"Waiting by the HUB", by Oran

Faced with escalating fares, the University of Washington has decided to no longer provide an opt-out for the U-PASS program. Escalating charges threatened to decrease the participation rate and trigger further rises:

The universal U-PASS program will replace the current system in which students can opt to return the $99 U-PASS each quarter. Starting in autumn quarter, students will pay a fee of $76 per quarter, and the price will be locked in for two years. Faculty and staff will remain in an optional program.

According to Transportation Services, without instituting the universal U-PASS student fee, the student U-PASS fee would rise to $134.40 in the coming academic year and to $148.16 by the 2012-13 year.

At any of these rates, and especially at $25.33 a month, U-PASS is a tremendous deal for a pass at the maximum fare value compared to the open-market alternatives.

According to UW Transportation Director Josh Kavanagh, capping the fare equivalence of the U-PASS wouldn’t help contain costs. Because not many student trips involve Sounder, the formulas don’t really credit the UW much for such a concession.

The University has accumulated $3m in rebates from transit agencies due to lower student ridership than expected. Kavanagh said this would be held in reserve in case fares kept rising, or future negotiations with agencies turned out unfavorably.

In 2008, UW increased U-PASS prices from $50 to $99 per quarter.

51 Replies to “UW U-PASS Cheaper, No Longer Optional”

  1. Husky cards with embedded ORCA technology will start getting distributed at the end of May.


    July 1 is the go-dead day for accepting the old U-Pass flash passes with stickers. The Husky Card, with a U-Pass loaded, will become the only way to have a U-Pass.

    Students, faculty, and staff: Find out when your Husky card will be available, and go get it. The world, as you know it, is about to change.

    Now, all we need is to figure out a way to get between buses and UW Station fast enough that people will be willing to transfer; transit-only lanes on Pacific Ave, Montlake Blvd/25th Ave NE, Brooklyn Ave, and 45th Ave NE; and a plan to turn the campus area into the city’s fourth No-Cash POP zone (after the DBTT, Third Ave, and then the whole CBD). We simply can’t have people paying as they enter or exit the bus on Pacific Ave when the station opens.

    1. Just correcting an error in the comment above. July one is the ORCA migration date for Faculty and Staff U-PASS participants. Students will remain on stickers until fall quarter.

      Still, Eric’s counsel to get the new Husky Card promptly once distribution begins is wise.

  2. I must say I’m disappointed that UW is making the transit pass required. The rate they’re charging is a great deal for those who actually want a pass, but the only way they can get that good of a deal is by having every student who doesn’t want to ride the bus subsidizing those who do.

    When I was in school (at a large state school in another state), we also had mandatory bus passes. I almost never used it because I chose to live within walking distance of campus. It cost more to do so, but I thought the time savings of being able to get home in a few minutes anytime I needed to was worth the extra expense. I always thought it was more than a bit unfair that I had to subsidize the higher transportation costs of those who chose to live farther away, while those who lived farther away didn’t have to help subsidize my higher rent costs.

    1. I lived near the UW and still had a U Pass. No matter how close you live to campus you still need to get around the city.

      87% of students already choose to keep the U-Pass, so it’s not a huge proportion of students who will be “subsidizing” other students’ travel.

      1. The amount a student needs to “get around the city” varies. Some might have a part-time job on the other side of town and so they would need a bus pass. Others only occasionally venture outside of the U-District and would be better off paying for individual rides than an unlimited pass. It should be up to the student to decide how much transportation he/she needs and to purchase it accordingly.

      2. The whole point of this post is that the voluntary financing model failed, and the mandatory model has very wide support even among students who don’t use it. If you don’t like it, don’t go, or stop complaining.

      3. I suspect the only students who aren’t riding three or four buses in a week—it takes less than 12 rides/month to break even with a UPASS—aren’t the folks who are living so close to campus they can walk everywhere, they’re the students who have cars and are driving everywhere. I’ve no problem dinging them with a carbon tax / transpo subsidy, while also giving them the option of riding the bus for free whenever they want. It might get them out of their SOVs more.

      4. Bruce, It’s fine to disagree, but statements like “If you don’t like it, don’t go, or stop complaining” cost you credibility points…

      5. I didn’t mean to be nasty, but I have even less sympathy for this argument as applied to someone who attends UW than I have for taxes incident upon the general population. Anyone who attends UW — particularly anyone who drives — benefits from others not driving, just as anyone who drives at rush hour benefits from people who don’t. Moreover, no-one is forced to attend UW and pay this fee.

