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Sustainability senator discusses effort to secure bus passes

AC Transit

When I arrived at Mills in fall 2005 from rural Washington, I had no car and no idea how to read a bus schedule – let alone organize an initiative to provide Mills students with AC Transit passes. However, as a result of my experiences in the AC Transit initiative, I have learned a few lessons about creating a successful project in the Mills community that I would like to offer as a template for students’ future pursuits.

Initially, multiple factions of the Mills community have vested interests in having an AC Transit Pass. Economic (both to the College and students) social justice and environmental interests all acknowledge there is room for improvement on access to public transit; so identifying an all-encompassing issue and shared vision for its solution was key in moving forward.

Students have discussed the idea of AC Transit passes for years.

I would again and again hear the student need and environmental impetus for Mills to provide its students with unlimited access to public transportation, much like UC Berkeley’s bus pass program.

Many students have shared this vision of greater access to the boundless social, professional and academic opportunities of the Bay Area – a bridge for all students that would connect the island of Mills to the greater community.

Another key point for the initiative would come from outside the gates of the College.

In addition to on-campus interest, I learned there was explicit, outside political will where I could draw confidence and investigate the possibility despite doubts on campus. Getting to know my local elected officials and their goals was an imperative in the process.

In April of 2008, the AC Transit initiative unexpectedly became my senior year’s project when I discovered the political and institutional means to actualize the vision of AC Transit passes at Mills.

Through Mills College Democrats (‘Fem Dems’), I was invited to a fundraiser for the San Francisco Young Democrats where I met another East Bayer and elected official who would give me the confidence and contacts to pursue a pass program for Mills.

Rocky Fernandez – a Hayward native who is also the current president of the Board of Directors of AC Transit – shared his goal as an AC Transit director to provide all college students in the East Bay with AC Transit passes. He filled me in on how the Peralta Community Colleges and CSU East Bay were in the process of creating their own pass programs. That night after the fundraiser, I returned to my hall in Ethel Moore and shared that it was, in fact, possible for Mills students to get AC Transit passes.

Over the course of the summer – including during road trips to L.A. and Reno for a Democrat meeting and Obama campaigning – I stayed in contact with Rocky to learn how and what I needed to do to start a program at Mills.

In addition to political support off campus, the official voice of the student body, ASMC, was supportive and willing to use its authority to poll the students in a vote and, potentially, raise its fee.

My collaboration with our student government, ASMC, has been a crucial part of the process.

As ASMC sustainability senator and student representative on the Sustainability Committee, I identified and invited stakeholders from Mills and AC Transit to a meeting slated to take place in November, sharing my progress with my fellow ASMC members each step of the way.

Over the course of the following six months, pricing and payment strategies were drafted, confirmed and redrafted.

Mills staff and student leaders invested their time to actualize the common vision of AC Transit passes.

Students lent their voices in testimonials describing how a pass program would impact their lives – further bolstering community support.

I worked closely with Barb Haber, who chairs the Sustainability Committee, to deliver a proposal to Mills College officers, as well as with ASMC who endorsed a potential ASMC fee raise to cover the cost of the pass program.

Through my role in the initiative, I observed these conditions as pivotal in its gaining traction and becoming successful.

I hope my narrative can be useful to other Mills students in creating positive change and realizing their visions as strong women leaders both on and off campus -now and in the future.

– Katie Johnson, senior