Last Friday, the University of Washington threw a birthday party for its U-Pass program, which turns twenty this year. In its inception in the early 90s, the U-Pass was one of the first university-wide transportation demand management programs of its kind, and has become a model for similar programs nationwide. A few notable speakers attended the anniversary celebration, including Metro GM Kevin Desmond, UW Transportation Services Director Josh Kavanagh, and former Seattle city councilmember Heidi Wills.
Wills, who was president of undergraduate student body during the time of the U-Pass inception, spoke about the controversy originally incited through the program– which earned the ire of the campus libertarians and many others who objected to the idea of paying for another’s commute. Wills’ response to the opposition was one familiar to all of us– those who don’t take transit still benefit from the people that do. From that mantra grew one of the most successful TDM programs in the country: while the University community is 30% larger than it was in 1992, traffic volumes in the U-District today are lighter.
The most significant change that the U-Pass has undergone in recent years was last year’s decision to switch to a universal model, in which students can no longer opt-out of the program. While earning its own share of controversy, the new funding model has decreased costs while increasing participation rates, which took a precipitous decline after the U-Pass doubled in cost in 2008. Despite any past misgivings, the program will likely remain on this track into the foreseeable future, helping sustain the city’s transit future.
Happy birthday, U-Pass. Here’s to another twenty years.