Blanca Juarez

Photo Credit: Mengwen Cao | Daily Texan Staff

When the student body elected Kori Rady and Taylor Strickland as president and vice president in February, transportation was a significant part of the duo's campaign. Rady and Strickland focused on points such as the expansion of uRide, to take students home from the study rooms in the Perry-Castaneda Library, as well as the implementation of Safe Ride, to take students home from the bars on Sixth Street. Earlier this month, Rady forwarded The Daily Texan an email he said he had sent to the Student Government representatives, which listed the initiatives he and Strickland have been working on. Naturally, the Texan fact-checked the list, and although most of what he said was accurate, Rady did exaggerate some of SG's accomplishments, causing some initial confusion about important agreements and contracts necessary for his initiatives to be completed.

Rady has been working with UT's Parking and Transportation Services over the summer to implement Safe Ride. Initially, Rady told The Daily Texan the program had been completed and would begin the first week of school. A few days later, PTS spokeswoman Blanca Juarez said the contract hadn't been signed yet, and without a contract, everything could change. Granted, because Juarez is a spokesperson, she has to err on the specific, technical side when discussing new programs and services, but the fact remains that the program was not, in the literal sense of the word, "complete." PTS director Bobby Stone did say last week that the operational details Rady told the Texan  professional drivers will drive students home, free of charge, from the downtown area Thursday, Friday and Saturday between 12 a.m. and 3 a.m.  line up with Stone's and Rady's discussions, and on Monday, Juarez confirmed these details. After the Texan asked Rady about the contract, he quickly acknowledged that it hadn't been signed at that time, and that he had "jumped the gun." While his exaggeration could demonstrate his excitement about the program more than any intentions to mislead people, future exaggerations like this may pose a problem.

The 24/5 PCL uRide program, which gives students rides home from the PCL between midnight and 3 a.m., is another transportation program Rady is working with, but his main objective here is to expand the program to West Campus. When Rady said uRide had been expanded, the uRide company hadn't signed the contract yet, meaning this expansion wasn't finalized, though on Friday, the company sent the contract to PTS, according to Juarez. 

In his email, Rady said, "We have also found a way to create sustainable funding for the endeavor fund, an endowment, through a new agreement with the Co-op. The agreement will give us a percentage of revenue from the sale of some new blazers they are putting in stock." This sounds like the agreement is finalized and secured, but when the Texan asked him for more information about the Co-op agreement, he immediately said an agreement with the Co-op hadn't been signed. Hulan Swain, University Co-op corporate secretary, said the Co-op and SG have discussed such an agreement, but she had nothing to tell me "until (and if) we have an agreement." The fact that Rady quickly clarified what he meant by "a new agreement" is nice, but it's interesting that he phrased it like that in the first place, and that Swain included the phrase "and if" in her response. 

Rady also seemed a little too earnest when he said the UTexas app for Android will be released around the first week of school. Mike Horn, UT's director of digital strategy, said it is unclear how much time UT and the four student developers require to finish the contract. One of the students who developed the app, Anurag Banerjee, said the developers and the Information Technology Services department still need to finish some "departmental legal work" before signing the contract, but they are on track to finish by the first week of school. So, while it sounds like UT will release the app by then, the lack of a completed contract means no one can guarantee that the app will hit the Google Play store by the time Rady said it would. 

The rest of Rady's email, which discussed less concrete issues that require more development, seemed pretty devoid of overstatements. Rady mentioned more banners and branding on campus, which was one of the campaign's platforms in the spring. He and Strickland have submitted a design to the University, and Kathleen Mabley, director of brand marketing and creative services, said UT is exploring the feasibility of banners around campus.

Another work-in-progress is a process called the Strategic Student Vision, which SG, the Senate of College Councils and the Graduate Student Assembly are working on. Rady said this would be a survey for students to contribute ideas for how to improve campus. Mark Jbeily, a member of the President's Student Advisory Committee, said the process' objective is to identify student life and academic issues, which will create continuity and "allow administrations to carry on shared goals."

Vice provost and registrar Shelby Stanfield said last week that a few months ago, SG representatives met with him to discuss improving the course schedule, so the schedule now includes a link that eliminates the need to write down each unique number and then manually enter it into a different window to register for a class. SG also worked with Harrison Keller, executive director of the Center for Teaching and Learning, to increase the visibility of course instructor surveys during registration.

