A silence fell across the room when Scott Schultz called upon Cal Poly Pomona students to explain how they get around this expansive and car-dominated metropolis.
No one wanted to be the first to speak, so Schultz, producer and host of “BUSted Los Angeles,” a live storytelling show about getting around the city without a car, warmed up the crowd with stories about the characters he sees riding the bus across town and the importance of knowing when to ride to be assured a seat. Schultz was one of the guest speakers at the inaugural Alternative Transportation Conference held on campus Nov. 17-18.
The free event was organized by Associated Students Inc. and Students for Quality Education (SQE), with support from the College of Letters, Arts & Social Sciences and the College of Environmental Design. The aim of the conference was to generate a dialogue about transportation needs and the challenges on campus. It featured workshops on millennial travel patterns and ways to push for more public transit options, a luncheon and a story slam hosted by BUSted.
As Schultz got the crowd laughing on the first day of the conference, he and students swapped stories about the perils of navigating by bicycle and other alternative transportation mishaps.
“I have gone over a few hoods in my day,” he said. “Especially living in L.A., you’re going to go over a hood or two.”
One student shared the story of how she tripped and fell running to catch a bus, barely making it on board. Another student recalled how she got in an argument with a driver about not giving her space to walk across the street.
History Professor John Lloyd, who helped organize the conference and takes public transit to campus, said when he tells people that he rides a bus, they often look at him like “did you get a DUI or something?”
Lloyd, who has been taking public transit since spring 2012 because of environmental concerns, told the crowd how he and a man whom he perceived to be a tough guy struck up a conversation while riding the bus. The man turned out to be a tattoo artist.
“We just started talking,” he said. “It just shows you that people are people. I feel more connected. I feel more a part of my community.”
After the meeting, he shared that he recently rode home on the same bus as two of his students and they talked about a variety of subjects unrelated to class.
“We wouldn’t have had that experience if we were all driving alone in our cars,” he says. “More typical still is the time I have to read, check social media and listen to music on my ride home.”
ASI and members of SQE approached Lloyd about getting involved in the conference because of a resolution he authored that passed unanimously in the Academic Senate, which asked the university to explore ways of improving alternative transportation on campus. His resolution mirrored a similar one ASI had written.
Following that initial effort, the Academic Senate, ASI and SQE met with University President Soraya M. Coley about the need for alternative transportation. That meeting led Coley to direct University Police to move existing bus shelters near Parking Structure I to previously uncovered bus stops on Temple Avenue, Lloyd says.
The next step proponents of alternative transportation would like the university to work toward is to have a bus stop on campus, something they say would make traveling on public transit more convenient for students and help ease the parking crunch on campus.
The university had a bus stop on Oak Lane that students, staff and faculty used, but that was eliminated during the construction of Parking Structure I, which opened in 2007.
Brandon Whalen-Castellanos, a fifth-year urban and regional planning student, authored the original resolution last year when he served as ASI’s environmental design senator. He resigned his post in August to pursue an internship. Whalen-Castellanos said the resolution aimed to create a partnership between the university and Foothill Transit.
At a “Stand Up for Transportation” event on campus in spring 2015, ASI met with administrators, including President Coley, a representatives from the Pomona City Council and Foothill Transit.
“There is this great initiative for food and housing insecurity on campus and CSU-wide,” Whalen-Castellanos says. “I think transportation is another critical need for student success. This is an affordability and accessibility issue.”
About 10 percent of Cal Poly Pomona students use buses to get to campus, he says. Bus stops are on the edge of campus, forcing students to walk a considerable distance to get to classes, he adds.
Advocates are lobbying to not only get a central bus stop on campus, but are pushing Foothill Transit to offer a subsidized bus pass for students, similar to the agreement the agency has with Mt. SAC. At the neighboring community college, all students, regardless of whether they use public transportation, pay a $9 fee each semester to help subsidize the program. Bus passes cost $33 a month, close to what students pay for a parking permit at Mt. SAC.
In order to get a program similar to Mt. SAC’s, students would have to vote to approve it, a measure Whalen-Castellanos says he thinks will get support if it includes the message that more public transportation options — from a central bus stop to more bike lanes to needed sidewalks — would lessen issues with parking.
During the second day of the conference, Doran Barnes, Foothill Transit’s executive director, and Mike Biagi, the university’s director of parking and transportation services, discussed the relationship between Cal Poly Pomona and Foothill Transit and the need for more transportation options.
The university has two parking structures and doesn’t really want to build a third, Biagi said.
“Alternative transportation has to factor in,” he said. “Modifying behavior is something else we need to do. The more pain people feel when they park, either through increases in parking prices or increases in congestion, the more likely they are to get out of their car and try something else … taking a bus, riding a bike. There is a large segment of the student population that can’t use transit because of day-care issues and other factors … but there is also a segment that could.”