Trolley at SDSU station
A Green Line trolley at the San Diego State University station. Photo Courtesy SDSU

Offering free public transit for students and employees of San Diego State University would make SDSU one of — if not the best — college campuses in the entire country. 

SDSU, like many other colleges, has pledged operational carbon neutrality by 2040 and full carbon neutrality by 2050. To achieve this, the university has developed and implemented a climate action plan, consisting of multiple “climate actions,” each with its own update status.

Some sub-items have been checked off, but not one climate action has been fully completed, and quite a few sub-items have fallen behind schedule. SDSU needs to prioritize completing climate actions that will reduce the most carbon emissions if we want to achieve our publicly pledged goals. 

Free public transit for students and employees is one action that will have among the highest impact. That’s because commuting to campus makes up an overwhelming 40% of SDSU’s greenhouse gas emissions. More than 80% of faculty and staff, and 63% of students, drive to campus in a single-occupancy vehicle.

These figures are staggering and illustrate the priority SDSU needs to place on sustainable commuting, like public transit, if it wants to achieve its climate goals. SDSU officials know this, as their own transportation programs are designed to reduce the university’s carbon emissions by decreasing the number of drive-alone commutes and encourage mode shifts in transport in and around campus.

To add insult to injury on this issue, SDSU’s climate action plan clearly notes “providing subsidized public transit passes with unlimited access resulted in 10%-30% reductions in automobile trips, in some cases, for eight U.S. campuses and led to 400% increases in student ridership during the first years of program operation.” And yet within the transportation climate action, sub-item 2.1.3, the task “explore the feasibility of a universal transit pass,” only “some movement” has been made, with further progress completely stalled. 

But the potential remains for a universal transit pass that is free for students and employees to make SDSU one of best college campuses in the country. It has to do with the future of the university in Mission Valley.

SDSU Mission Valley is not only the future of university, it’s the future of San Diego. With 80 acres of parks and open space, four miles of bike and pedestrian paths, Snapdragon Stadium, and 4,600 residential units for students, faculty, staff and the greater community, SDSU Mission Valley is an investment to behold.

On top of all this, SDSU Mission Valley was awarded the Circulate San Diego Mobility Certification for its transit-oriented and sustainable plan, which includes “facilities to increase bicycle and pedestrian travel…incentives to ride transit…[and] the site will facilitate increased use of the trolley with the construction of a welcoming trolley plaza adjacent to the existing on-site Metropolitan Transit System trolley station, which will also accommodate the planned Purple Line transit station.” 

Well, this all sounds fantastic! So how does a universal transit pass make this better, and make SDSU the best college campus in the country? It would make everything listed above, all of what Mission Valley has to offer, as well as internationally acclaimed downtown San Diego, free and accessible to SDSU students and employees.

Think about that: no parking, no traffic, no hassle. Just jump on the Green Line from SDSU, which is already on campus, and now you’re connected to everything San Diego has to offer. Or better yet, if your home is in SDSU Mission Valley, hop on the Green Line and you’re on campus in a matter of minutes.

Or, if you’re a commuter student or employee who doesn’t live on campus, now your commute is practically free! How could all that not elevate SDSU into the premier college campus in the country? 

I understand the MTS isn’t perfect, and public transit issues have been a longstanding problem for the SDSU community, as well as San Diego. But let’s look at the numbers: roughly 81% of SDSU students live off campus. That’s almost 29,000 students commuting to campus just this fall semester, not to mention the nearly 6,900 faculty and staff who commute to campus as well. And with record setting admission numbers just this year, the commuter student population is only going to grow.

San Diego is making enormous strides in public transit access and affordability, and SDSU is at the forefront of this movement. Both the University of San Diego as well as SDSU now offer reduced semester passes. But SDSU needs to go a step further and catch up to UC San Diego, which offers a universal transit pass. 

I am a commuter student who has taken advantage of the semester pass SDSU offers, but this system isn’t the future. Free public transit is the future, and SDSU needs to get on board.

John Estrada is a fourth-year student at San Diego State University studying human geography and global studies.