Another initiative is first-time parking ticket forgiveness, which Strickland has discussed with PTS, but this one doesn't appear likely to happen. Stone, the PTS director, said for permit holders, each year PTS dismisses up to three failures to display a parking permit — in other words, PTS already has a type of parking forgiveness program implemented. Stone said he is still considering Strickland's ideas, though.

SG also appears to be trying to focus on some initiatives that aren't limited to just UT students. In June, the presidents of Senate, GSA and SG signed a Memorandum of Understanding for Invest in Texas, a student-led campaign that advocates for higher education during the biennial legislative session. This is in the preliminary stages, though. SG still needs to discuss and vote on the platform and budget, according to Rady.

Another organization that involves the whole state is the Texas Students Association, a group of student government leaders from Texas colleges and universities. The association has not been active recently, and although Rady said it is planning to be active during the next legislative session, it is unclear how likely the association's re-emergence is.

Texas Exes and SG are working on an advocacy program that will pair one student from each of the 31 Senate districts in Texas with that district's senator, along with an alumnus from that district. The idea behind the program is to help students engage with alumni and allow the students to meet with the senator periodically throughout the legislative session, according to Daniel Becka, Texas Exes director of advocacy. Rady said the program will probably release the application in September. 

Overall, Rady and Strickland seem to be attempting to follow through on many of their campaign promises. Rady seems to mean well, but his exaggerations certainly give us pause and will keep us watching him over the coming year.

Lawrence Deeter, Capital Metro transportation planner, discusses the Pickle Research Campus shuttle route at a public forum on campus Tuesday night. Starting in fall 2014, the route will make the transition to a MetroRapid route in order to improve travel times for students getting to campus. 

Photo Credit: Fabian Fernandez | Daily Texan Staff

Parking and Transportation Services and Capital Metro representatives discussed a proposal that would change the current Pickle Research Campus shuttle route to a MetroRapid route, at a public forum on campus Tuesday night. 

The PRC shuttle route, which connects the Pickle Research Campus and the main UT campus, currently has stops near the intersection of Dean Keeton and Whitis and the intersection of Dean Keeton and San Jacinto. Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation spokeswoman, said the route will be transitioned to the existing MetroRapid 803 route, which goes along Burnet Road and Lamar Boulevard.

CapMetro transportation planner Lawrence Deeter said the need for greater efficiency and lower costs prompted the shift to a MetroRapid route.

“[The new route] will improve reliability and increase days of operations,” Deeter said. “PRC is the lowest performing route right now, and we’ve trimmed it over the years because it has the lowest ridership.”

According to Juarez, the new route will run seven days a week, unlike the current UT shuttle route, which only runs Monday through Friday. Juarez said it will also run more frequently: about every 10-12 minutes during rush hour.

“PRC only operates about 12 hours a day and stops every 60 minutes,” Juarez said. “With the Metro route, there will be a lot more travel options to get to and from the two campuses.”    

Deeter said the new route will also include features not found on the UT shuttle buses, such as real-time arrival information, mobile ticketing and free onboard Wi-Fi.

Travel time from the research campus to the main campus would remain about the same compared to the PRC Shuttle and would be 20 percent faster than Route 3 Burnet/Manchaca, which also stops by the Pickle Research Campus, according to Deeter.

Deeter said one downside of the transition is that the new MetroRapid route locations require a greater walking distance down Dean Keeton than the old PRC stops did. 

“The rapid only stops on Guadalupe, and there’s two stations — one by the West Mall, and one by Dean Keeton — which means there’s about a six-minute walk,” Deeter said. 

Additionally, the new route will eliminate one stop on the north side of the Pickle campus, which could reduce access for students in that area, Deeter said.

Engineering researcher Rick Pastor said the change could prove problematic for some students who take the UT shuttle to get to West Pickle Campus.

“We teach a class out at West Pickle in the fall, and some students ride the PRC out there, and now they won’t be able to do that,” Pastor said. 

Students board a Capital Metro bus in September.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

To increase public transit and reduce Austin congestion, Capital Metro will launch MetroRapid, a bus line which will include more direct routes, fewer stops and the use of transit-priority lanes, on Sunday.

The new service includes higher-capacity vehicles with free Wi-Fi and technology that syncs with stoplights to hold the light green if the bus is behind schedule. Stations will have arrival information that refreshes every 90 seconds.

CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said fare changes will include a $1.50 premium for services that offer more direct routes and limited stop service, such as MetroRapid. There will be no fare changes to regular service in 2014.

According to Blanca Juarez, UT Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman, University students, faculty and staff will continue to have free access to CapMetro transportation, including MetroRapid, with valid University IDs.