        My company provides free health insurance and hugely discounted dental insurance for employees with families — a subsidy costing more than $500/month in most cases. I don’t complain because I see the social interest and indirect benefits to myself in doing this, AND if I really objected, I could go work somewhere else.

      6. UW already has precedence for this as a mandatory fee. When I went there a few years ago the student technology fee and IMA (fitness center) fee were mandatory for all students, but I’d suspect that much fewer than 87% of them used the IMA or an STF-funded computer lab.

    2. The situation for UW students seems like it might be almost opposite from your experience. The UD is one of the cheaper areas to live in, and it’s a transit hub. Most of the folks that I knew who lived there (including myself for a while) almost exclusively took the bus and of course had a UPass. It was the folks who lived farther away from campus who were more likely to not have or use a UPASS and to drive to campus and park in the massive Montlake lot. So if anyone’s subsidizing anyone else, it’s probably the car-driving, far-from-campus folks who are subsidizing the folks who choose to live within a reasonable distance of campus and use transit. Though, quite frankly, I don’t have any problem with subsidizing transit. If you can afford the higher rents, maybe you can afford the pass too; folks who can’t afford the higher rents, maybe they can’t afford to pay for transit on their own. Consider it a sort of transit scholarship :)

      1. The U District actually is far from the cheapest area to live in. New development in the U District is priced higher than in Ballard, and the landlords are expecting a high turnover of 1-year tenants, so they are very willing to raise rents 5% a year.

    3. There are lots of things I am forced to subsidize for other people: parking for the other tenants at my apartment; sports palaces I never used until Sounders FC joined the MLS; freeways that serve little purpose for my transportation needs; off-leash dog areas for which I have no use; public schools I don’t attend or have any children attending; and wars to which I am quite morally opposed. But I always vote to tax myself to pay for those schools, and I do support letting dog owners get something for their taxes, too.

      Oh yes, I also pay taxes to subsidize your college education, Eric. There is a reason UW is called a “public” school.

      I’ll offer you a deal Eric: Pay the full cost of your education, and I’ll support relieving you of that $25.33 a month for the U-Pass.

      BTW, thanks for posting the date correction!

      1. Never mind my question, Martin. Here’s the answer:


        “Faculty, staff and students [at UW-Bothell] who purchase U-PASS will be able to use it for payment on buses, Sounder trains and Link light rail, but instead of flashing a U-PASS sticker, riders will tap their Husky card (with the U-PASS product activated) on the ORCA reader to show proof of payment.”

        UW-Bothell is on a similar ORCA conversion timeline, but apparently the U-Pass is still optional there (presumably because their Associated Students hasn’t made it mandatory).

        From what I’ve seen on the UW-Tacoma website, no similar conversion is occuring there yet, and the U-Pass is optional. Unfortunately for UWT students, faculty, and staff, the U-Pass doesn’t cover (Thurston County) Intercity Transit, in part because InT is not part of the ORCA network.

      2. I don’t attend UW, and don’t plan to. I have earned all the degrees I will need for the foreseeable future. This fee will not affect me in the slightest.

        I still think that given the high cost of education (largely because the tax support for public universities is decreasing), a university should not impose large fees on its students for services that are not directly related to education. I am similarly opposed to mandatory fees that support intercollegiate athletics (tickets, TV rights, donations, etc. should fund that 100%), student fitness centers, and similar things.

        This $76/quarter transit pass will add nearly $1000 to the cost of a four-year degree from UW, money that most students will have to add to their loans and repay for several years after graduating. You can buy every freshman a pretty nice bicycle for half that amount.

      3. Eric,

        Did the university impose these fees on the students, or did the students, via the Associated Student election process, vote to impose these fees on themselves?

      4. Eric, I’ve been attending UW for a few years and find the U-PASS an incredible value. I use it to commute to school and to work and for leisure. I’ll take that over the bicycle, thank you very much.

        Although U-Pass is not directly related to education, consider the effect had it not existed. The UW would have to spend millions on parking structures and infrastructure to support more and more people driving to campus. U-Pass is a very successful transportation demand management program. The current opt-out U-Pass program is simply not financially sustainable.

