Solution for buses not Student Service Fees

By Mike Stern
The University’s Department of Parking and Transportation has made a bid to the Student Services Fees Committee to add an additional $24.52 to every student’s already overburdened tuition bill to fund a U Pass system. This system would then allow every University student the opportunity to have unlimited rides on any MCTO bus by merely displaying the U Pass. Recently, the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly voiced their opposition to the plan. Students of all political persuasions, especially the most experienced and respected leaders in the Minnesota Student Association, disapprove of the plan.
Among the most notable are Ben Powers, MSA ad-hoc chairman on busing and transportation; Helen Phin, former U-DFL chair and MSA president; Jigar Madia, speaker of the MSA forum; and Jesse Berglund, U-DFL member and member of the University Senate.
This plan has many flaws, but the biggest one is that it is just too expensive. Even if the U Pass is the only addition to the student “service” fee, which is like a tax, the fee will rise at a rate of more than 15 percent of the current level.
An argument used by Bob Baker from the transportation department is that students will no longer have the expense of owning and operating a vehicle. Baker fails to realize that the metropolitan area is not the whole world and that the majority of us that own cars drive to places outside the metro area; in my case, my parents’ home.
To compare the cost of owning and operating a car versus the $98 per year for the U Pass is like comparing apples to oranges. The fact of the matter is that in addition to all the expenses of owning a car, students will be burdened with the additional tax.
Baker also contended before the MSA at its Feb. 11 meeting that those students who must commute by car will find less traffic and that parking on campus will be considerably easier as “the other guy” will take advantage of the subsidized busing. The University of Wisconsin-Madison already has a plan similar to the U Pass. Upon discussion with students at Madison, they informed me that there was no appreciable difference in the ease of parking and traffic. It appears that “the other guy” needs to drive to campus, too. The subsidized system would only benefit those students who already use MCTO by giving them unlimited rides for their $24.52 per quarter at the expense of the majority on campus.
The University is one of the largest, if not the largest, commuter college in the United States. The student lifestyle is such that we have very irregular schedules. Work, class, study and other activities all take time that cannot be spent waiting for and then standing on a congested MCTO bus. When a student has a 15-minute drive to campus versus a one- hour bus ride it is obvious that the student will choose to drive his car. The U Pass discriminates against those students who must drive to campus for whatever reason, while those who already use MCTO are getting a free ride.
The addition of the U Pass system also sets bad precedent. If the department of transportation (an auxiliary University department) is successful in receiving student service fee dollars, it opens the door for other auxiliary departments, such as Housing or Food Service, to do likewise.
It has also been pointed out by my more liberal friends and colleagues that by adding the U Pass to the student service fee it will successfully close the door to other fees receiving units to any form of an increase in their funding. The addition of the U Pass plan would most likely show real substantial cuts in current fees receiving units and stop any other new groups from receiving student service fee dollars.
It is obvious that the U Pass is a debacle that must not be added to the student service fee. Only a small majority of students will receive a benefit from U Pass, and the rest of the students will be increasingly burdened with a plan they do not support.
It should also be noted that the Student Service Fees Committee will be allowing public input on all aspects of the student service fee at a series of public hearings. They will be taking place on Feb. 26 from 4 to 6 p.m. in Coffman Memorial Union; Feb. 27 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the St. Paul Student Center; and Feb. 28, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Coffman Memorial Union. Come and let your voice be heard.

Mike Stern is a member of the University Senate and a junior in the Institute of Technology.