“During the early development stages of this new service, the University worked closely with [CapMetro] to make sure that these routes provided service to the University,” Juarez said.

There will be 77 stations along MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, including 12 stations near the University and downtown areas. Ayala said CapMetro projects up to 21,000 boardings per weekday in the first two years of operation of Rapid 801.

According to Juarez, 2 to 3 million rides per year are provided on mainline services to faculty, staff and students. Juarez said she did not have information about the percentage of students who live near Rapid 801, the frequency of use or the percentage of students, faculty and staff who use CapMetro services.

Ayala said MetroRapid cost $47.6 million, and 80 percent of the project was funded through a Federal Transit Administration grant program. According to Ayala, CapMetro currently has planned only MetroRapid routes 801 and 803, but there is a possibility for expansion through the Project Connect partnership with Austin, the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization and Lone Star Rail.

The increased services follow a controversial decision in the fall to phase out shuttle routes on Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane based on ridership data. The Cameron Road route will be shortened and renamed Camino La Costa, which will operate until the end of the semester, while the Wickersham Lane route will be merged into two other stops: Route 20 Manor/Riverside and Route 100 MetroAirport.

Columbia Mishra, Graduate Student Assembly president, said University and CapMetro liaisons attended assembly meetings in December to discuss the PRC route, which connects the main campus to the Pickle Research Campus. The route will transition to Rapid 803 this summer, but she said she is concerned with how the PRC route change will affect students.

“As pointed out by students during discussion at our December meeting, there will be more stops, as this is not a direct route from campus to PRC campus and will have both students and local passengers,” Mishra said.


Changes to UT shuttles:

Route WL Wickersham Lane: transitioned to Route 100 MetroAirport and Route 20 Manor/Riverside, which will be realigned from Red River Street to Robert Dedman

Route CR Cameron Road: shortened and renamed Route CLC Camino La Costa

Eliminated part of Route CR: riders may use Route 37 Colony Park/Windsor Park, which will be realigned from Robert Dedman and Red River to 23rd Street, San Jacinto and MLK

Combined Route RR/CR Red River/Cameron Road: Red River will continue normal service and CR will be replaced with Route CLC

Combined Route WL/CP Wickersham Lane/Crossing Place: both will continue normal service as uncombined routes

Photo Credit: Jack Mitts | Daily Texan Staff

The pattern of shuttle bus closures will continue if University funding to Capital Metro does not increase.

The Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane shuttle routes will close within the next year because of low ridership, and the Pickle Research Campus route may be next. This route has the fewest riders, so people who use this route might transition to using the 803 Burnet/South Lamar MetroRapid route in mid-2014, CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said.

The student shuttle bus committee approved the cancellation of the Pickle Research Campus shuttle route in mid-2014, but CapMetro officials have not formed a service change proposal for this route, Ayala said.

Blanca Juarez, Parking and Transportation Services spokeswoman, said the University and CapMetro equally split the total running cost of the shuttle system, which is $6,279,492 for the 2013-2014 year.

“If operational costs increase, then our fee, based on our 50/50 split, would increase proportionally,” Juarez said. “Our funding comes from the Student Services Fee Committee. Our reoccurring funding … has not increased since 2008. As our costs increase, we will either have to receive additional funding or make adjustments to service.”

Randy Machemehl, transportation engineering professor and a Shuttle Bus Committee faculty representative, said the relationship between CapMetro and the University is mutually beneficial. The University receives a subsidized service from CapMetro while CapMetro benefits from the high number of university students.

“Their ridership statistics look quite good compared to other systems, and one of the primary reasons for that is the shuttle system is included in their ridership statistics,” Machemehl said. “That’s why they’re willing to put money into it. It’s a good cooperative arrangement.”

Machemehl said the shuttles are funded through the student services fee that students pay with their tuition.

“If the level of those fees remains constant, and we actually increase the number of students registered here, then the total value in that account would increase,” Machemehl said. “But of course increasing the number of students that we allow to enter our university brings on other issues … so that’s not a simple solution at all, but that’s a potential solution.”

Students who choose their housing based on bus availability should focus on nearby mainline routes, in case of further shuttle closings, Machemehl said.

“[Choosing housing based on shuttle routes is] still an appropriate thing to do … [but students should] try to choose places that are also pretty convenient to regular Capital Metro routes because they will continue to be there for sure,” Machemehl said.

