Universal transit pass
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In North America, a Universal Transit Pass or Universal Access Transit Pass (U-Pass) is a program that gives students enrolled in participating post-secondary institutions unlimited access to local transit. Programs are either funded through mandatory fees that eligible students pay in each term in which they are registered or included in the students' tuition. For example, the University of Washington and the U-Pass program in Chicago have mandatory U-Pass fees. Fees are transferred to the local transit authority to fund the required transit service. Because fees are collected from a large participant base, U-Pass prices are lower than the amount students would otherwise pay for monthly passes or tickets over the course of a term. The U-Pass price charged to students depends on a variety of factors which differ among municipalities, transit systems and post-secondary institutions.
- 1 Potential benefits
- 2 Potential costs
- 3 Canada
- 4 United States
- 5 See also
- 6 References
- 7 External links
U-Pass programs offer students a way to lower their transportation costs while at school and also benefit the local community and the environment. U-Pass programs can provide the following benefits:
- Save students money,
- Reduce demand for parking facilities on campus (less resources spent on building parking facilities and more valuable land available for university development),
- Improve the transit system the university's students and employees rely upon and specific service to the institution,
- Reduce traffic congestion around the campus and local community,
- Contribute to fewer emissions and a reduction to greenhouse gas emissions, consistent with the American College and University President's Climate Commitment,
- Stimulate public transportation ridership, particularly during off-peak, non-commuting hours, thereby filling excess capacity,
- Provide a regular and reliable revenue source for cash-strapped transit authorities
- Create a sense of brand loyalty and transit travel patterns among students who will be prospective customers in their post-college years, and
- Reduce the cost burden for local taxpayers to fund public transportation.
U-Pass programs that require a 100% adoption rate by universities may subsidize the U-Pass at the expense of students who own a car, walk, or bike to school and do not use transit to get to other locations. Some U-Pass programs offer exemptions for students with mobility restrictions and students that live out of the program range, such as exemptions for students who live in Quebec but commute to school in Ottawa, Ontario.
Other disadvantages include:
- Not able to benefit from the lower cost of U-Pass if students are travelling to school with a different transit system that does not receive U-Pass funding
- Additional load puts more strain on existing resources
- Being charged while taking a term off (e.g. vacation, study abroad, work out of town), courses not offered on campus (e.g. distant learning, graduate thesis, research projects), or being an exchange student
Thirty academic institutions throughout Canada currently participate in a U-Pass program. In 1973, Queen's University became the first university in Canada to implement a universal transit pass program. The "Bus-It" program was implemented with Kingston Transit. Nearby St. Lawrence College also participates in this program. Students are required to pay for the service as part of student activity fees. Several Canadian universities have implemented a UPass program.
Halifax, Nova Scotia
In 2003, St. Mary's University instituted a UPass program. In 2006 Dalhousie University negotiated extra routes to the university for their new UPass. A few years later NSCAD and NSCC created their own UPass program.
McMaster University participates in a UPass program.
A U-Pass is mandatory for all Durham College, University of Ontario Institute of Technology, and Trent University (Oshawa campus) students and included with full-time student fees. This pass offers unlimited travel seven days a week on Durham Region Transit services and certain GO Transit routes operating within Durham Region. It previously offered travel on GO Transit buses travelling into and out of Durham Region; this was discontinued in 2013.
In 2009, students' associations at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa negotiated with the City of Ottawa to offer a citywide U-Pass. The U-Pass was introduced to post-secondary students at Carleton University and University of Ottawa in September 2010. In the 2010 and 2012 academic years (September–April) it cost $145 per term and in the 2012 academic year, it costs $290.
In the 2011 budget, the City of Ottawa reported that the U-Pass helped increased ridership among students by 1.35 million, increased transit use at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa by 35%. The City reports that it subsidizes the cost of the U-Pass at $3 million.
In 2011, a study by the City of Ottawa showed that after students at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa adopted the U-Pass program, transit use increased by 39% and 35% respectively at the two universities. At the University of Ottawa, car use remained unchanged after the introduction of U-Pass thus the gains of transit use came primarily from students who walk/bike. On the other hand, at Carleton University, driving decreased by 33%. This raised some doubts at the University of Ottawa as to the environmental and social benefits of the U-Pass, considering that walking and cycling produces no pollution, whereas bus use causes pollution.
Some students at University of Ottawa have taken their student union, the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO), to court to recover U-Pass funds after allegations arose that the SFUO did not properly administer the U-Pass referendum question. The matter has not yet been decided at court.
At Carleton University, at least one newspaper reported that students faced overcrowded buses as a result of the U-Pass.
