As students return to campus and begin to ramp up advocacy efforts in person once again, we shouldn’t let efforts to increase students’ access to sustainable transportation get lost in the shuffle.
The GW community’s need for a discounted Metro pass is clear – many students live off campus and work internships and jobs in other parts of the city, which can get costly for students who work an hourly wage while studying full time. Students also rely on the Metro to experience the “only at GW” activities the University relentlessly markets to incoming students. The Smithsonian museums, Capitol Hill and historic districts like U Street and Union Market are most accessible to students by riding the Metro.
For more than five years, students have been pushing for the University to take part in some variation of the UPass program, which would give students unlimited Metro rides for $1 per day. American University has been a part of the program since 2016 allowing all AU students the discounted rides for a $136 fee on top of their tuition.
After previous student-led efforts to bring administrators on board with the discounted pass, administrators were not able to come to an agreement with WMATA officials about how the program could operate. Administrators said in 2019 that they were not in a position to enroll in UPass unless WMATA agreed to an optional program to avoid adding on costs to GW’s tuition. WMATA officials had said that the program would not be profitable for them unless the pass was mandatory for all students.
But the UPass program is more important now than ever as two classes of students who have yet to partake in classic GW experiences are eager to explore the city. If this is an important issue to you, I encourage you to stay involved in advocacy efforts throughout the year.
In the past, student leaders on Foggy Bottom’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission and the Student Association have led the effort in lobbying the University for the discounted pass. When the University was negotiating a proposal with the WMATA for potentially implementing the UPass Program in 2016, the SA held a referendum in which students voted in favor of the program. At the time, students would pay $250 on top of their tuition, as opposed to AU’s current UPass price of $136. More than 70 percent of students voted yes, but the University rejected the overwhelming student opinion.
Individual students in support of a UPass program should meet with SA leaders about the topic to discuss the avenues they can use to continue working with officials to make this happen. They can also call on local leaders like the Foggy Bottom and West End Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to continue discussions with WMATA about how to make this a feasible option for the Univeristy.
Campus organizations that advocate for the environment, like Green GW and Sunrise GW, should consider making the UPass program a priority. Encouraging more students to use the Metro, which is what UPass will do, can serve as an extension of the work that sustainability organizations on campus advocate for.
But students shouldn’t be alone in their advocacy. Professors who teach courses on environmental issues, or those who encourage and help students get internships off campus can also bring the issue to light by speaking about the discounted Metro pass to the Faculty Senate. The Faculty Senate is an important advisory body to administrators, and support from the Faculty Senate could insist that the administration should take the issue more seriously.
Although UPass has seemed like a long shot for the past several years, students shouldn’t give up hope. The GW community should continue their effort to lobby the University to implement UPass, or a program similar to it. Campus organizations, individual students, and professors should all take part in continuing to speak out in favor of a discounted Metro pass.
Shreeya Aranake, a junior majoring in history, is the contributing opinions editor.