Back of a Husky Card affixed with a purple U-PASS sticker good for Autumn Quarter
The current U-PASS

The Daily of the UW reports that implementation of a universal U-PASS program will be a quarter behind its original Winter 2010 target (January 2010). A survey completed last spring showed 79% of students, staff, and faculty supporting a universal U-PASS. The pass would be a mandatory fee priced around $60 to $80 with a target of $75. The current pass costs $99 per quarter, almost a twofold increase over 2008 prices. Participation dropped from 85% to 72% in 2009 as a result. The U-PASS needs a new funding model as the existing model, in which students can opt-out by returning the pass, is unsustainable with budget shortfalls and increasing costs from the transit agencies.

Meanwhile, the process of converting U-PASS stickers over to ORCA-embedded Husky Cards is now anticipated to begin sometime in the middle of 2011. The University’s Transportation Services originally had a target of June 2010 and later pushed it back towards late 2010. The delay in implementation comes from the “transit side”, in other words, the agencies implementing ORCA and the system vendor. The process, called “re-carding”, involves replacing every student’s, staff’s, and faculty’s identification card (known as Husky Card) with a new card embedded with an ORCA chip. The new cards will feature a new design and would retain the magnetic strip for its existing functions. Dubs, the Husky mascot, will lead the transition.

According to the University Transportation Committee’s (UTC advises the UW administration on transportation issues) meeting minutes, the e-purse function will be disabled on the ORCA powered U-PASS. The University did not want to deal with customer service issues like refunding e-purse value. Privacy concerns were also raised in a UTC meeting where a loophole in the law allowed media to file a public information request for card user’s personally identifiable information. However, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 5295 into law earlier this year, closing the loophole. With U-PASS moving to a universal model, a system for students to opt-out of the ORCA powered U-PASS would be unnecessary.

52 Replies to “Universal and ORCA Powered U-PASS Delayed”

  1. “The pass would be a mandatory fee priced around $60 to $80 with a target of $75. The current pass costs $99 per quarter, almost a twofold increase over 2008 prices.”

    – Is that target fee between $60 and $80 a one-time purchase, or is that a quarterly fee?

    – Would the pass be mandatory for everyone (faculty, staff and students) or just students?

    thanks in advance for answering my questions!

      1. State law prohibits the university from requiring a mandatory fee as a requirement for employment so faculty and staff couldn’t be considered for such a system. Further, the mechanism by which this fee will be used is similar to other student fees and so is only a student issue at this point.

  2. At both of the universities I attended, a transit pass was part of the mandatory student fees. I almost never used the pass, even though it was “free” with payment of tuition and fees. Why? Because I always lived on or within 15-minute walking distance of campus. Housing near campus was always more expensive than other options, but I chose it because of the convenience it offered.

    Anyway, I was always kind of angry that I had to pay extra fees every semester to subsidize bus fare for those who chose to live farther from campus, while nobody was covering my higher rent. This essentially encouraged sprawl by removing transportation costs from the equation students used when selecting a residence. Traditionally more students lived on campus of the university I attended for my undergraduate degree, but the combination of new cheap apartments on the outskirts of town and a “free” bus pass drove many students away a few years before I started there.

    1. For a major metropolitan area, most of the sprawl and traffic is already there. What can you do to manage travel demand and shape people’s mode choice? That’s what the U-PASS has been successful in doing. Traffic and parking in the U District would be worse without it. You have to realize that not everyone has a choice of living on or near campus.

      1. Eric makes a really good point, though. Are you saying, Oran, that you think the positive impacts of a mandatory U-pass in influencing transport decisions outweigh any negative impacts of failing to incentivize transportation “independence” (i.e living within walking distance)? It will be interesting to follow this aspect of the long term impacts of this policy. Also, no offense intended (and I’m sure you didn’t intend any either), but saying things like “you have to realize that…” comes across as very condescending, especially when someone is making a valid point about the incentive structure.

