A fare-free zone alternative

Making the U-Pass mandatory would simplify the fare-free zone situation, among other benefits.

Chris Iverson

There is no such thing as a free lunch. However, if you could make your lunch and others’ lunches cheaper, why wouldn’t you?

I’m a little hungry today, but I’m actually referring to a fare-free zone along the light rail that’s been reported on by the Minnesota Daily and others. In short, University of Minnesota Parking and Transportation Services and Metro Transit are in talks about creating the zone along the Green Line when it opens next year.

Although a fare-free zone would certainly be nice, there is another alternative: make all students get a U-Pass.

If we had a fare-free LRT zone without a mandatory U-Pass provided, there may be unnecessary consequences. Understanding that students’ attention spans are short, issues with where the fare-free LRT zone starts and ends could raise concerns. Students unaware about the zone boundaries could accidentally continue riding past the boundaries. Police could fine these students $180 for not having a valid ticket. As exemplified with bike tickets on campus, students don’t like to be fined.

In the long term, required U-Passes could help the University increase its transit ridership by encouraging students to take the bus instead of driving alone. The reduction of vehicles near campus could ease congestion and reduce pollution.

This alternative would be a win-win for the three parties at stake: students, the University and Metro Transit. The good news is this idea has been in discussion for a while.

David Busacker, co-director of the Minnesota Student Association’s Facilities, Housing, and Transit Committee, said PTS and the University have considered adding a U-Pass to student services fees to make the fare-free LRT zone more viable.

Of course, the issue of idealism always boils down to the cost of implementation. Like I said, there is no such thing as a free lunch. At least a fraction of the required U-Pass costs would have to be burdened by students.

 Yes, I know most of you are already thousands of dollars in debt and will complain to me about being swamped by student loans. But forgoing your Starbucks lattes or choosing to take the bus instead of driving could cover the cost, and the mandatory U-Pass could be cheaper than it is now.

“The normal $97 that a U-Pass costs now would be a fraction of that price if all students participated, by the sheer advantage of scale,” Busacker said.

As much as we want to complain about the University ripping us off with extra costs, these costs would go down if we share them.

Yes, the discounted mandatory U-Pass would be another added cost, but the positive externalities would outweigh the negatives every day of the week.

If you think this is a rare move, you would be wrong. Other colleges have issued mandatory bus passes. The University of Colorado-Boulder has had a mandatory bus pass fee included in its bill since 1991.

A mandatory U-Pass would simplify the fare-free LRT zone and encourage students to get out of East Bank and visit Uptown, the North Loop, St. Paul and the Mall of America, which are all along major transit corridors.

If lunch is on the table in front of you, go ahead and enjoy it — you’ve already paid for it.