Proposed Bill Would Increase Public Transit Options for College Students

Grants would help provide transportation solutions to colleges that serve historically excluded student populations.

Updated January 20, 2022

Edited by Brenna Swanston
Proposed Bill Would Increase Public Transit Options for College Students
Higher Ed Policy
Photo by RichVintage / E+ / Getty Images

  • The bill would allow the federal government to subsidize the cost of increased transit service.
  • According to one study, 43% of community college campuses are not transit accessible.
  • This is a major burden for many low-income and working college students in the U.S.

A newly proposed bill aims to increase the frequency and reach of public transit at college campuses.

The Providing Assistance for Transit Help (PATH) to College Act, introduced in late November, would allow the Department of Transportation (DOT) to award grants to bus and rail operators that expand service to higher education institutions.

Expanded services may include adding more stops near college campuses and/or increasing the frequency of routes to these institutions.

The bill aims to give grants to operators that provide transportation solutions to community colleges, historically Black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and other institutions serving historically excluded populations.

The PATH to College Act would also allow DOT to provide grants to subsidize transit costs for students.

A mix of Democratic and Republican representatives and senators proposed and co-sponsored the introduction of the PATH to College Act. In the House of Representatives, Conor Lamb of Pennsylvania is listed as the primary sponsor. In the Senate, Robert Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania is the lead sponsor.

Tanya Ang, senior advocacy director at Higher Learning Advocates, told BestColleges the advocacy group helped craft the bill's language.

Higher Learning Advocates was one of 18 organizations that signed a letter to Peter DeFazio, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives' committee on transportation and infrastructure, urging him to support the PATH to College Act.

Transportation struggles are rarely talked about, yet they create a pervasive issue in higher education.

Only 57% of all community colleges in the U.S. have public transit stops within walking distance of campus, according to research published by the Seldin/Haring-Smith Foundation (SHSF). And that's with 99% of all community college students living off campus, according to the report.

Approximately 37.4% of community and technical college campuses are more than a mile from the nearest bus or train stop, according to SHSF's research.

"That's not sustainable for college students who are working and also need to get to school," Ang said.

SHSF's report concluded that for about 19% of community colleges, the closest transit station sits 1-4.5 miles from campus. It should be feasible for these schools to become transit accessible through "very low-cost investments in extending existing bus lines."

This data doesn't touch on the students left out by limited bus schedules, Ang added. For example, the regular bus schedule may not benefit a working student who prefers to take night classes. The PATH to College Act would allow DOT to award grants to transit entities that extend route hours to service late-night students.

The bill would also open the possibility of DOT subsidizing part of the cost of transit for students, according to the bill's text.

Through its Accelerated Study in Associate Program (ASAP), the City University of New York provides free metro cards to students so they can take the subway to and from class.

ASAP Director Christine Brongniart previously told BestColleges that this program helps with student retention. The ability to get to and from class can be a major barrier for students juggling life responsibilities in addition to school.

However, it is rare for a community college to pay for mass transit for students.