      2. I speak from my experience as a commuter student who’d love to live closer to campus but simply cannot afford it. If that came across as condescending, I apologize. What Eric presents as a choice, is really not a choice for many. As Eric points out in his case, rents are really high, suggesting high demand. What can the university do to make housing more affordable? Aside from building more residence halls on their own property, other solutions go into the realm of city planning and zoning, the real estate market and the larger issue of housing affordability.

        U-PASS, despite its name, is more than a bus pass (though most of it, is); it funds a whole lot of incentives to take alternative transportation like walking, biking, vanpooling, parking management, and on-campus night ride shuttle. U-PASS has been around since 1991 and you can read the annual report. The annual cost of the U-PASS program is in the $10-20 million range, which is a very good deal for the benefits to the entire area.

        I don’t disagree that Eric has a point but what the UW can do is fairly limited. The UW is spending $850 million for a much needed expansion of dorms to house an additional 3,000 students. The UW does not control land use regulations in the University District, the City of Seattle does.

    2. And I’ll bet your glad you had the transit pass for those times that were “almost” never.

  3. Unfortunately, a universal U-Pass this amounts to a huge fare and/or expenses increase on disabled students, if they are no longer allowed to opt out because transit fails to serve their daily needs (or in favor of a much cheaper monthly concession-fare pass).

    The University also offers no parking discount to disabled students and faculty (while offering a steep discount for carpoolers whose choice to drive may be far more elective). Adding an additional $75 to their quarterly expenses is the very definition of insult-to-injury.

      1. You are wrong, Tim. Quarterly disability parking is charged at the same rate as all “regular” quarterly parking passes at UW. No discounts. Nothing in your link contradicts this.

        Carpoolers, who might actually have many more practical alternatives to driving than do disabled students/faculty, receive a steep discount.

    1. Charging the disabled the same cost as everyone else is not “adding insult to injury”, rather it is being fair and equable. All people should be treated with equal respect and diginty and furthermore expected to contribute equally. Special handicap spots yes, special Metro paratransit yes. These help level the playing field and Accomodate access. Special fees or exceptions no. We are all part of this society. If you want equally and respect be equal and contribute your part.

      1. Rob,

        Imagine that you had to spend hundreds more per month for an apartment that meets all of the same qualifications as your current living space, but is 100% accessible.

        Now imagine that, in addition, you routinely pay for parking in situations when you would prefer to take transit, but the transit is simply too far or too steep from your destination, or the logical transfers involve stairs. On top of that, you are routinely forced to pay for parking in more than one location, when you would ideally park once and accomplish your many errands on foot.

        A “level playing field” requires acknowledging that physical impairment does present additional challenges and piles on additional life expenses (not to mention medical ones). Parking discounts and an adequate supply of well-located spaces dedicated to the disabled help to ease those burdens.

        As it happens, the topography of the UW campus make relying upon Metro extremely difficult, requiring 1 or 2 more transfers and significantly longer commutes than any able-bodied student would need. A parking discount — equivalent to that offered to 2-person carpools who objectively need it less — is not an unreasonable accommodation.

      2. And Tim, you leave me speechless as usual.

        If disabled students are forced to pay $75 for a U-Pass, what does it matter if Access is cheaper?

        I’m not even sure if the U-Pass is good for Access. Are you suggesting that said students should pay for both?

      3. The parking pass may not be discounted, but it does allow disabled students/faculty to park adjacent to buildings on campus instead of in a distant lot. That seems like a reasonable accommodation to me.

        And a campus parking pass already includes a U-Pass, so the cost won’t be any higher than it is today if they switch to a mandatory U-Pass program.

        There’s also a free dial-a-ride shuttle service available on campus.

      4. Zed,

        The quarterly parking permit including the U-Pass may be a recent phenomenon, as I was not aware of it. Have there been assurances that the ORCA-ing of the U-Pass would not divorce the two?

        I still have yet to see a reasonable justification for charging disabled students 2-3 times as much to park as carpoolers who drive out of convenience rather than out of necessity.

      5. “The quarterly parking permit including the U-Pass may be a recent phenomenon, as I was not aware of it.”

        It’s been that way since the beginning of the U-Pass program in 1991.

        “Have there been assurances that the ORCA-ing of the U-Pass would not divorce the two?”

