The Student Services Fees Committee is considering a $20 to $22 hike in fees that would pay for the “U-Pass.” The pass would allow unlimited rides on Metropolitan Council Transit Operations bus lines as a replacement for the University’s Route 52 service. Mass transportation is vital to the University and should be encouraged. However, imposing an enormous hike in student fees to support a service used by less than 10,000 students simply doesn’t make sense.
Student service fees this quarter were more than $160. With tuition that’s well over the national average, student budgets are tight enough. Yes, $20 is a great deal for unlimited bus service for a quarter, but it’s not a service being used by the majority of students. Only about 20 percent of commuters use the bus lines. Making the other 80 percent pay $20 for a service they don’t use won’t promote the use of public transportation; it will just make the majority of commuters angry.
Currently, the Recreation Center, Boynton Health Service, the student unions and the Minnesota Daily reap the largest portions of student service fees. But unlike the buses, these organizations serve a far larger number of students. About 16,000 students per quarter use the Rec Center. Approximately 10,000 people a day pass through Coffman Union, and The Daily is read by 45,000. Although not all students require the services of Boynton, it is crucial to provide accessible health care for students.
The Student Services Fees Committee needs to consider alternative means of funding before making the final vote on March 1. There are more effective means of providing mass transportation for students, for example, a modest increase in fees coupled with sales of a discounted pass would be a more practical solution. By increasing student fees $6 and selling 10,000 discounted passes at $43 for the quarter, close to the same amount of money could be raised, and students would be better served. Those who ride the buses would still get the benefit of a discounted rate, while students who use other means of transportation would make a more fair and reasonable contribution.
It is inevitable that the speedier but more infrequent 52 bus lines will be cut. Service on the campus buses has already been dramatically reduced. A survey two years ago shows that about 80 percent of student bus riders currently use MCTO lines to commute. While the campus lines may get a few students to campus faster, rechannelling current funding from the 52s into discounted fares is a reasonable compromise for former 52 riders. In addition, the discount would benefit the majority of current bus riders and may encourage new ones.
The Twin Cities is a fast-growing and sprawling urban area, and the University’s students are scattered throughout. The geography of the city means that students will use a variety of transportation forms. With a huge student body spread out over a large metro area, this is a commuter campus and will remain so. For 10,000 students, busing is the most practical way to get to class, and the University is right to recognize their needs. But a $20 increase in student fees for everyone is not fair to the majority. Before forging ahead with the plan, the Student Services Fees Committee should consider alternatives and take the interests of the majority into account.