GAPSA: We’ll pass on U-Pass

Tom Lopez

U-Pass representatives who sought the endorsement of the Graduate and Professional Student Assembly will have to look elsewhere for student allies.
GAPSA has declared its opposition to the proposed U-Pass program, which would provide students with unlimited city-wide bus service provided by Metropolitan Council Transit Operations. GAPSA President Bruce Bromberek drafted a letter criticizing the plan to be sent to the Student Services Fees Committee, which is considering a request to fund the program.
The proposal would require all students to pay about an additional $20 to $22 in student services fees each quarter in exchange for the transportation service. The letter will be sent out to all GAPSA members today for input and revision.
“Frankly, I find the whole program unconscionable, and I think my constituency feels the same,” said Chris Rauschl, GAPSA’s vice-president for finance, who represents the Law School.
Representatives of the U-Pass proposal spoke to the assembly Monday at the behest of the fees subcommittee that is reviewing their request.
Jennifer Halko, the chairwoman of the subcommittee, said it advised the representatives to get student input on the plan. GAPSA’s rejection of the fee, she said, carries weight. “The whole key is student support,” she said. “We definitely take (the response from GAPSA) into account.” Halko added that it was still too early in the process to predict the outcome of the proposal.
Bromberek said the final version of the letter will reflect the organization’s formal opinion.
“We wrote the letter to tell the fees committee that we had heard the presentation and do not recommend support for it at this time for two reasons,” he said. “First, we are not convinced that MCTO can deliver the service to students to justify such a fee. Secondly, we have concerns about students not using the service subsidizing those who do.”
Bromberek added that many in the assembly liked the idea in principle, but the lack of trust in MCTO prevented them from supporting the plan. “There were some people that felt that given time and a little luck it could be a good system,” he said.
However, Rauschl said that even if he trusted MCTO to improve, he still would not have supported the plan. “I strongly object to the attempt to use student fees for this particular effort,” he said.
Rauschl, who describes himself as one of the proposal’s most ardent opponents in the assembly, said it is the responsibility of the University administration to support the program. He said the administration had “abandoned its commitment to providing transportation to the student body,” and that he objects to the administration’s attempt to “hide the funding in student fees.”
The mandatory element of the program was another aspect Rauschl said he dislikes. Using the current Pilot Program in St. Paul as a model, he said the best program is one in which students who use the program pool their own resources.
Bob Baker, the director of Parking and Transportation Services, made Monday’s proposal to the assembly. He said he was disappointed by GAPSA’s decision, but not particularly surprised. “When you ask people to have self-imposed tax, the answer is probably going to be ‘no,'” he said. “The answer seemed to be that they supported the idea, they just didn’t want to pay for it.”
Baker added that he was not critical of GAPSA for its decision, but that he was confused by the objections to MCTO. He said he presented the group with all the recent improvements made by the council, and didn’t see cause for mistrust.
The next step for the policy is feedback from the Minnesota Student Association and the residence halls. Then, sometime between Feb. 26 and 28, the proposal will come before public hearings, and the fees committee will make its decision on whether to support the proposal.
Baker said it is too soon to predict the future of the proposal, but said he hopes it will be adopted. “If we’re going to improve parking and transportation at the University, we have to make it affordable and accessible to students. We’re convinced that the U-Pass system is the best way to achieve that,” he said.
Bromberek agreed that something has to be done to relieve traffic congestion and the scarcity of parking on campus, but said he doesn’t believe the U-Pass program is the solution right now. “I think it needs more time to get student support and get more details fleshed out as to what could be done and what will be done,” he said. Bromberek added that he suspected that Baker knew when he addressed the assembly that there would be a great deal of objection. “I think he knew he had a hard sell.”