        I don’t know, but I can’t see them making the U-Pass mandatory for all but not mandatory for parkers. Nothing’s official at this point, so we probably won’t know the exact details until next spring when the program is implemented.

        “I still have yet to see a reasonable justification for charging disabled students 2-3 times as much to park as carpoolers who drive out of convenience rather than out of necessity.”

        I agree that disabled parking should be discounted. Carpool parking used to be free with a U-Pass, and SOV parking costs have gone up dramatically (from $36 per quarter in 1990 to $432 now), so maybe the cost impact on disabled students/faculty hasn’t been recognized in the haste to raise money to fund the transportation program. Frankly I don’t even know how many disabled people park on campus, most of the spots seem to go unused. I do see many of them parked on the street though where parking is free with a placard. Maybe no one has yet advocated for reduced costs?

      6. (from $36 per quarter in 1990 to $432 now)

        should read

        (from $108 per quarter in 1990 to $432 now)

        edit feature coming?

      7. Thanks for clearing that up, Zed! I don’t know why I’ve never known the U-Pass was included in the ever-increasing parking fee. Perhaps it’s because the disabled friend for whom this has been an ongoing problem finds her U-Pass so completely useless to her that she never took note of whether it was a separate or included charge. She often returned her U-Pass sticker but may not have noticed that a refund wasn’t forthcoming.

        (Obligatory aside to “Metro defenders:” this is someone who has lived without any automobile at all in other cities. Metro, on the other hand, is far to limiting and excruciating an experience to be a viable option.)

        Again, Zed, I appreciate your knowledge and insights (since STB’s usual self-appointed guardian of opinions about the UW and U-District transit service is a fact- and logic-challenged dolt who does not flatter the quality of the education received at said university).

      8. D.P.,

        I just wanted to add that the student government and the regents do listen, so maybe it would behoove your friend to plead their case to the ASUW. The high parking fees are intended to encourage alternative transportation, not to discourage people who have no other choice.

      9. d.p., my response stating that Access is cheaper was a response to rob’s comment indicating that all users should be charged an equal amount.

        I do not wish to debate this any further than the points I will state below:

        1) A carpool permit means that more than one person will be occupying just one parking space. It means that fewer cars will be brought on campus, which is one of the UW’s goals. Pricing these permits less than others makes this option more attractive and encourages adoption.
        2) Not all users of handicap permits have long term disabilities.
        3) As Zed said, handicappers get the best spots on campus. The closer you get, the more expensive it gets. The Triangle garage is absolutely outrageous, $13 for 4+ hours IIRC. The Triangle garage is also very convenient, with entrances directly into Kane and another one that spits you out by Gerberding. The SDOT spaces and the private lots further out are cheaper and are less convenient. Same principles can be applied to housing too.

      10. Tim, it is far, far more difficult to get your hands on a UW disability permit than a state of Washington one. Trust me, no one with a mere temporary disability is parking in any of the centrally-located spaces that are in such short supply.

        My palpable aggravation stems from your habit of missing forests (usually it’s the barriers to freedom-of-movement that Metro’s cumulative suckiness builds; in this case, it’s the legitimate need of disabled students and faculty to have their commute function smoothly so that their focus can be on academic matters) in favor of your wonky censuses of the trees (usually in the form of a twisted rationalization for every Metro status quo; here in the form of a convenience-to-cost ratio that utterly misses the point).

        I can’t improve upon the words Zed chose: “The high parking fees are intended to encourage alternative transportation, not to discourage people who have no other choice.” Just because the ADA is on the books does not mean that the “playing field has been leveled” in academia or in life, such that you can now wash your hands of it and “treat everyone the same.” Making a community function for all of its members requires acknowledging unlevel situations and then applying the deductive reasoning that Zed has exhibited to arrive at a plan whose results are fairest.

        (BTW, Zed, because campus parking is managed by a contractor, student associations and disability services departments are essentially powerless on the issue. It would take a top-down policy change from an administration that’s not particularly sympathetic even when it isn’t in a financial tight spot.)

