By Ed Brennen
Students, faculty and staff are saving thousands of dollars each month, reducing energy consumption and lowering greenhouse gas emissions by taking advantage of free bus service introduced a year ago by the university, the Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) and the Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA).
The collaboration, which began as a six-month pilot program last January, lets members of the university community ride free by showing their UCard to the bus driver. Commuters from as far away as Haverhill have taken advantage of the free transportation to and from campus, while residential students have been able to use the service to reach destinations outside the city of Lowell, such as for jobs and co-ops — or just for a trip to the movies or the mall.
In the first year of the program, the LRTA has seen an average of 9,000 rides each month by UCard holders, while the MVRTA has seen approximately 1,300 rides per month. (The numbers do not account for ridership during winter and summer breaks.)
“We didn’t have strong projections on ridership when we launched the pilot program, but these exceed our expectations,” says Director of Administrative Services Tom Miliano. “The LRTA and MVRTA have both been great to work with.”
The university subsidizes the cost of the bus fares, which are typically $1, in part from the optional student sustainability fee.
The collaboration has proven so successful that in September, the LRTA introduced a new route (Line 20) that runs weekday mornings from the UMass Lowell Inn and Conference Center to North Campus. Miliano notes that the new line “saves the university money on transportation while maintaining great service.”
The LRTA also recently adjusted its “Lowell Circulator” line (Route 9) to provide a stop for the Innovation Hub at 110 Canal St.
According to Miliano, the most popular LRTA lines for university riders are Line 5 (Drumhill), Line 14 (Burlington Mall/Lahey Clinic), Line 6 (Broadway/South Campus), Line 20 (ICC to/from North Campus) and Line 7 (Pawtucketvillle/UML North).
The collaboration with the MVRTA lets UCard holders ride the Route 01/41 bus, which connects Lowell to Dracut, Lawrence, Methuen and Haverhill, where the university’s new Innovation Hub recently opened.
“The MVRTA continues to provide a vital transit link to our new Haverhill Campus, as well as a great transit option for our faculty, staff and students living in Lawrence, Methuen, Haverhill and the surrounding communities,” says Miliano, who adds that MVRTA riders can get on and off at the ICC and connect to campus transportation.
“We’ll continue to work with the LRTA and MVRTA to look for mutually beneficial programmatic changes,” Miliano says.