By Michael Wunder, News Editor
A crowd of students gathered in Milo Bail Student Center’s fireplace lounge on Tuesday, each hoping to receive one of 400 free Metro bus passes. MavRide, a student government program championed by Student Senator Gerard Wellman, was distributing the passes on a first come, first served basis between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
“It took about a year and a half worth of work,” Wellman said. “A year and a half to get all the kinks worked out and bring it through the legislative process.”
The program is the result of a partnership between UNO and the Transit Authority of Omaha, recently renamed Metro. UNO paid for one half of each pass and the other half was funded by Metro.
“You guys need buses and I’ve got buses,” said Curt Simon, executive director of Metro. “It’s a pretty simple marriage.”
The line of students queued up for the passes snaked from the fireside lounge and well into the rear of MBSC.
In frigid weather, a bus pass means a lot to students whose primary mode of transport is by foot.
“Walking to school this morning blew,” said UNO junior Edd Casas. “It took me 45 minutes.”
Although he expressed discontent with some of the program’s limitations — the passes are only good Monday through Friday and should only be used for education-related purposes — Casas was excited for the opportunity.
“It’s free — that’s awesome,” he said. “I can’t beat free.”
The event also attracted former UNO students.
“I wish that we, as students, would’ve pushed for this sooner,” said Kevin Flatowicz – Farmer, a UNO graduate. “But I’m gratified it’s happening now.”
In Oct. 2009, Metro teamed up with Metropolitan Community College to launch Pass to Class, a program allowing MCC students free transport to and from class.
The program served as a template for MavRide, Simon said.
“It’s a huge success,” he said. “It proved how popular this program could be.”
In January alone, MCC students took the bus more than 18,000 times.
MavRide, too, was highly popular Tuesday, with students continuing to wait in an immense line in pursuit of free transport.
“I did not expect this kind of response,” Wellman said. “I am thrilled. So thrilled to the point that I’m almost worried.”
Funding allowed for only 400 passes to be purchased by Student Government. As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, 270 passes had been distributed, Wellman said. “When we run out,” he said, “there’s not a lot we can do.”
Simon, although he didn’t say anything about funding more passes, was optimistic. “I hope there’ll be thousands more,” he said.
It’s up to UNO students to decide the fate of MavRide. Currently the program is only a one-semester pilot effort, but if the program is successful, Student Government and Metro may decide to continue the partnership beyond May.
The remaining passes will be given to the first 130 students to make their way to the Student Government office in MBSC.