PALM DESERT — College of the Desert students who rely on public transportation will save more than $400 annually through a new Haul Pass program that begins with fall semester Aug. 27.

SunLine Transit Agency and College of the Desert are partnering to provide current students with free unlimited SunBus rides as part of SunLine’s new Haul Pass program. A 31-Day bus pass for adults is $34.

This program will positively impact all college students at College of the Desert, Norma Stevens, public outreach specialist for SunLine Transit Agency, told Uken Report.

“The Haul Pass will provide an avenue for college students to receive free transportation thereby eliminating an economic barrier,” Stevens said. “Even driving becomes a decision, based on the cost of gas, parking and car upkeep versus a free ride on the bus.  We believe we may say high numbers of participation in the program based on factors for Coachella Valley students including economic challenges, the availability of other transportation options, and the multiple campuses that COD operates.  This service will open up mobility options for students and will be a well-used benefit.”

The benefits of public transportation are not reserved only for saving on gas, parking and other car-related costs, Stevens added. College students may use the time on the bus to complete assignments, research information with SunLine’s free Wi-Fi, and accomplish tasks with the added time not spent behind the wheel.

“Transportation also relieves students and their families stress over how they will access classes and activities,” Stevens said. “Creating benefits that attract valley young people to stay here, get a degree, and seek employment is a valuable step in enhancing the Valley’s growth.”

SunLine received a $696,048 grant from California’s Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP) to fund a three-year program. The Haul Pass program will grow using assistance from participating schools – beginning with this College of the Desert partnership.

SunLine will cover 100 percent of the costs for year one. The goal is to partner with additional schools and build a program that becomes self-sustaining. The commitment made by local partners to help fund this initiative in the future will allow SunLine to reprogram a portion of this LCTOP grant funding into other meaningful services for the community.

“Helping college students access campus activities, work and leisure destinations through SunLine’s transit network is an exciting addition to our service,” Lauren Skiver, CEO/General Manager of SunLine Transit Agency, said in a prepared statement. “SunLine is pleased to partner with our higher learning institutions to improve residents’ access to college and help remove barriers that prevent youth from obtaining a degree.”

Becky Broughton, chairwoman of the Desert Community College District, echoed that enthusiasm.

“Transportation challenges have long been a hurdle for many of our students and prospective students,” Broughton said in a prepared statement. “Providing these free SunBus rides to our students will further provide them access to a higher education at our College of the Desert campuses across the Coachella Valley. I’m absolutely thrilled. This is a wonderful partnership and I’m excited to see it come to fruition.”

To be eligible, students must be enrolled at College of the Desert. Students will use their active student ID card by swiping them through the SunBus card reader on the fare box. Should they require assistance, bus operators can help.

In addition to transportation to and from College of the Desert, the Haul Pass program allows students to use their active student ID cards to make unlimited local fixed route transit trips any day of the week as well as transfers on the SunBus. Free fare for college students excludes the SunDial paratransit service and the Commuter Link 220.

SunLine can assist with trip planning over the phone, or the Agency also offers free group training as well as one-on-one travel training for anyone who is new to transit or needs assistance., along with the SunBus Tracker App, is other resources that can help provide trip/route information.

For more information, call SunLine Customer Service at (760) 343-3451.