January 29, 2015

U(Shall Not)Pass

Student life would be enriched by the unlimited transit pass. But unless the University steps up to subsidize it, the costs will outweigh the benefits.

The Maroon reported last Friday that College Council will hold a referendum on whether or not to bring U-Pass to the College. U-Pass is a service that would provide students unlimited use of all CTA buses and trains, at a cost of $250 a year per student. The referendum would provide Student Government with a general survey of student opinions on the service and help determine whether or not the College should enroll. Given the financial burden U-Pass would place on students, the Maroon Editorial Board believes that the University should subsidize the program. If the University refuses to do so, we feel compelled to oppose U-Pass.

The central problem with U-Pass remains the same as it has for years—it would be an extremely useful resource for students, but its cost makes it economically infeasible for much of the student body. U-Pass, unsubsidized, would increase the student life fee from $371 per quarter to roughly $456, a burden which is excessive for many families and students already struggling to cover astronomical tuition fees. To make U-Pass cost efficient, students would need to take roughly four CTA rides per week, which, given academic responsibilities and the relative inaccessibility of public transit in Hyde Park, seems unrealistic.

U-Pass would be a great resource for students, but unless the University is willing to subsidize some of the costs it seems unreasonable to get students who rarely use the CTA to essentially subsidize the rides of those who use it regularly. For this reason, students should vote against unsubsidized U-Pass. While forcing students to pay for U-Pass could provide an incentive for them to explore the city more often, the fact remains that it is simply unfair to expect students who are already paying sizeable student life fees to pay even more for a service they might not use.

However, it’s hard to deny that the benefits of U-Pass to the student body are overwhelming. For students with jobs downtown, U-Pass would make traveling less expensive and more convenient. For many more students, U-Pass would mean that transportation would pose less of a barrier to getting academic-year internships. Perhaps most importantly, U-Pass would encourage students to venture outside of Hyde Park and engage more closely with the city of Chicago—which would mark an important shift in campus culture. Having to pay for each CTA ride can act as a psychological barrier because it sets off a decision-making process that often results in the choice to stay in Hyde Park in order to save money. The repeated decision by students to not use the CTA further cements the UChicago community as separate from the surrounding community and Chicago as a whole. The prospect of unlimited rides would curb the initial deterrent in using the CTA and encourage students to explore Chicago outside of Hyde Park.

The University should either fully cover or partially subsidize the costs of U-Pass for enrolled students because access to the city of Chicago should be an essential aspect of students’ experience here. At a school with our stature and endowment, U-Pass should not be presented as yet another economic burden for which students need to weigh the costs and benefits. The University professes a commitment to ensuring that students fully experience the city of Chicago and all it has to offer. It’s time they honored it.

-Maroon Editorial Board