The referendum asked if students would be willing to pay an extra $8.49 each semester to allow all Chapel Hill Transit Authority buses to operate with no charge for anyone wanting to use the service.
The University would pay 40 percent of the busing costs while the towns of Chapel Hill and Carrboro must agree to cover the remaining 60 percent.
Supporters claim that fare-free busing would save students money and reduce the number of cars on campus.
Student Body President Brad Matthews, the proposal's most vocal supporter, was particularly pleased with its strong student support.
"I'm glad students were receptive. This was the first step to a more involved and more effective transit system," he said.
"Although there's a number of negotiations to go through still, I think the chances are good of this sparking a movement for better campus transit."
Groups such as Think Transit have warned that fare-free busing might make buses more crowded and make it financially difficult for the transit authority to add new routes or extend service hours.
Although the proposal must still be approved by the Chapel Hill Town Council and the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, its broad student support makes its passage more likely.
Both student body president runoff candidates were pleased by the the referendum's support but warned that it might receive more scrutiny before being implemented.
"I think it's another option, and it can only help," said candidate Justin Young. "Students are behind it, student government as it now stands is behind it. But I'm willing to work with groups like Think Transit to come up with other solutions as well. I definitely think there's a very, very good chance that it will become a reality."
Candidate Eric Johnson said, "I'm glad because hopefully we can make this a positive step for transit. But fare-free transit won't help unless we can improve transit and get extended hours."
Regarding the referendum's chances of success, he said, "It's hard to say. There's support for it in the local governing structures, but I think it's more complex than we realized."
The resolution putting the busing referendum on the ballot was unanimously passed by Student Congress in its first meeting this year.
Junior Jennie Cox was one of many attracted by the plan's financial benefits.
"If it's free, it sounds good to me," she said.
"I don't need to use it, but it's nice to know that it would be available."
Sophomore Julie Wesner hopes that the proposal could alleviate recent overcrowding problems spawned by South Campus construction.
"It sucks that all the South Campus people get on first, so the bus gets filled and passes me by," she said.
"I think it sounds great."
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