University of Washington: 10 Years of Results
January, 2002Editor's Note: This article was taken from a piece in "The Daily", the student newspaper at the University of Washington. It was written by UW student Mark Santschi.
Some students depend on it every day. To others, it is merely a luxury, perhaps just a sticker that arrives with their registration material a couple of weeks before each quarter, something to slap on the back of their UW identification cards and use when needed. Faculty and staff may purchase a U-Pass at offices located throughout the campus.
But to Seattle City Counciwoman Heidi Wills, who spoke during the University of Washington's 10th annual Transportation Fair, the U-PASS is something much more. To her, it is an achievement of "common sense and transportation choices."
Wills spearheaded the two-year effort to implement the U-PASS as a replacement for the UW's struggling transportation program, which, according to Peter Dewey, manager of the UW Transportation Office, was "not as successful" as the current system. Dewey played a role in the early financing of the U-PASS as the then accounting supervisor for Parking Services. (Dewey's supervisor, Diana Perey, Director of Transportation Services, is a member of PT's advisory board.)
The former program included subsidized transit passes, discounted carpool parking and the development of bicycle facilities on campus.
"U-PASS did something that was much different," Dewey said. "It changed the relative price of transit to parking. It used to be that the price of parking was less expensive than the cost of a subsidized transit pass."
According to the 1999- 2000 U-PASS annual report, compiled by the UW Transportation Office, parking fees increased from $24 a month in 1990 to $59.22 a month in 2001, an increase of more than 145 percent. By comparison, the monthly cost of a student U-PASS increased 65 percent from 1991 to 2002, from $6.67 a month to 2001 to $11 a month in 2000.
"The idea was a radical change in the relative pricing (of parking fees and transit passes)," Dewey said. "The effect was dramatic and immediate, especially for students. Students were quite receptive to changing their travel behavior."
Only 25 percent of University of Washington students, staff and faculty drive alone to campus. The percentage of ride-alone students dropped 9 percent from 1989 to 2000. At the same time, the percentage of the students commuting to the UW via bus increased 14 percent.
Linked to such statistics is a dramatic increase in the growth of the U-PASS program. An all-time high of 45,454 U-PASSes were issued during the autumn quarter 2001, an increase of 24 percent from 1991.
Wills is pleased with the success of the U-PASS, and believes that its increased circulation is "not just good for (UW) students, but for the university community."
Statistically, the student body seems to agree. Currently, about 85 percent of UW students participate in the U-PASS program.
But support for the program was not always so pronounced.
"It wasn't easy," Wills said of encouraging students to embrace the U-PASS in its formative years. Prior to October 1991, when the U-PASS first went into effect, students expressed great concern about the "negative check-off system" that automatically billed students for a U-PASS unless they explicitly stated they did not want one. Also controversial was the sudden increase in the cost of campus parking, from $24 a month in 1990 to $36 a month in 1991.
"That acted as an incentive to use the pass," Wills said.
By Oct. 2, 1991, the third day of classes, the majority of UW students participating in the program had received their U-PASSes in the mail, while others waited for what The Daily termed a "glue problem" with the U-PASS stickers to be resolved.
Meanwhile, student reactions were mixed.
"I think it's great. Not only is it in my interests, but those of the city," senior Victor Magar told The Daily in an Oct. 3, 1991, article.
Yet in the same article, fellow UW student Carol Holland said, "Metro should have taken into account more bus service to certain areas." She complained of having to transfer twice from Queen Anne to get to campus.
Made sense then and now
"I think once people saw the benefits of U-PASS, the controversy was minimized," Wills said. "[The U-PASS] made sense then, and it makes sense today."
Wills believes that many improvements are necessary to perfect Seattle's transportation program. She lists such improvements as more sidewalks, better bicycle facilities with showers and bike lockers, designated bus lanes and more east-west bus routes.
Another improvement, she said, is a new transportation corridor -- like the much-maligned light rail. Like the early phase of the U-PASS, the light rail has been subjected to a barrage of criticism from its inception. Yet on Sept. 27, Sound Transit officials voted to install a 14-mile light-rail line from Tukwila to downtown Seattle, allotting the project a budget of $2.1 billion.
While the light rail is planned to help ease the traffic congestion from just north of Sea-Tac airport to downtown Seattle, it will most likely have little effect in the U-District.
"It's not exactly designed to serve the needs of the university," Dewey said.
Not that it needs to be.
In a report prepared by Dewey, comparing the "transportation characteristics at UW and selected comparable peer universities," the UW has a relatively low percentage of students who drive to school: 26 percent. By contrast, 48 percent of UCLA students drive to campus, 50 percent do so at the University of Minnesota and 36 percent do so at Ohio State. The UW also has a higher number of students who use the bus than at those universities, by as much as 15 percent more.
"We are much less dependant on driving alone than most of our peer institutions," Dewey said, "and the alternatives we proved -- particularly access to a pretty good bus system -- are really great."
Such confidence in the U-District's transportation program has allowed the UW more freedom when restructuring campus now that the university is less restricted by available parking than in 1990.
Construction of the new UW School of Law, which began in August over part of parking lot, eliminated about 300 parking spaces.
"Eleven years ago, (the UW) didn't have any slack parking, such that if we lost a bunch of parking, it hurt," Dewey said, adding that many of people can no longer park in parking in lots on north campus, where traditionally there have been more open spaces than in other campus lots.
"I like to think that we have among the most, if not the most, successful transportation program in the country," said Dewey, who feels that much of the credit for the program belongs to that thin, often under-appreciated sticker on the back of about 30,000 student IDs.