In 2012, University of Western Ontario, and Fanshawe College created a UPass program.
The University of Toronto at Mississauga (UTM) introduced its U-Pass program in the fall of 2007, offering full-time UTM students unlimited ridership on MiWay, the City of Mississauga's bus system, during the September-to-April school year. Undergraduates and UTM-affiliated graduate students are charged a mandatory fee each fall. The program has proved to be very popular at the university and has since been extended to the summer and to include part-time students.
Both universities in the city of Waterloo, Ontario (Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo) have implemented U-Pass programs in their tuition fees, allowing full-time students year-round unlimited travel on the Grand River Transit bus system anywhere in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo using their student card.
Vancouver, British Columbia
Victoria, British Columbia
At the University of Victoria, the U-Pass was approved in a referendum by the University of Victoria Students' Society in 2000. The UVic student card is encoded with the U-Pass privileges and the student can have their card encoded at a U-Pass activation kiosk.
Kamloops, British Columbia
The TRUSU UPASS is an unlimited transit pass for the City of Kamloops provided to every student enrolled at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. The UPASS allows you to get to and from classes, work, school, and more at a low cost to both your bank account and the environment. The UPASS also provides you with a 50% discount to a monthly membership to the Tournament Capital Centre and free access to the Canada Games Aquatic Centre.
All four major post-secondary students' associations/unions operate a U-Pass program in partnership with the City of Edmonton, the City of St. Albert, and Strathcona County. The University of Alberta and MacEwan University first launched the program in 2007 and were joined by the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in 2010, and NorQuest College in 2013. All four institutions will be connected by LRT in 2015. Since the implementation of the U-Pass program in 2007, the City of Edmonton has responded to this increased demand for public transportation by offering increased service hours and additional routes.
The U-Pass was approved by the student body at the University of Regina in a referendum that took place in March of 2015. This referendum gave URSU a mandate to negotiate a U-Pass deal with the City of Regina which would cost between $70-$90 per student. After several months of negotiation with the City of Regina, URSU and Regina Transit came to an agreement, which was approved by the Regina City Council in September of 2015. 
One hundred and thirty-seven academic institutions throughout the United States currently participate in a U-Pass program, including the following:
University of Washington, King County, Washington
One of the first U-Pass programs in the United States was started at the University of Washington (UW) in conjunction with King County Metro in the Seattle area. This program began in 1991 and now offers students access to most public transportation services in the Puget Sound region. The program was initially introduced as a short-term pilot program, only the largest transit operator in the Seattle area, King County Metro (KCM) and the main UW campus in Seattle were involved. The pilot was so successful that it became permanent; participation is now mandatory for students at all three UW campuses, and six additional transit agencies have joined the program. Students access the bus service by using their university ID card. The UW U-Pass program is paid for mostly through a student and activity fee of $76 per quarter. The fee is highly discounted and includes full fare coverage on a number of metro, commuter, shuttle, vanpool, and car-sharing transit options. Participation is optional for faculty and staff, who pay $136/quarter for the program. The university, in turn, pays transit operators on a per trip basis according to a negotiated trip rate. The negotiated trip rate varies by operator, but is lower than the cash fare. Studies of UW's U-Pass program demonstrate that since the program began, drive alone commuting has decreased by some 38%. The U-Pass program resulted in a significant increase in demand for transit services and over time as ridership has increased, so has transit service to the campus. The program also generates approximately $7.5 million annually for King County Metro alone.
The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) launched its U-PASS program in 1998. Within three years, 22 colleges and universities had joined the program, by entering into a contractual agreement with CTA to provide the U-Pass to all full-time students. The CTA currently contracts with 52 area colleges and universities to offer all students discounted rides for a semester. All enrolled students are required to purchase the U-Pass. The pass enables the students to make unlimited trips on all CTA buses and trains during the academic year. Students pay for the pass as part of the regular tuition and fees assessed by the participating institutions. The institutions are charged for the U-PASS based on a daily per student charge that was initially set at 50 cents and increased on a regular basis. Since the fall of 2013, the new rate is $1.07 per day, or about $15 per semester. On a monthly basis, students save a minimum of $66 per month over the full-fare price. U-Pass provides more than 35 million rides annually for students.
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- "University Students". Grand River Transit. Retrieved 3 February 2014.
- "U-Pass BC FAQ". Translink. Retrieved 23 Sep 2012.
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- Transport Canada
- UVic U-Pass
- UBC U-Pass
- SFU U-Pass
- SMU U-Pass
- Calgary Transit U-Pass
- City of Edmonton U-Pass