      11. Also, regarding the carpool thing, yeah, at first glance and for a lot of people it does reduce total car use, but at some point you begin incentivizing driving as long as one can find someone else with which to share a ride. Why isnt it enough that carpool members just share the standard expenses of a single car? Perhaps not rewarding carpools at all at some point would actually encourage all the people in that carpool that make it a carpool (I.e. Everyone except the driver) to take transit or live closer. It’s kind of like the LA carpool lane idea… It’s ok to move an hour from work as long as you can find a friend to do the same or already has done the same.

  4. I’m sad to see the disabling of the “purse” function. I’d rather see the University go in the opposite direction of perhaps looking for ways that students could use the purse in retail functions on campus.

    This would be a benefit for students, especially since Mom and Dad could add money online from home thousands of miles away; but it would also be a benefit to Sound Transit having a small, contained population to test such retail applications out in.

    1. I think they (the vendor and agencies) already have enough on their hands for now just to get the basics right. The card rollout is delayed far enough.

      The card can easily be reprogrammed so in the future after everything settles down, we should see new functionality added.

    2. People over 18 (most of us) don’t need (or receive) help from “Mom and Dad”. At any rate, there’s apparently a federal restriction against multiple use electronic dollar-based media, so that’s out.

    3. The Husky Card can already be loaded with money from the parents. Money can be spent at merchants all over campus and the U-Dist, as well as various campus costs (printing, etc). This is run by Blackboard, I believe.

      And Beavis, it’s extremely popular. I assure you that many many UW students get spending money from mom and dad. The vast majority, even.

      1. All off campus merchants were required to stop accepting Husky Card account payments on August 31, 2010. It basically gave me a reason to drain the card by that day, as they won’t refund balances under $5.00, and if you add some money to bring your balance up to $5 they can only refund that portion that you added. So I ended up spending $1.50 on a couple of bags of chips.

  5. I just got my first ORCA card today, after commuting several months w/o one. I feel sorry for those people who have to participate in this, whether its U-Pass or the regular card. Its clearly discriminatory and an outright insult to other paying passengers. We should be allowed to punch the lights out of ORCA reader/machine; dang thing is a waste of my money, imho.

    Well at least I vote, and I do look forward to seeing what impact I can have on ST.

    1. Could you explain a bit more why?

      I get ranting and all, but some actual info would help. How is it “clearly discriminatory”?

      1. Nathan, your reply to my comment is wholly understandable. What I take issue with is the discrimination towards ST users on the commute trains who like myself don’t like or want an ORCA card, but have to pay the transfers on ST and other buses, because we don’t have the card.

        So here are two groups paying exactly the same fare, one gets a break the other does not. I personally prefer not to use any card at all if I could help it. The disparity of prices for card-holders vs. non card-holders is a travesty across the commercial spectrum. ST is not alone in discriminating. Here we have a public agency that favors one group over another, this is special dispensation for those that go with the ST card, pure and simple.

        It used to be that when the ST commute run started, transfers were given to non-ORCA card users, that changed and I suspect due to some politicking on one level or another. I can hear the cries of “less wasted paper, etc”, but in reality ones paper ticket with current date shows the validity of getting another transfer is warranted, or not.

        Also, ST SHAME ON YOU! At Mukilteo we have ONE itty-bitty shelter that holds three, maybe four people.

        Seriously, has any ST official here commuted regularly from Mukilteo? I don’t care what the current line ST is espousing on the Edmonds station, but if they can’t even put up a decent shelter to house ten to twenty people, then someone up top should get their butt canned. Howe much did I pay for the lack of facilities at Mukilteo?!

        Obviously way to much. That said, its the guys on-board the train and buses that really make it flow smoothly out there. The overwhelming majority of them are highly professional, and I believe truly care about the public.

        Clearly the same cannot be said for the upper crust management…..

      2. Thanks for explaining.

        Non-cardholders are a burden. They make the system less efficient and shouldn’t be accommodated.

        Sorry to be blunt, but that’s the way it is. You can call it discrimination or whatever (a poor term given the history of real, honest-to-goodness discrimination), but I consider it a necessary move for better transit.