      5. But the majority of students are already purchasing the U-Pass, so the new reduced cost will actually be saving most students money. It will also help keep the price of the U-Pass from increasing over time, which will help save students money long term. You’re focusing too much on the very small impact to the small percentage of students who would not otherwise participate in the U-Pass program.

    4. The UW is a 70% commuter school, so the people who walk to school are maximum 30%. It would be nice to give them a no-transportation discount, but the U-Pass program is part of a larger deal to encourage and carpooling over SOV driving. If you take away part of it, the whole thing falls apart. So it’s like the IMA (athletic center), which all students pay for. Non-students can only wish they could get such good rates on a transit pass and athletic facility.

      Rents in the U-district vary widely. With some looking you can find a 1BR for $675. That’s hard to beat unless it’s a room in a house someplace with much less transit. What the U-district and southwest Capitol Hill have is availability: more units in every price range. Whenever I price units in Ballard or Lynnwood they’re about the same, so why live there? In Rainier Valley you can get a larger unit for the same price as the U-district, but the only places I’ve seen significantly cheaper are a room in a house off 16th Ave SW (long hilly walk to the rest of West Seattle), and suburban units not on a busline.

    5. I live a few blocks from my job, but a bus pass is still definitely a necessity for me.

    6. I’d have to say I’m disappointed that UW is NOT making the transit pass required for faculty and staff too.

      By the way you already have to have a UPASS to be eligible for carpool or get commuter lots discounts, though you can park off campus without one.

      1. Making the pass mandatory for union faculty and staff would be a contractual negotiation issue.

        That said, I hope UW offers U-Pass as a benefit for all employees during the next rounds of contract negotiations, and I hope the various unions accept.

        But then, future increases in U-Pass rates would be subject to negotiation.

      2. If you push this you’re going to get a huge backlash. Faculty & staff haven’t had a pay raise in several years, and their benefits are constantly being cut.

        Everyone who feasibly can take transit to UW is already doing so. You can’t force it.

      1. Actually, in 2015, Pinkerton press gangs will roam the land, looking for able-bodied citizens to work on road repairs, as all the illegal taxes and inefficient unions responsible for the current infrastructure will have been abolished by Governor Enyman. The UW? IPO on Wall Street, industry standard 70 hour work weeks, and everyone will telecommute to campus. This will free up real estate for the new Rainier Vista Highway.

  3. Western has a mandatory fee and issues a transit pass to every student. It is handy for getting around town and just having it I think encourages trips that might not otherwise be taken (i.e. DT, Seattle Center, etc.). WWU’s fee is a lot less (I think $25/quarter) but then again there are nowhere near the options provided by the U Pass. My son would opt in if they allowed students from other state universities to participate. He’d break even just on the times he takes transit home for the weekend.

    1. Yes Bernie is correct, Western has a mandatory fee of $25 per quarter for all students taking 6 or more credits. The bus pass is simply coded onto the existing WWU student ID Card, and swiped on the bus. Card holders are entitled to unlimited rides on the WTA bus system as well as a special shuttle operated by the University on Sundays and late at night.

      This has been, by all accounts, a resounding success in Bellingham. Ridership went up 19% systemwide on WTA when the mandatory transportation fee was imposed. Granted, the WWU student population of 12,500 represents a larger chunk of Bellingham’s 80,000 residents (roughly 15% of the city) compared to the UW’s 42,000 students out of 563,000 Seattle Residents (roughly 7.5% if my math is correct).

      Nonetheless, if you want to see an example of how it plays out when a university makes a transit fee mandatory, look at Bellingham and WWU and you’ll see that it has worked well here up North.

      I will concede the point, however, that with cheaper fares on WTA this only adds $300 on average to the cost of a degree at Western, compared to an extra $1000 for students at the UW over the cost of four years. That is a significant difference.

    1. “The standard-issue EdPass/ORCA card is good on Community Transit buses and DART paratransit only.”

      Seems pretty clear.

      1. So, if someone does a lot of cross-county bus riding, then they may as well just buy a regular ORCA and not get the EdPass.

        If they ride across the county line infrequently, they can put an e-purse on the EdPass.

      2. I dont see how EdPass inside ORCA card can differentiate between bus systems… I think it just cares that you have enough money in the card, regardless of the bus system.

      3. It can. Basically the EdPass is an “agency specific pass” that’s good only on CT. Like the ferry passes or Metro’s senior pass or Kitsap’s low-income pass.

