U-Pass aims to expand bus use

by Fabiana Torreao

The U-Pass proposal, intended to give students unlimited rides on city buses for a discounted user fee, is in its final steps.
The pass program, which the University’s Executive Committee will review today, will cost all students $5 per semester.
The charge, however, will not buy students a U-Pass. An additional $50 per semester is required to access the unlimited and unrestricted rides on Metro Transit buses that the U-Pass offers.
The program would also benefit the University and community by reducing parking demand, highway congestion and air pollution.
Bob Baker, director of University Parking and Transportation Services, said he is confident of approval and expects the program to start next fall.
Program funds will come from a two-year, $5.5 million federal grant University officials expect to receive. The grant requires the University to match 20 percent of its total, paid by the $5 charge to all students.
Assuming that a student comes to campus 22 days in a month, it would cost a student using the U-Pass 31 cents per ride, Baker said.
“I can’t start my car for 31 cents,” he said.
After four years working to develop the program, Parking and Transportation Services had the help of the Minnesota Student Association to identify student preferences on the issue.
MSA worked with the Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, conducting surveys of students’ transportation needs in December and last month.
MPIRG’s surveys found that 69 percent of students would use the bus system if the cost was reduced, and 66 percent of students were willing to pay at least $5 to support a reduced-fare student bus pass.
Considering the benefits of traffic reduction, people who will not ride the bus still support the program, said Jeff Bartleson, MPIRG’s campus organizer.
According to Parking and Transportation Services statistics, the most common mode of transportation to and from campus is single-occupant vehicles. The U-Pass program attempts to challenge such statistics.
As the third-largest generator of traffic in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, the University needs to increase bus ridership by 20 percent for each year that it receives the federal grant, Baker said. Currently, an estimated 7,000 people ride the bus to and from the University. The U-Pass program would need to increase this number to nearly 10,000.
Baker also pointed out that another advantage of the program is to get students comfortable with public modes of transportation so they continue to use such modes after leaving the University.
“We hope to change people’s travel behavior,” Baker said.
A similar program for faculty and staff members is also planned to begin next fall. The Metro Pass will be available in the same unlimited ride basis as the U-Pass, but it will cost faculty and staff members $35 per month.
The U-Pass proposal has been endorsed by the Minneapolis City Council, Minnesota Public Interest Research Group, Centennial Hall, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly and sorority Tau Beta Sigma-Alpha Iota. It has also received support from Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, the Council of Graduate Students and the Coffman Board of Governors among others.

Fabiana Torreao covers St. Paul campus and welcomes comments at [email protected].