        Cash and paper transfers/tickets are slow without 100% offboard payment and proof-of-purchase fare enforcement (e.g. a two-hour ticket good on any service, but even then you’d have to have the ability to purchase upgrade tickets). I’ve sat on buses with all-ORCA boardings and almost all cash boardings. Watching people file through the front door for five minutes and fiddle with change while the bus sits makes me want to drive again.

        Having the driver have to deal with paper transfers is slow too. Their job is to drive, not mess around with things like this. So until non-card-based fares are just as fast as the card-based ones, tough luck. I want a better, faster, more efficient system much more than I care about accommodating those who insist on using cash.

      3. @Anthony, a couple points…

        If your issue with using cards is based upon the possibility of tracking you with the card, you can retain your annonimity by buying an Orca card with cash from a TVM and reloading the TVM only using cash at a TVM.

        With regard to the shelters at Mukilteo station, isn’t that a temporary station for now? I’d rather that ST put their money toward the permanent station.

      4. Nathan i might buy into your comment that “Non-cardholders are a burden. They make the system less efficient and shouldn’t be accommodated.”

        First off, we are not like Milan, Italy where you buy your tickets for ATM at any of the newstands scattered about the city. In my short two hours there i saw atleast 2 within close proximity to ATM lines (And would have figured it out if i could understand italian). Forutnaly i dident get hauled away for not paying fare, but each car/bus etc has a ticket validator on onboard (but no ticket vending). The Sad fact is, ORCA was rolled out without a lot of retail sites. It’s getting better, however until it’s in most every grocery store, drug store, bank, and transit center i cant even consider such a day. Even than i still like having onboard payment options, especally if i have to upgrade a fare. And speaking of transfers, with ORCA implementation the need for paper transfers probally has dropped quite a bit. Most every transit system in the area has GFI Genfare Cents-a-Bill fare boxes, if nothing at all and adding a TRiM ticket printer is not hard work. I agree with Anthony that the system does discriminate against those who pay in cash, You used to have the same rights and abilitys as someone with an ORCA card, however you could go on a trip-by-trip basis. Granted everyone these days does have all the tools needed to load an e-purse up front, but, if you are really down on your luck than its going to be hard. Most every agency in the region uses the GFI Cents-a-Bill farebox, its easy to add a TRiM ticket printer to them. With fewer and fewer people paying in cash, it probally wouldent be hard to upgrade all these fareboxes with TRiM units, giving cash riders quick and easy full transfer privlages without paper transfers to haggle over. When you board the bus with one, you “dip” it back in the unit and the farebox tells you weather its expired or not. the computer dosent lye. Works well to cut down on fare evasion. Anyways, enough of that rant, but i will say that Upass holders get an obscene deal per quarter.

      5. It’s more than just adding ticket printers. You’d have to integrate all the existing fareboxes into the ORCA system. One of the reasons behind ORCA was being able to accurately distribute fare/pass revenue from intersystem transfers to the agencies. As we’ve seen with the delayed roll out of ORCA, it could be a complex task.

      6. I’d like to see an ORCA fare discount to give people a further incentive to use the card. That’s common in other systems, where putting in $10 gives you $12 credit. Transit systems do not have an inaliable responsibility to accept cash and issue paper transfers. “Discrimination” is when minorities or the handicapped get second-rate service, not when somebody can’t get a paper transfer or a one-seat ride directly from their house to downtown.

    2. You get a hell of a great deal from U-pass (as did I when I was a UW student), so if you’re feeling guilty, then simply turn it down and buy yourself an ORCA card.

  6. I’m currently a student at Eastern Washington University in Spokane County, where there is a mandatory $6.50 Transportation Fee every quarter assessed on all students for Spokane Transit. I currently live on campus and use STA all the time for trips to/from Spokane, and the occasional in-town errand. Granted, STA has nowhere near the same span of service or frequency of service as the systems in the Seattle Metropolitan Area, but it’s high quality service and a very usable, well-liked benefit.

    We also live in a ‘rule-by-majority winner-take-all’ democracy, and I can understand how mandatory fees represent financial burdens on students who are destitute, however 79% is such a commanding majority I think dissenters will have to choose: 1) continue their education at UW and pay the fee, 2) discontinue their enrollment at UW.