The University also contributes money to CapMetro to fund mainline services for students and faculty. The University uses profits from vending machines, Machemehl said, but while the number of people using the bus services increases, the number of vending machine sales remains constant.

“As more and more people use the Capital Metro service, the availability of those vending machine funds are not going to be adequate to pay all of those costs, so we’re going to have to come up with another way to pay all that,” Machemehl said.

Ninety-seven shuttle buses run along 17 different shuttle routes and the average number of monthly riders is 400,000, Juarez said. 

Capital Metro board of directors voted Monday to change the Cameron Road and eliminate the Wickersham Lane UT shuttle services starting Spring 2014.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

At a public hearing Monday, Capital Metro explained its rationale for significantly reducing two shuttle routes and heard criticism from students affected by the suggested change.

CapMetro has proposed reducing the Cameron Road route’s scope to only serve the Camino la Costa area beginning in January. Students who live around the Cameron Road and Mueller areas would be directed to the 37 route. CapMetro has also proposed eliminating the Wickersham Lane shuttle route, and suggested students use either the 20 or the 100 route.

Blanca Juarez, the UT Parking and Transportation Services alternative transportation manager, defended the proposal, saying the transition to CapMetro's mainline service instead of the UT shuttle service would benefit students because it would offer longer operational hours as well as 365-day service.

Juarez said the shuttle system is funded by the Student Services Budget Committee, and because of flat funding, the UT shuttles had to cut 10 percent of the service to remain within budget.

“As long as funding remains flat to the [budget committee], then we will continue to face operational challenges,” Juarez said.

Juarez said the motivation behind the changes is students’ use of a service, rather than their presence in the area.

“The issue isn’t how many students may or may not live in the area but how many students utilize the shuttle,” Juarez said.

The number of people who ride the shuttle is recorded by automatic passenger counters, which are infrared beams at the front and rear doors of the buses that track the number of people who board and leave the bus, according to CapMetro.

The Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane routes serve 1 percent of the total shuttle riders while using 7 percent of the hours that the shuttle operates, Juarez said.

“Our role is to ensure that the shuttle operates in ways that serves the greatest number of students since they all pay equally into the system,” Juarez said.

UT is projected to pay CapMetro about $6.4 million. This contribution is 50 percent of the direct operating costs of CapMetro. The University pays CapMetro $5.5 million for shuttle service, CapMetro spokeswoman Melissa Ayala said.

Funding from the University to CapMetro is not the issue, Ayala said.

“It does not take more money to keep the route running — it takes more passengers,” Ayala said.

CapMetro said walking six blocks to the mainline bus route, which is what some students who don’t live in the Camino la Costa area will have to do beginning in the spring, is not considered a hardship for bus riders. Some students at the forum objected to this, and introduced an alternative proposal decreasing the frequency of the Forty Acres and West Campus bus routes instead of cutting the Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane routes.

CapMetro spokesperson Roberto Gonzalez said CapMetro already reduced the Forty Acres, West Campus, Intramural Fields and Red River bus route frequencies in August.

CapMetro will make an official decision at a Board of Director’s meeting on Sept. 23. 

Rhetoric and writing senior Victor Harris, director of the Orange Bike Project, inspects a student’s bike at the Bike to UT event Wednesday afternoon. Bike to UT was organized to promote cycling on campus and to commemorate Bike Month.

Photo Credit: Amy Zhang | Daily Texan Staff

Students and staff celebrated biking and sustainability with quick repairs and bicycle-generated smoothies at this year’s Bike to UT Day.

Parking and Transportation Services organized the event for Bike Month on Wednesday afternoon at Gregory Plaza in order to promote cycling on campus.

Various campus organizations including Orange Bike Project, The Campus Environmental Center and RecSports lined the plaza for the cause.

Blanca Juarez, the alternative transportation manager, said UT parking and transportation services puts on the event every year to celebrate cyclists’ choice of alternative transportation.

“In the past we’ve done a free breakfast and a raffle, and this year we tried to do a little bit more,” Juarez said. “We have t-shirts and tote bags which we think are really important, especially since the law just got passed here in the city replacing plastic bags with recyclable ones. So it gives students and staff members something extra that reminds them of Bike to UT Day.”

Juarez said the Green Fee Committee provided the money for the additional expenditures which allowed them to give away free t-shirts and food as well as what the additional organizations had to offer. She said the event has been going on for five years.

Mechanical engineering junior Javier Laredo said The Campus Environmental Center brought back the Earth Day smoothie maker for bikers interested in making their own smoothie.

