The MBTA Is Trying to Create a Better Student Pass Program

They are working with MBA students and sending out a survey to come up with new ideas.

The MBTA is looking to redesign and possibly reconstruct their current Student Semester Pass Program, which gives students discounted T access through their respective university, in order to increase participation around Boston.

To gauge student interest and collect information on ways to implement those changes, the T has partnered with a team of Boston University MBA candidates that will act as their consultants.

“The consultants will provide to us the tools we need to make the redesigned college [and] university student ridership program one that we can all be proud of with larger student participation,” according to a letter from MassDOT’s chief of staff, Charles Planck. “Making the time to invest in a thriving student population that exists in greater Boston will increase ridership for the MBTA, while offering undergraduate and graduate students an improved benefit at a greater convenience.”

The BU consulting team is made up of five students, including Adam Williams, who has been pushing out a survey they created, to collect information, on social media sites like Twitter. “We are exploring what the needs are for students, and what the needs are for universities, so the MBTA can redesign this program to appeal to a larger set of people,” said Williams.

He said the team, part of a class called Management Consulting, has been meeting frequently with top MBTA officials, including MBTA General Manager Beverly Scott. Using information from the study could help the T redesign that structure to bring in more revenue, and possibly offset the T’s debt.

Williams said the overall project has been three-fold: they have been interviewing university officials and people from the transit agency, talking to students, and blasting out the survey. “We are not looking to survey 250,000 students, we just need to get a cross section of different universities and profiles. That’s why we have been targeting certain places,” he said.

The in-depth survey asks students a range of questions, including how they get to school and how frequently they use certain modes of transportation. It also asks, that if they do drive, why they choose a car rather than relying on the MBTA. Participants can then pick between options like the T being too expensive or too unpredictable—both gripes that are commonly made by college students that rely on the MBTA to get around.

The survey also asks if students would be willing to opt into a university-based pass at a discounted price, and if so, how they would pay for it.

The MBA students have been largely focused on six to eight of the largest schools in the immediate area, including Boston College, Harvard, MIT, Emerson, and of course, BU.

The project comes at no cost to the MBTA, according to T spokesman Joe Pesaturo, who said the group will report their findings, based on the survey and interviews with both university administrators and students, in December. Then, the T will take it from there. “The MBTA will take their findings under consideration,” Pesaturo said in an email to Boston.

Williams said when the time comes to deliver their material, he hopes the MBTA implements their ideas. “Hopefully some of our recommendations will be something that they will do soon, like next fall,” he said. “Some of the things may be more long-term goals, like investing in new technology, or some new staff. I couldn’t tell you what we recommend is exactly what they are going to do, but they are highly interested in it.”

Gauging public opinion through surveys has become a common way to discuss how the T can make changes that appeal to riders.

In March, the MBTA Rider Oversight Committee, a non-profit group with no direct affiliation to the T, dished out a similar survey, but instead asked riders how they felt about adding later service to the system, extending the hours into the early morning so that people shuffling from the bars, or working long shifts could get home.

The questionnaire garnered responses from more than 26,000 people—well above what the committee had anticipated—with more than half of those who took it admitting that they would pay extra money for the luxury service.

The Oversight Committee prepared a presentation calls for a redesign to the T’s current student pass program to help offset the cost of the proposed late-night service changes.

Both the new student-centric survey commissioned by the transit agency and the one produced in March by the Oversight Committee, were based around top-tier topics of discussion getting bounced around in both the mayor’s race, and the State House this year.

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