U considersbus pass plan

by Lynne Kozarek

The University wants to trade its current Route 52 bus service for a hike in student service fees and a universal student bus pass.
Parking and Transportation Services introduced plans to redesign campus transit last year. The first stage of planning resulted in the redesigned campus connector shuttle service. Phase two of the plan is a bus pass, called the U-Pass, which would be provided to every University student.
The pass would allow unlimited use of Metropolitan Council Transit Operations buses, but would require a $20 to $22 increase in mandatory student service fees per student per quarter. The Student Services Fees Committee has yet to decide whether they will provide the funding for the new program; a fees committee veto would likely kill the plan.
Bob Baker, director of Parking and Transportation Services, said that the goal was to place a bus pass in the hands of every student.
“We have one of the largest campus transit systems in the country,” Baker said. “We want to take the funding from Route 52 buses and funnel it into the U-Pass.”
Route 52 buses currently operated by the University will be discontinued and replaced with current MCTO routes. Baker said that the University is phasing out Route 52 because there are not enough riders to justify the cost.
The net cost to the University of running Route 52 is $412,000.
Brian Lamb, director of service development at the Metropolitan Council, said that Route 52 buses are being redirected to better utilize other routes that go to or through the University campus.
“Basically we want more bang for our buck,” Lamb said.
Lamb said that the Metropolitan Council hopes to be able to implement the U-Pass proposal.
“With a low-cost pass in the hands of all students,” Lamb said, “we can accomplish a good, low-cost alternative to the automobile and expand transit usage.”
The Metropolitan Council is slated to give a discount to Parking and Transportation Services if the U-Pass would be given to every University student. The discount would total $720 million per quarter.
The Metropolitan Council stands to gain money if the U-Pass proposal is implemented because of the increased ridership on MCTO buses, but it also took a financial risk in providing the discount without the guarantee of funding from the Student Services Fees Committee.
“Yes, this is a financial risk,” Lamb said, “but from a Metropolitan Council standpoint it makes sense for the University (to implement the U-Pass) for short- and long-term land-use issues.”
Baker had his own reasons for touting the U-Pass proposal; he said he believes it will save the students money.
“Ridership has declined while prices have increased,” Baker said. “With the U-Pass system it will only cost $80 for the whole year, including summer session, versus the cost of owning a car at $2,000 per year.”
Parking and Transportation Services hopes to implement the U-Pass by fall quarter of 1997, but the implementation of the proposal depends on whether they receive the $726,704 they have requested from the Student Services Fees Committee.
Jennifer Halko, chairwoman of the fees committee subcommittee charged with looking into the U-Pass proposal, said it is too early to tell whether Parking and Transportation Services will receive the requested money.
The committee will hold hearings on the matter on Feb. 26 and 28; a final vote is expected to be held March 1.
The funding request for the U-Pass averages out to $22 per student per quarter.
Halko said that the most important action students could take was to give the Student Services Fees Committee feedback on the U-Pass issue.