“The idea is that you power your own smoothie so the power that you generate on the bike goes to a battery, this charges into the blender and that’s the energy you put into making a smoothie,” Laredo said. “And then you enjoy your smoothie at the end.”

Victor Harris, manager of Orange Bike Project, said he fixed more than 20 bikes throughout the day.

“We are a student organization that runs a community bike shop,” Harris said. It’s basically a workshop where you come and use our tools to work on your own bike. You can bring in parts to build a bike, and we also rent out bicycles on a semester long basis. If you need a bike for a semester you can come on in and put your stuff on the waitlist.”

Biology Senior Michael Nguyen said the bike shop has volunteer opportunities where people can come and learn about repairs.

“We do encourage everyone who has a bike to learn how to fix their own bikes, Nguyen said. “At least the basic repairs.”

UTeach institute site coordinator Mike Degraff said he brought his bike to the plaza, and Harris taught him how to properly shift to avoid breakdowns.

“There were some shifting issues on my bike, but it turns out I caused them,” Degraff said. “They did a great job of fixing it up.”

Business junior Andrew Bowen frequently rides his bike, walks or takes the bus rather than drive to school. The cost of a parking pass and time it takes to find parking on campus factors into why he chooses alternate means of transportation.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

As the search for a parking spot at UT becomes more difficult, more students are opting for alternative means of transportation to take stress off of themselves, their bank accounts and the environment.

Walking, biking and various forms of shared transit, including city and University buses, have emerged as UT students’ top alternatives to personal vehicles. Blanca Juarez, alternative transportation manager for Parking and Transportation Services, said this change is continually occurring at UT because of the reduced stress, cost and environmental impact of alternative transit when compared to the personal vehicle.

Juarez said the University has increasingly pushed these modes of transit, recently introducing a Green on the Go campaign to promote alternative transit in order to reduce campus congestion and environmental pollution.

Juarez said she personally chooses to take Capital Metro’s MetroRail to UT because of the reduced stress and free time it gives her.

“It’s just one way to prepare myself for the day or on my way home to not have to deal with traffic,” Juarez said.

University-endorsed alternative transit services include carpool and vanpool programs; shuttles to major Texas cities on weekends; the availability of charter buses for special events; the Zipcar “carshare” program; BikeUT, an initiative to make the University more bicyclist-friendly; an extensive UT shuttle program and a partnership with Capital Metro that allows students, faculty and staff to ride all mainline buses and MetroRail services free of charge.

Juarez said other alternative transit options that students use include the car2go “carshare” program, Megabus and Greyhound intercity bus services and Amtrak intercity train services.

She said with all the alternative transit options available, most people don’t need a car at the University.

Juarez said the most used form of alternative transit the University offers is its shuttle system.

She said the shuttle system is one of the largest university shuttle systems in the world, with 13 routes and passengers taking more than 5.2 million rides per year.

Megabus spokesperson Mike Alvich said his company strives to be student-friendly, offering conveniences to students at UT including power outlets, clean bathrooms, Internet and a “very affordable ride.”

Alvich said Megabus tickets start at $1 and go up to the standard price of similar bus tickets at rival companies as the number of available seats on specific trips declines.

Megabuses stop at the UT campus daily and travel to several major Texas cities.

Andrew Bowen, engineering route to business junior and West Campus resident, said although he has a car, he chooses to bike, walk or take the bus to get around most of the time because of the reduced costs, stress and time.

“I just drive to go to friends’ places that live far away from campus, really,” he said. “I don’t have a [UT] parking pass, and I don’t want to pay that much because it’s kind of pointless.”

A similar trend is occurring across the nation, according to a study released in April by the U.S. Pirg Education Fund & Frontier Group.

According to the study, for the first time since World War II, Americans of all ages are driving less, with the most noticeable change seen in young people between the ages of 16 and 34.

“From 2001 to 2009, the average annual number of vehicle-miles traveled by young people (16 to 34-year-olds) decreased from 10,300 miles to 7,900 miles per capita — a drop of 23 percent,” the study said.

The Parking Issue: A Day with a PTS Officer from The Daily Texan on Vimeo.

Printed on Friday, October 26, 2012 as: Alternative wheels roll onto campus


Members of Texas Downhill skate freely near Twenty-fourth street and Speedway Wednesday evening under UT’s lifted ban this fall allowing skateboards, scooters and roller skates on campus. People using these means of transportation are to operate safely and follow proper traffic rules such as stopping at stop signs.

Photo Credit: Pu Ying Huang | Daily Texan Staff

Skaters have taken to the streets with newfound liberties on campus this fall.