    It’s not for transportation, but at Eastern there’s a mandatory $65 per quarter fee for a University Recreation Center debt repayment. The only reason I don’t like it is because I don’t use it personally. It doesn’t mean that it’s unnecessary, and those who do use it aren’t in the spaces I use complaining they don’t have such a facility.

    We all know that mandatory fees reduce individual costs because not everyone will use them. It’s a fact of life.

    1. UW also makes students pay for the new IMA (Intramural Activities Building). It’s $105 and just helps pay off the debt for the building and isn’t a membership fee. Membership is automatic/complementary/whatever you want to call that.

      I never used the IMA as it was enough exercise just to walk there, and I’d rather spend my time walking somewhere else.

  7. Western U in Bellingham’s bus pass is mandatory.

    The UW’s I’ve always bought for my kid who is going there because of the social impact of encouraging them to learn how to use the bus system. Dollar wise it would have been cheaper to give the kid a stack of dollar coins as bus tokens, but I’m working on preparing them for the working world and a bus pass makes urban life a lot nicer because you just don’t think twice about hopping on for any errand.

  8. Four or five months ago, Intercity Transit (which serves Thurston County and runs an express service to and from the Lakewood/512 Park&Ride in collaboration with Pierce Transit) told me that they were delaying their implementation of ORCA readers and didn’t expect to have them in place until the end of the year. Today a clerk at the counter said they won’t have them for a long time and may never install them because they don’t have the money for the system.

  9. Pretty funny really, as UPASS fraud will skyrocket with no more flexpasses and the fare increase. Smart move, sike.

    1. U-PASS fraud would decrease:
      1. No more easily photocopied stickers. I know people who do that. ORCA beep instantly verifies authenticity.
      2. Everyone has to pay through their tuition bill. No payment? Then no classes, no grades, no graduation for you.

  10. To Nathan and the other posters: thank you very much for answering my questions. I apologize for the tardy reply, but my outdated browser and work really got in the way in getting back to this thread.

    Nathan, I understand your need for expediency, yet I must ask where does one draw the line? Conceivably the best scenario would be to “axe” many of the other users who aren’t fast enough, why stop at the paper pass vs. ORCA.

    I also cannot thank you enough for your extremely candid answer, seriously. Though I disagree with your viewpoint, the time you took to explain really helped me calm down and see what else may or may not be viable, transportation wise.

    That said, your point about the ORCA card being expeditious is well, very true. I didn’t want to concede this at first, but after two days of careful watching of other users and myself it does indeed speed up the pace.

    The biggest lesson I learned was last night, about being personally responsible. I forgot to tap my ORCA card on the way home, at all in fact. So this morning not only did I tap my card, but I also bought a one-way ticket to offset yesterdays snafu. This is one problem I would never have with a paper pass…sigh…..

    AW, thank you for the advice. I am not concerned with anonymity as much as I’m perturbed with the disturbing trend of card use in general. Traction seems to be gaining ground in the use of these, and though some merits aren’t arguable, the detraction aspects are ignored, imho. As for the shelter, it never came to be. There is a big rectangular hole in the ground with a cyclone chain fence that is starting to really look worse for the wear. It is easily feasible to get a 20 or 40 foot long container, cut holes in one side for windows, the paint it in Sounder colors and drop it into the existing space already destined for a permanent shelter. Cost would be minimal. They do this downtown on public sidewalks all the time in construction zones, so why not at Muklilteo?

    Mike Orr, I respect your opinion but I couldn’t emphatically disagree with you more. I can only surmise that you may not have dealt with seniors and others who have never really used a computer or even know how to access a ticket machine with their card. That’s not to say their aren’t seniors who do, I’m sure the majority most likely are.

    But for those that don’t want to/and am uncomfortable or unwilling, what would you suggest as an option? My octogenarian boss (literally) refuses any attempts at updating technology wise, and does the job perfectly fine to boot.

    Once again, many thanks to all who responded to my rant. Have a great day and I’m sure I’ll catch up with you guys on another thread.

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