Students have high expectations for the newly launched U-Pass program, which provides unlimited Metro rides to students for a semesterly fee of $100. The program provides affordable transportation to those who commute to campus, travel to internships outside of Foggy Bottom or use Metro frequently to explore the city.
But not all students fit into those categories. For many undergraduates who find themselves swamped in classwork and student organization commitments, there is no reason to leave the campus. The program’s mandatory feature for undergraduates and inflexibility are unsympathetic to on-campus students who do not wish to be enrolled in the program. The University should accommodate an opt-out option or cost-adjustable rates for undergraduate students to alleviate the financial stress the program causes students.
GW’s enrollment in U-Pass is the result of years-long student advocacy and the University’s joint effort. When Metro delays persisted through weeks and months, thousands of off-campus students agonized commuting into and out of campus. Although U-Pass is not going to fix Metro cars that have gone off the rails, it certainly will take a load off commuter students’ shoulders with unlimited Metro rides for $100 per semester. But on-campus students who don’t have a reason to leave Foggy Bottom frequently and who cannot afford to pay $100 for transportation are overlooked in the implementation of the program. GW should consider adding an opt-out option for undergraduate students.
A $100 fee per semester might be a good deal for daily Metro users, but it can be burdensome to non-Metro users. For those who didn’t ask for U-Pass, paying the additional cost to already expensive GW tuition is beyond frustrating. Undergraduate tuition has reached almost $60,000, starting with the Class of 2024, and the total cost of attendance has increased by nearly 3.4 percent since fall 2020. Above all, the pandemic is driving many students into financial challenges to the extent that some are barely making the cuts to access housing and food.
While the program is intended to aid students with affordable transportation, the reality for non-Metro users is that this will cost them more money. To be sympathetic about this situation, GW and WMATA should consider implementing additional options that are mutually beneficial to them and narrowly tailored to students’ circumstances.
Some students have already expressed their wish to opt out of this program, and despite SA leaders’ push for an opt-out option, WMATA spokesman Ron Holzer said it is “not under consideration.” This brings many questions to the logistics of this program. Every student’s $100 is equally valuable and varies in its intended usage, but this requirement asks for the sacrifice of non-Metro users for the sake of Metro users. Just like how students are enjoying the fruits of their labor after so many years of persistent student advocacy, loud and persevering student voices can make an opt-out option possible.
Price accommodations can be another plausible solution. Some students travel outside of Foggy Bottom very infrequently, sometimes once or twice a month. For travels that would cost within a range of $5 to $10 normally, paying $100 is more expensive to non-Metro users. A tier system with different price options to choose from, similar to GW’s system for dining plan rates, could fulfill students’ specific demands. Metro fare could be applied depending on the student’s frequency so that students can choose their preferred Metro rate. For those students who do not want to be enrolled in the mandatory U-Pass program, accommodations like this will provide the necessary travel costs.
There is no doubt that U-Pass is a great program for the vast majority of its beneficiaries. It’s also an achievement of years-long persistence from the student leaders. But there are improvements to be made and room for conversation. Both graduates and undergraduates should be able to opt out of the program, and the University can propose alternative options like a cost-adjustable tier system to further offset costs. As the mandatory feature has been on the talk since the proposal of this program, it should be more thoroughly reviewed now that actual money is coming out of students’ pockets. The University should consider accommodating solutions for those who want to opt out of the program.
Yeji Chung, a junior majoring in political science, is an opinions writer.
This article appeared in the February 7, 2022 issue of the Hatchet.