Just in time for the fall semester, Hartnell College students will have a new, free way to get around Salinas and beyond: buses.

The community college is partnering with the Monterey-Salinas Transit (MST) system to offer free rides on all bus routes simply by using Hartnell ID cards. It goes into effect Aug. 12, the first day of school.

As a one year pilot program, this could help reduce students’ daily expenses while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We want to let people know when they’re young that public transportation is a viable, affordable and environmentally sensible way to travel,” MST’s General Manager/CEO Carl Sedoryk said. “There are alternatives to more costly private automobiles. This is a way to get people who may not normally think to use the bus as a way to get around to actually try it.”

Already, MST had a free fair zone with Hartnell, whereby students could ride at a discount to and from the Salinas Valley college’s West Alisal Street main campus and the Alisal Road campus, both in Salinas, as well as its King City Education Center.

The new agreement — approved by Hartnell’s board of trustees Tuesday — expands rides throughout MST’s system, which goes as far as Santa Cruz, San Jose, Big Sur and Paso Robles.

“This tremendous benefit will not only allow our students to ride MST buses at no cost to and from our campuses, but also to travel to work and explore all that Monterey County has to offer,” said Willard Lewallen, Hartnell’s retiring superintendent/president, in a prepared statement.

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Hartnell will pay about $24,000 while MST will use a $100,000 Low Carbon Transit Operations Program grant, funded by the state’s cap-and-trade dollars.

Citing a 2018 AAA insurance study, Sedoryk said an average car costs about $8,800 annually, which includes maintenance, fuel and insurance. 

Despite street parking around Hartnell’s main campus in Salinas, daily permits cost $2 and semester permits are $40, according to the community college’s website.

Salinas also has free bus rides around the city on weekends, which has increased ridership, Sedoryk said.

Monterey Peninsula College is also launching a free fair zone this school year, and California State University, Monterey Bay has free bus rides for students. Monterey County’s military installations also have free ridership programs.

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Sedoryk said they plan to evaluate ridership and grant funds used on Hartnell students. The ultimate goal is to incorporate costs into school expenses, like CSUMB’s agreement.

For more information, visit or call MST toll-free at 1-888-MST-BUS1.

Contact reporter Eduardo Cuevas at or 831-269-9363. To support this kind of work, please subscribe.

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