Fees, U-Pass prices could increase

A one-time federal grant will be depleted in 12 to 15 months, leaving officials searching for new ways to fund the program.

Nathan Halverson

A one-time federal grant that pays most of the University’s expenses for the popular U-Pass bus program is running out.

The federal government gave the University $5.8 million to pay for 80 percent of the U-Pass’s cost when the program started in fall 2000. Slightly more than $1 million of that grant remains.

“I’m looking at somewhere in the next 12-15 months it’s going to dry up,” said Dennis Miller, assistant director of finance for Parking and Transportation Services.

Miller said the price of a U-Pass or transportation fees could increase in the future to compensate for the grant’s depletion.

Miller said there is no current plan to raise the price of the passes next year.

The U-Pass allows students and faculty unlimited access to metro-area city buses for a flat fee each semester. The University pays Metro Transit $1.8 million annually to get the U-Passes.

Miller said the University will begin covering expenses in the short term with money saved up from the student service transportation fee.

But he said that is a short-term fix, and he will have to come up with a different solution for future operating costs.

“We were told right up front by (the University’s Office of Budget and Finance), ‘Don’t come looking to us for money for this thing.’ It’s got to kind of walk on its own,” he said.

Miller said he is working on a budget for the program that spans the next three to five years. He is not yet sure where the money will come from when the program depletes grant and the transportation fee reserves, but he said they are considering raising the transportation fee or the price of a U-Pass.

“We’re all hoping the program doesn’t go away because it’s so popular,” he said.

Claire Bastien, U-Pass program manager, said approximately 1,250 more passes have been sold this semester than at the same time one year ago. She said approximately 14,000 students and faculty purchased passes last semester. Similar interest is expected this semester.

“The program is one of the biggest sellers for Metro Transit in terms of where their ridership is up,” Bastien said.

Emily Tissier, an environmental education senior who uses her U-Pass to commute from her Uptown apartment to the University, said she thinks people are becoming increasingly aware that paying $50 once per semester is cheaper than paying the bus fare every day.

“That’s how much I’d pay in a month if I was paying normal fare. I think it’s a really, really good deal,” she said. “And you don’t have to hassle with parking, because that’s atrocious.”