By Ed Brennen
For Ramses Jimenez, earning a degree in radiological health physics would be far more difficult without public transportation.
As a commuter living in his hometown of Lawrence, Jimenez relies on both the Lowell Regional Transit Authority (LRTA) and Merrimack Valley Regional Transit Authority (MVRTA) to bus to and from campus each day.
“Public transportation is a key part of my daily routine,” says Jimenez, a junior who catches the 6:30 a.m. MVRTA bus out of Lawrence on most mornings in order to make his 8 a.m. Physics II class on North Campus. “I use the bus to get to school, to work or to get around town.”
Thanks to the university’s new collaboration with the LRTA and MVRTA, Jimenez can now ride those buses for free simply by showing his UCard to the driver.
“It’s probably going to save me about $300 per semester on transportation,” Jimenez says of the program, which was introduced in January. “That’s money I can use to pay my phone bill or something else. It makes a big difference.”
The program allows UMass Lowell students and employees to ride any of the LRTA’s 18 bus lines for free with their campus ID. It also provides free service on the MVRTA’s Route 01/41 bus, which connects Lowell to Dracut, Lawrence and Methuen, as well as Haverhill, where the university is opening a satellite campus this fall.
“This partnership makes it easier and more affordable for people to get around the city and the region,” says Chancellor Jacquie Moloney, who also hailed the program’s sustainability benefits during a kickoff event at the University Crossing bus stop. “Sustainability is a priority for our students, and they are the ones who helped drive this.”
The university is subsidizing the cost of the bus fares, which are usually $1 but can be higher with transfers. The free service will begin as a six-month pilot program, during which time the university ridership will be tracked and analyzed.
Julie Varney, who works as an insurance coordinator for Health Services, lives in Methuen and relies on MVRTA and LRTA buses to get to work at University Crossing each day. She estimates the new program will save her $60 each month.
“It’s a huge benefit for me personally,” says Varney, who used public transportation while living in Boston and eschewed buying a car when she moved out of the city. “It’s great to have access to buses in our area. If not for public transportation, I wouldn’t be able to work at UMass Lowell.”
Varney adds that the free bus service will make it easier for students to access health care around the city.
“We may tell students they need to get to an appointment at Lowell General Hospital or to visit one of the pharmacies downtown,” Varney says. “Now we can tell them to hop on a bus, for free, right from our office. It’s great for our students.”
Executive Director of Administrative Services, Environmental & Emergency Management Rich Lemoine, who helped bring the collaboration together along with Director of Administrative & Office Services Tom Miliano, says the program will help connect the university community with the surrounding region.
“In addition to the 5,000 students that reside here on campus, we have thousands of students and employees in surrounding towns and neighborhoods that will benefit from this program,” says Lemoine, who notes that students can ride the bus to Showcase Cinemas Lowell, the Burlington Mall or to Lowell’s Gallagher Terminal, where they can catch the MBTA commuter rail to Boston.
As part of the program, the MVRTA has also added a new stop for its 01/41 bus adjacent to the UMass Lowell Inn & Conference Center, where riders can easily transfer to a River Hawk Roadster.
Jimenez is already taking advantage of that new convenience on his way to campus each morning.
“I’m very happy with the new partnership. I think it’s awesome,” he said while waiting at Gallagher Terminal for the MVRTA bus to take him home on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “It makes me think how the school cares for its students. It takes a little weight off our shoulders.”