The U-Pass promise of free CTA rides sounds too good to be true—and it is.
The Transportation Student Advisory Board’s proposed referendum for a U-Pass—a CTA program that gives Chicagoland college students the ability to pay a flat annual rate for unlimited rides—initially appears tempting. Representatives from Inter-House Council (IHC) and Student Government (SG) are circulating a petition to add the U-Pass question as a referendum on the SG ballot.
No more fumbling for dollars while boarding the #6? While this may seem like a bargain, if you pull out a calculator the numbers will show that the U-Pass isn’t so cheap after all. With an annual price estimate of upwards of $200 per student, the U-Pass would only be cost-effective if students used it for more than three round-trip rides every two weeks.
The idea of connecting the U of C campus with the rest of the city is praiseworthy, and the Maroon certainly encourages students to escape from the Hyde Park bubble. However, if a school of the University opts for the U-Pass, every student in that school would be forced to shell out about $200 more each year—even if he never sets foot on the CTA. With no guarantee that the U-Pass would fall under the financial aid umbrella, the program could especially hurt those students who are most acutely affected by the rising tuition costs. And even if financial aid does cover the U-Pass, someone still has to pay the bill, taking away funds that could be better spent elsewhere.
There’s no question that the U-Pass would benefit students who work downtown, commute, or simply center their social lives outside of Hyde Park. But the burden of subsidizing their CTA rides should not fall on the shoulders of those who don’t frequently travel off campus.
Considering that the University recently started distributing Chicago Cards to first-year students, the U-Pass is even less desirable. The Chicago Card offers cheaper fares than cash and similar convenience to the U-Pass. Additionally, the Transportation Office is discussing with the CTA the possibility of installing a reloading machine on campus, which would make the Chicago Card an even more appealing alternative.
Despite its opposition to the U-Pass, the Maroon still supports the call for a referendum. Representatives from IHC and SG spend hours every year discussing the U-Pass. Whether or not the referendum makes it on the ballot, the administration would finally have a tangible gauge of student interest. Because the referendum is non-binding, there would still be a chance for the administration to conduct meaningful discussion before making an official decision.
It doesn’t take a U of C economist to figure out that there’s no such thing as a free ride.