Parking and Transportation Services revised its policy to allow skateboards, scooters and in-line skates on campus everywhere bicycles are allowed. Under the new policy, skating may only be used as a mode of transportation and not for tricks or stunts.

Nikolas Lazaris, president of student skateboarding organization Texas Downhill, said the support from Parking and Transportation Services legitimizes skating as transportation and Texas Downhill as a student organization. Texas Downhill first registered with the University almost a year before skateboarding was first allowed on campus.

“I have already noticed more riders on campus and Texas Downhill has tripled its size since last semester,” Lazaris said. “There are a lot of riders on campus after the policy change.”

Members said the group grew from fewer than 10 regulars last year to more than 30 this semester. 

Alternative transportation manager Blanca Juarez said passionate students who advocated heavily for a reasonable approach to skateboarding helped change the policy.

“Skateboarding has always represented a sustainable form of transportation that, if coupled with safety measures, could be beneficial to the University as a whole,” Juarez said.

Juarez said it was difficult to get the policy change off the ground because it had to be approved by the Parking and Traffic Policies Committee, a group of students and faculty members that meet to establish regulations on campus.

“There was concern about safety issues, especially based on the large number of pedestrians on campus,” Juarez said. “Ultimately, it was decided that skateboarders could be trusted to act responsibly and could operate much like bicycles on campus.”

She said PTS has not received any negative responses since the policy change.

“We believe that if skateboarders operate on campus in a safe and responsible manner, then the lack of issues will confirm that this was a positive choice for the University,” Juarez said.

Joshua Harmon, biology senior and Texas Downhill member, said although the ban has been lifted, everyone should learn proper safety techniques before riding around campus.

“It does not matter how good you are, you will hurt yourself or someone else at one point,” Harmon said. “Respect the University’s decision and don’t plow through stop signs or pedestrians on the way to class.”

Marisa Garcia, biology sophomore and vice president of Texas Downhill, said she is glad she no longer has to look over her shoulder while skating to class.

“Just being able to skate freely and not have to worry about warnings, fines or getting your name on record if they caught you skating one too many times is a weight off all our shoulders,” Garcia said.

She said PTS lifting the ban also lifted tension between campus police and student skaters. UTPD did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday.

“Before, cops were just trying to do their job by stopping us, but skaters did not understand the reasoning as to why boarding on campus was so wrong,” Garcia said. “It was a constant battle and now that it’s legal, they can see we truly just want a safe place to skate.”

Printed on Thursday, September 27, 2012 as: Time to free skate

An increase in gas prices could be behind the steady rise of UT students that have used Capital Metro campus shuttles and mainline buses during the past six months, Cap Metro official said.

UT’s Parking and Transportation Services does not yet have passenger counts for campus shuttle use in February and March, but student ridership is expected to be higher than normal, said Blanca Juarez, alternative transportation manager at PTS. She said it is most likely because of rises in gas prices, among other factors.

According to AAA Texas’ daily fuel gage report, regular gas prices in the Austin-San Marcos area hit an average of $3.60 Thursday, compared to $3.47 one week ago. This week last year, gas prices were $.90 lower, according to the report.

“Students would react this way because by riding the bus fare-free, they’re able to save money, free up time from driving for other things and avoid the hassles of driving during rush hour,” Juarez said. “As gas prices continue to rise, we will see even more students board the buses to save some money.”

According to Capital Metro statistics, students boarded shuttles 2,323,949 times and mainline buses 1,019,958 times between October 2009 and February 2010. From October 2010 to February 2011, students boarded shuttles 2,410,219 times and mainline buses 1,088,744 times.

UT student ridership has increased by 3.71 percent on shuttles around campus and 6.74 percent on mainline buses in the past six months, according to the statistics. Capital Metro spokeswoman Misty Whited also attributed the increase in ridership to more expensive gas prices, among other issues.

“Contributing factors could be so many different things, we would really have to do a survey to see specifics,” Whited said. “When gas prices go up, ridership in general goes up. That’s definitely a part of it.”

Other reasons, such as the semester coming to a close and more students traveling to and from campus for final exam study sessions and deadlines for class projects, may also contribute to the rise in usage of Capital Metro, Whited said. Chemical engineering sophomore Elizabeth Orth said that she is more likely to choose the bus because her car is parked far away.

“I don’t want to walk to my car,” she said. “I’m more likely to take the bus because of convenience as opposed to any monetary reasons associated with driving myself.”