Without the subsidy from UTA, funding the Ed Pass is burdensome on the school. Students who need it however, are stuck without transportation otherwise.For students who rely on public transit, an additional expense has been added to their semester budget.
In the February 3 student fees hearing, Timpanogos Regional General Manager for UTA Hugh Johnson proposed that UTA quit subsidizing the Ed Pass program. On February 17, UVU student government voted to cut all ties with UTA, in response to the pulled funding.
The Ed Pass is an all-inclusive UTA transit pass that allows students access to bus, Trax and Front Runner lines. Students do this by activating the pass on their student IDs with a $20 fee for the year or until September, whichever comes first. The low cost is due to subsidies from UTA and student fees from the school. In other words, every student pays $6.88 for the privilege and UTA fronts additional funding, similar to the subsidy of athletics or the One Card.
The program started as a way to “fill empty seats,” according to Johnson, and at the time of its inception was a 100 percent government funded program. The amount UTA subsidized was based on how many UVU students were paying for bus passes and the cost those passes.
As a consequence of the 2008 recession, UTA lost approximately $4 million in Utah County alone and has had a hard time maintaining the program. Although its initial purpose of filling seats was accomplished with the 23 percent increase in student ridership, the more responsible part of its purpose is being forgone. Students who are transit-dependent, like those of lower income, as well as international students who cannot own cars, will feel the repercussions of this severed tie most.
The expense of a full-price student pass will cost $56.25 for one month, or $204.38 for one semester, which equates to over $600 for a full year of ridership. While it hovers below a car payment, gas and insurance costs, it is still a burden – and a sudden one at that.
Additionally, international students may be discouraged from attending the university, as their available transportation will become less so. Many international students here are from third world countries and, at least, have families making many sacrifices at home so they can be here. They are often confined to working only on campus in low-paying jobs such jobs as food services or custodial jobs. Further, for the entirety of their education, they will pay full out-of-state tuition. They do not qualify for either residency or many scholarships outside of those funded by the international center. A transit system is crucial to their stay.
President of the International Student Council Christopher Chileshe said, “I understand at this point that if we continued with the fee, it wouldn’t serve the entire student population. But maybe the administration can look into exploring options for international student because they are in desperate need of it.”
Looking forward, though, UTA’s Front Runner south is under construction, and should reach Utah county in 2014. At that time, commuting students will benefit from a subsidized program, especially those who return to school for financial reasons.
Although the short-term solution of cutting ties with UTA may be financially beneficial to UTA and the university now, it could prove to harm both in the future, in addition to the students it affects now.