      4. Although what is interesting about the EdPass is that they allow you to load an e-purse on it so that you can use for for other agencies. The UPASS does not allow you to do this although I think all agencies using ORCA (except ferries) are covered under UPASS.

      5. As of this quarter I cross the King County line quite a lot and I decided against paying for the EdPass for the first time. Since I have to pay to transfer anyway and Metro’s prices are the higher of the two it doesn’t make sense to buy the EdPass. I did however, consider buying a bunch of Chinook books, using the Metro tickets out of them, buying the EdPass and getting a bunch of nearly free Amtrak Cascades coupons from the book since I also use Cascades.

  4. Martin,

    I’m unclear whether the UPass will continue to be valid for Sounder all the way to Tacoma. Or will it require an e-purse top-off?

    This may not be much of an issue now, but as housing gets tighter, more students continue to live with their parents around the region, U-Link provides a fast connection to Sounder, Sounder extends to Lakewood, and the 586 ST Express between Tacoma and UW-Seattle gets eliminated, it may become more of an issue.

    1. As “housing gets tighter,” we should really be looking to increase housing density along the downtown-Eastlake corridor, rather than encouraging people to commute all the way from Tacoma.

      1. Oh, we are trying Kyle.

        But we are faced with a city council that doesn’t see the disconnect between being pro-transit and pro-freeway-gigaprojects, and doesn’t see the disconnect between being pro-transit and pro-lower-height-limits. They’re all about proclaiming their support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re doing everything wrong to make that a reality.

        Nor have any of the rezonings I’m aware of proposed to convert commecial spaces to mixed residential/commercial. We need to become land-use planning geeks real fast if we want Link to meet its ridership projections.

      2. People who live with their parents in Tacoma can’t afford an apartment on Eastlake, otherwise they’d be there already. The UW is a state university, so it gets people from Pierce and Snohomish Counties. Yes, there should be more in-city housing, but that doesn’t mean nobody will commute any more. People do have relationships, and they often have to work in different cities to remain in their chosen profession.

    2. Ack! I posted my reply with the answer that U-Pass is good on Sounder in the wrong thread. Sorry!

  5. Wow. Those UW passes are so cheap! Portland State University quarterly (10 week) transit passes are $180. UW is on a semester schedule, so it would only cost $200 per school year, whereas in Portland it is $540.

    1. No, UW is on the quarter system. I think only WSU remains on the semester system. They’ve been talking about changing since I was there for my fresh/soph years back in the mid seventies.

    2. Those PSU TriMet passes are also optional.

      Eastern Washington University has had a mandatory $6.50 a quarter fee for Spokane Transit passes. No, that’s not a typo, it really is only 6 dollars and fifty cents, and valid all day every day during the school year. What’s amazing is some students still complain it being a ‘socialist waste of money,’ despite the fact STA service is well-patronized by many students.

      1. Wow! Students at a state-funded public university still complain about “socialism”?

  6. So instead of having a separate fee, the university I went to just paid for all university students to get free accress on all fixed-route service in the city. This way students didn’t feel like they were being charged for something that they may or may not want. It meant if you were a university student you got to use public transit 100% free, which I never once heard a single person complain about.

  7. I lived on campus for 2 years at UW and used my U-PASS quite extensively to go shopping, see shows/movies, meet friends, etc. I think most students choose UW, at least in part, because it is in a vibrant city, not a college town. There is plenty to do outside of campus, which makes the U-PASS incredibly useful even if you do live on-campus.

    If you prefer to stay within 1 mile of campus for your entire college career, there is certain university in Pullman…

    1. Or if you prefer to not even be on a university campus, there is a university in Pullman that will award you with a degree as a good friend of ours likes to remind us.

      But in all seriousness, as a current UW student who uses the bus to get from Cap Hill to campus every day as well as various trips around the city, I’m very grateful of the mobility it provides me

      1. OK, I did two years at each (UW and WSU). A rivalry is great but both have very special opportunities. Not a huge pointy ball fan but Apple Cup is the time to make digs. WWU I’m pretty sure had a student vote on “imposing” the transit fee. UW should have been ahead of the curve and done the same. I’m sure it would have passed but the “edict” just makes for hard feelings. You (projecting myself back as a student) pay a rec fee to use the gym. THAT might get voted down but the “free” incentive that gets people to use it and the lifelong benefits that it generates more than outweighs the cost.

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