This Tuesday through Thursday, students across the University will have the ability to share their thoughts on their school or division’s enrollment in the Chicago Transit Authority’s U-Pass program by participating in a referendum on the matter. The U-Pass program allows students in participating schools unlimited rides on CTA for a flat, quarterly fee of approximately $85. Critically, schools or divisions (such as the Biological Sciences Division, Harris, or the College) may choose to opt-in to the program separately, but all full-time students in participating schools and divisions must take part in the program.
Every three or four years, the issue of U-Pass comes up for consideration among students in the College. In the past, support hasn’t been strong enough to merit participation in the program. We think this time is different, at least for students in the College.
In the past, the conversation was framed as a choice between the 170s and the U-Pass. This was because students wanted the University to cover the full cost of U-Pass for all of its students. From the University’s perspective, the only way to cover this substantial cost would be to eliminate the 170s. This is not the case for this year’s referendum, as the U-Pass would be funded by a student fee, like it is at the dozens of other participating schools across Chicago.
Importantly, for the first time, the Office of College Aid has agreed to subsidize the cost of the U-Pass for students receiving financial aid. They wouldn’t have made this commitment had they not recognized the great benefit the U-Pass would have for the student body. It’s a natural extension of the No Barriers program, the University’s comprehensive plan to “increase access to college, support students as they receive an empowering education, and prepare them for lifelong professional success.”
The U-Pass is of economic benefit to students if they ride an average of about 3.4 one-way trips on CTA per week; that is, for example, one round trip and one one-way trip (for example, taking the 2, 4, 6, 15, 55 or 59 to get around Hyde Park) or two round trips per week. These numbers assume students are responsible for paying the full cost of the U-Pass; for students on financial aid whose U-Pass would be subsidized by the University, the threshold would be even lower.
But the U-Pass doesn’t just have the potential to be a financial benefit to the student body; it would be a massive social benefit. It would make it easier and cheaper for students to take advantage of all that Chicago has to offer, from internships to dining options to cultural opportunities outside of Hyde Park. Increasingly, the University markets itself as integrated with the city, and participating in the U-Pass program is a step toward that vision.
Tyler Kissinger is a third-year in the College majoring in public policy.
Kenzo Esquivel is a second- year in the College majoring in environmental science.