MSA pushes to expand free light rail stops for students

The undergraduate student government is garnering support for more University’s Zone Pass stops, which currently include the West Bank, East Bank and Stadium Village stations.

The Metro Green Line pulls into the East Bank Station on Saturday, Nov. 9.

Parker Johnson

The Metro Green Line pulls into the East Bank Station on Saturday, Nov. 9.

by Samantha Hendrickson

The Minnesota Student Association is gathering student support as they continue to work with state legislators to include additional free light rail stops for University of Minnesota students.

The undergraduate student government will push for the Prospect Park stop to be included in the University’s Campus Zone Pass. Current stops include West Bank, East Bank and Stadium Village. The push is part of MSA’s campaign to one day include the U.S. Bank Stadium stop and eventually make the U-Pass, which provides unlimited rides on Metro Transit services, free for all students. Because Metro Transit is state-run, the legislature needs to approve the free stop for students.

MSA members say adding the Prospect Park stop would not only make transit more accessible for students living in the area, but it would also combat food insecurity in what many say is a “food desert” on campus. 

The grocery store Fresh Thyme has a location near the Prospect Park stop, which MSA Infrastructure Committee Director Arleth Pulido-Nava said would provide healthier food options to students, specifically international and out-of-state students who often do not have easy access to vehicles. 

Late in the last legislative session, student Sam Parmekar worked with legislators to pass the extension, but it was unsuccessful. This year, MSA is garnering student support to get University administration and legislators to realize this is a real concern for students.

“I’m really excited about this initiative … it’s something that anyone who lives around Prospect Park gets annoyed about,” said Andrew Knuppel, an MSA at-large representative who lives in Prospect Park. He said his walk to the Stadium Village light rail stop from his apartment takes about 10 to 15 minutes, adding significant time to his commute to campus.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, DFL- Minneapolis, who supported the extension in the last session, said he is concerned about food insecurity and wants to discuss the lack of access to healthy food on campus. Hornstein also stated that he, along with members of the senate, plans to draft an official bill on the Campus Zone Pass extension for the upcoming legislative session in February.

University administrators are also discussing the project.

“We are currently working with Metro Transit on a coordinated report about this topic to address cost and logistics,” said Vice President of University Services Mike Berthelsen in an email. 

Though Metro Transit values their student rider base, they are concerned about potential revenue loss and the broader effect on the rest of the transit system, said Howie Padilla, a Metro Transit spokesperson. 

“We remember what it’s like to be a college student. … We want to make things as convenient as we can for students. We also want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to provide the best service not only to students, but to everyone else as well,” he said. 

The long-term goal of making the U-Pass free is a much more ambitious project, but extending the Campus Zone Pass is something students can focus on in the meantime. 

“There’s no such thing as a free ride,” Padilla said.