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Administration argues that U-Passes are unnecessary at U of C

Students short $1.75 and stuck walking in the cold may wonder—with some bitterness—why the U of C does not give them U-Passes. This program allows full-time students from participating Chicagoland colleges to ride free on all CTA buses and trains with a simple flash of their cards. But according to administrators and Student Government (SG) representatives, U-Passes would not make sense for the U of C.

Brian Shaw, director of Transportation and Parking Services, said, “It’s hard to argue with rationale and numbers. We have a unique situation [from other schools in Chicago]. We pay the CTA to operate the campus bus routes. Those wouldn’t operate without University funding […] Not a lot of people know that.”

Kyle Lee, a second-year in the College and the chairman of the SG Transportation and Security Committee, has his mailbox filter e-mails with the word “U-Pass” in the subject line into a special folder.

“You wouldn’t believe the number of e-mails I get about U-Passes,” he said, adding that once he explains the facts to people, they usually agree with the University’s choice to abstain from the program.

Carlton Rutherford, the bus operations manager for the University, said that the U-Pass system could come with a hefty price tag. The U-Pass program is “designed [so that it] would cost the University about $2 million in addition to the $1.375 million [the University currently spends] to subsidize our highly ‘personalized’ intra-Hyde Park services,” Rutherford said. These services include the CTA #170, #171, #172, and #173, plus nighttime letter buses and the Broadview-Shoreland and East Hyde Park daytime services.

Lee added that without subsidization by the University, the U-Pass program would amount to a thousand dollars added to tuition.

Some other colleges subsidize the U-Pass program so that the cost added to tuition is not overwhelming. Unlike the U of C, schools like the University of Illinois at Chicago and DePaul University have large commuter populations, so students take the bus every day. Darcy Wittberger, the student activities coordinator at Columbia College of Chicago, said that the U-Pass program is lucrative for Columbia students because it would cost many of them as much as $100 per month to get to campus.

“The reason the U of C doesn’t have the U-Pass is because students don’t ride the bus that much. Our academics are all in Hyde Park. It’s a lot cheaper to pay for the CTA out of pocket,” Lee said.

Steve Klass, vice president and dean of students in the University, has been involved in the U-Pass discussion since the program’s advent in the ’90s. He said that the “all or nothing” policy of the U-Pass program—which requires every full-time student in a particular university to participate—“was something that really wasn’t going to work for us here.” When the U-Pass program began, the cost to join would have been greater than the University’s entire transportation budget, according to Klass.

Shaw said he hopes to make it easier for students to get bus cards and would like to see if the CTA would be willing to provide discounted fares for students.