College and University Student Transit Programs

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Introduction

Many colleges and universities have adopted forms of a Universal College Student Transit Pass, or U-Pass, in collaboration with local institutions.  U-Pass programs are examples of Deep Discount Group Passes (DDGPs) that offer students deep discounts on transit fares, while also providing transit systems with revenue and increased ridership. These programs are usually collaborations between transit agencies, university students, and university administrations.  U-Pass programs can vary by campus community participation, funding, and transit service eligibility. Some universities also extend their U-Pass programs to cover their employees, either through offering similar discounts or offering the purchase of a transit with pre-tax salary.

Background

History and Program Design

The University of California San Diego was among the earliest adopters of an unlimited transit access program for students, establishing their program in 1969.  Since then, several transit systems, colleges, and universities across the country have collaborated on some form of a U-Pass program. Programs can be set up in a variety of ways:

Management

  • Agency-managed:  Students qualify for a discounted fare but must provide documentation to the transit agency proving their student status.
  • University-managed:  Students obtain their transit services through their university, either by using their student ID card or by some method agreed upon by the transit agency and the university.  Transit agencies often collaborate on marketing and promotions in these programs.

Service Eligibility

  • Unlimited use:  Students are permitted to use the entire transit agency’s (and sometimes affiliated agency’s) network on any route and at any time.
  • Route-specific use:  Students only qualify for free or reduced fares on specific routes serving their university.
  • Time-specific use:  Students only qualify for free or reduced fares on certain days or at certain times, to ensure use for commuting to and from campus only and to prevent fare abuse.

Program Enrollment

  • Campus-wide enrollment:  All students, regardless of travel preference, are automatically enrolled in a U-Pass program.  These programs often use the student ID card as a transit pass to swipe at the farebox, such that the student need not obtain or carry an additional card.
  • Voluntary enrollment:  Students must apply for or sign up for a U-Pass program.  In these programs, this can involve an additional fee or can be a method for the university or transit agency to monitor or control the number of students using the U-Pass program.

Financing

Most programs are funded or at least partially funded by student fees, often a small mandatory fee each student pays regardless of their use of the program.  Many programs also include funding through parking permit and fine revenue, university funds, and operating assistance funds from federal, state, or local governments.   Several student governments have initiated U-Pass programs through passing referendums, which often impose small mandatory fees for all students. Other programs, especially those managed by transit agencies, charge fees by month, semester, or year to students who sign up.

Benefits and Challenges

These programs have a variety of benefits:

  • Benefits to the student:  Free or reduced transit rides, Alternatives to on-campus parking costs and driving a private vehicle
  • Benefits to the university:  Decreased demand for parking, Reduction of vehicle traffic on and around campus.  
  • Benefits to the transit system:  Increased ridership, Use of off-peak capacity, Improved performance
  • Benefits to the community:  Reduction in vehicle miles traveled, emissions, fuel consumption, and traffic congestion.  

Possible challenges to U-Pass programs for transit agencies include pass abuse and cost increases from increased ridership on specific routes that service universities.

A study by the Transit Cooperative Research Program concludes that transit agencies and participating universities are generally satisfied with their U-Pass programs.  Possible challenges include university loss of parking revenue, student opposition to an additional fee (especially if mandatory for all students including non-transit users), and limited campus resources to begin a program.[1]

Ridership and Mode Shift

U-Pass programs consistently increase transit ridership, especially in their first year of implementation.  This often—but not always—decreases the number of students driving in private vehicles to campus. However, U-Pass programs can often draw from away from other travel modes like walking and bicycling.  At UCLA, which introduced a free BruinGo! transit program in 2001, transit’s mode share among students increased from 17% to 26%. Single-occupancy vehicle share decreased from 36% to 32%, but walking also reduced 23% to 19% and bicycling reduced 4% to 2%.  The program became a subsidy program in 2003, after which transit share remained higher than before the program’s implementation. Even in subsidized programs, U-Passes are a more attractive option for students for whom parking would be expensive or difficult to find.[2]

Example Programs

Los Angeles Metro U-Pass

Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority began offering a U-Pass program 2016.  Students must be enrolled in a combined 6 units. The cost varies by institution, based on the school’s subsidy contribution.  Currently, 16 institutions in Los Angeles County participate in the program.[3]

Riverside Transit Agency Go-Pass / U-Pass

Riverside Transit Agency provides its Go-Pass and U-Pass programs to college and university students at seven institutions free of charge to the student for unlimited rides within the system.  The passes are partially funded by student university transit fees.[4][5]

OCTA University Pass and College Pass

Orange County Transportation Authority offers a University Pass—a deeply discounted annual or semester-long transit pass—for students at Chapman University, Cal State Fullerton, and University of California Irvine.  Each school’s enrollment procedures are different and administered by the institution. The OCTA College Pass offers discounted monthly transit pass to any student enrolled in 9 or more credits at 10 different colleges in Orange County.  The program uses a College Fare ID, which can be purchased on the college campuses or through OCTA.[6]

San Diego County MTS College Passes

Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) offers three different types of college student passes: monthly, semester, and a unlimited access U-Pass.  The type of pass available to students is determined by the institution they attend. All three types of passes are valid for regular MTS and North County Transit District (NCTD) buses, Trolley, and SPRINTER services.  Students at UC San Diego are eligible for the U-Pass through a mandatory student transit fee.[7]

References

  1. Beimborn, E., & Yu, J. 2018. College Student Transit Pass Programs. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. https://doi.org/10.17226/25052.
  2. Zhou, J. (2014). From better understandings to proactive actions: Housing location and commuting mode choices among university students. Transport Policy, 33, 166–175. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tranpol.2014.03.004
  3. Los Angeles Metro. “College Life.”  Retrieved 21 March 2018 from https://www.metro.net/riding/colleges/.
  4. Riverside Transit Authority.  “Go-Pass / U-Pass” Retrieved 21 March 2018 from https://www.riversidetransit.com/index.php/riding-the-bus/gopass-u-pass.
  5. Straehley, Dayna.  2013 November 27. “Moreno Valley: Students May Get Bus Pass Back.”  The Press-Enterprise. Retrieved 21 March 2019 from https://www.pe.com/2013/11/27/moreno-valley-students-may-get-bus-pass-back/.
  6. Orange County Transportation Authority.  “Types of Passes.” Retrieved 21 March 2018 from https://www.octa.net/Bus/Fares-and-Passes/Types-of-Passes/.
  7. San Diego Metropolitan Transit System.  “College Passes.” Retrieved 21 March 2018 from https://www.sdmts.com/fares-passes-pass-programs/college-passes.

Additional Reading

Beimborn, E., & Yu, J. (2018). College Student Transit Pass Programs.