Students, faculty, and staff at Alamo Colleges can now catch bus rides around town for free.

VIA Metropolitan Transit on Tuesday extended its U-Pass program to all five schools within the Alamo Colleges District. The free-rides program launched last year, with Our Lady of the Lake University being the first college to sign on. OLLU students began riding VIA buses for free in August.

The program is available to Alamo Colleges students who pay a Campus Access Fee. Early College High School students and students enrolled in dual-credit and continuing education courses don’t pay this fee and, therefore, are not eligible for the U-Pass program. They can purchase a semester bus pass from an Alamo Colleges business office for $38.

Qualifying students, faculty, and staff at Alamo Colleges need only show their school ID to the bus operator before boarding the bus to ride for free.

“It’s easier than what I have to do,” VIA President and CEO Jeff Arndt joked at a Tuesday press conference. (Like all VIA employees, Arndt must show his employee ID to the bus operator when boarding a VIA bus.)

Alamo Colleges Chancellor Mike Flores said adopting U-Pass is symbolic of the colleges’ mission to ensure that students have access to the resources needed to be successful.

“Many students never attend college or, in fact, leave colleges because of the challenges of transportation,” Flores said. “Sixty-one percent of our students worry about not having enough money to pay for college, and 47 percent worry about making monthly expenses. U-Pass actually provides an accessible, affordable, and dependable means for transportation to ensure that each and every one of our students and faculty are able to make it to school on time, able to pick up their kids from child care on time, and able to make it to work.”

Kristi Wyatt, associate vice chancellor of communications and engagement at Alamo Colleges District, said the schools used campus fees and other funding to pay for this VIA program.

Our intent is to give students tools to continue their education because we know transportation can be a barrier,” she said. “We know VIA tends to be reliable, and that’s one less worry they have when they’re trying to make it to class.”

The Alamo Colleges District includes San Antonio College in the center city, St. Philip’s College on the near East Side, Northwest Vista College on the West Side, Northeast Lakeview College on the Northeast Side, and Palo Alto College on the South Side.

Amelia Guzman, assistant to the vice president of student affairs at Our Lady of the Lake University, said the university would begin studying students’ usage of the U-Pass in the spring.

“We look forward to future use of [the VIA U-Pass] in following years to provide this opportunity for our students that do not have other modes of transportation” or want to be more environmentally-friendly, Guzman said.

All VIA buses offer free 4G LTE Wi-Fi and instant access to the Bexar BiblioTech e-library, according to a news release from VIA.

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.