 17 percent of all Lextran riders, and though students have been eligible for discount passes, there has been no equivalent for faculty and staff. An academic year pass cost students $75, and a one-semester pass was $50. A normal adult 30-day pass is $30.
The university administration hopes the buses, which will be free with a UK Wildcard ID, will encourage those far-away students, faculty and staff to leave their cars at home, helping UK's parking woes.
The Lextran deal, called U-PASS, is the first initiative in UK's Transportation Master Plan, a long-term project to expand the number of available parking spaces throughout campus and make commuting easier.
"Our campus is undergoing a transformation," UK President Eli Capilouto said at a news conference Tuesday morning. That transformation involves a number of construction projects along major roadways such as Avenue of Champions and Alumni Drive.
"Like the university, our city is growing, and responsible growth is good. It also means we will have some growing pains, like increased traffic congestion," Mayor Jim Gray said.
The U-PASS program will help connect the city and the university, and will help alleviate traffic jams, he said.
"We know that traffic is something we have to work on every day," Gray said. "Progress will take all of us working together."
The deal should help students feel safer commuting to and from campus, Holliden said, and would make them more comfortable exploring the city.
She said she thought UK and Lexington were safe, but she said some students do not always feel safe on campus and downtown.
"Any time we make students feel safer ... that's a win," Hollinden said.
Some students stay on campus not because they feel unsafe in the rest of the city but because they don't want to walk or pay for a cab or bus ticket, Hollinden said. She hopes students take advantage of the U-PASS and become more involved with the city.
"There are so many big college towns that are so intertwined with the city," Hollinden said. "It's hard to imagine what Lexington would look like without the University of Kentucky."
An unexpected consequence might be students interacting more with faculty and staff. Hollinden said she thought there was a divide between students and university employees, and that mingling on a bus might help unite the different groups.
"It's neat to hear a little bit about where everyone came from," Hollinden said. "I think that we all have a unique story."