The good and bad of U-Pass

I think the general impression of the U-Pass is a positive one.  Who could argue with giving post-secondary students cheaper access to transit?  Not many.  I personally would love it if I were a student.  I wish I had something similar for work.  [There is the Commuter Pass for some companies, but my workplace is too small for that and doesn’t qualify.]

So what could possibly wrong?  Well, I think Jarrett Walker’s example of giving away free transit in Guangzhou helps to illustrate the point.  When something that is already in high demand is given away for free or at a significant discount, we get overcrowding.

We are starting to get that with some of our buses in Metro Vancouver.  We know that most of the buses heading in and out of UBC are extremely busy during rush hour.  Lot of pass-ups happen during peak times.  I found one time that it was faster to walk from Main to Cambie along Broadway instead of trying to force myself onto a 99 or 9.  In total, three 99s and one 9 passed me up at Main.  So I just walked to Cambie and I arrived almost the same time as the next 99 that came along.

Currently, the U-Pass is offered at UBC, SFU, Langara College, and Capilano University are all on the program.  Currently, the price is $30 a month.  That’s even cheaper than what the Concession price is at $46.50 a month.

Understandably, students need all the help they can get.  Especially students just eeking out existence because they’re aren’t being supported by mom and dad in any way.  However, the price is almost absurdly low.  [But I guess if I were a student still, I wouldn’t complain.]

All these students are clogging up the transit system in one sense.  Which is great in terms of higher ridership and developing a need.  Hopefully, these current transit riders will continue to be future transit riders and eventually pay full fare.

Currently, though, we don’t want to overload the system.  If our system can handle the extra ridership, great.  If it can’t, then we should definitely re-consider how the U-Pass is implemented.  We may need to limit the schools that get access.  Although that would seem unfair.  I would think that the price of the U-Pass should be uniform with the price of a Concession monthly pass.  Why do high school students have to pay more than university students?

I don’t think there’s a simple solution to the U-Pass.  In general, I like the U-Pass.  I just think we have to be aware that there can be major downsides to the U-Pass that need to be kept in check. Otherwise, TransLink will continue to flounder because it cannot support the huge influx of student riders on the system.

Further reading:

Human Transit: guangzhou abandons free-fare experiment.

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