Most of us are familiar with the existing U-Pass. Introduced a number of years ago for secondary students, it dramatically reduced the cost of a monthly bus pass for them and did so in a revenue-neutral manner. It was able to do this by having all eligible post-secondary students purchase the reduced-fare monthly U-Pass as part of their student fees.
Although revenue per student was reduced, the total increase in the number of students now purchasing the U-Pass raised most of the revenue needed to maintain the service. Initially sponsored by Vancity, it now receives yearly financial support from the provincial government.
Even better, ridership went up because all students had a bus pass in their pocket. The Wikipedia entry notes that 88% of SFU students currently use the U-Pass. And as early as May 2005, TransLink estimated that having the program at SFU and UBC alone had led to a total reduction of 11,000 metric tons of regional greenhouse gas emissions.
With the above success in mind, I have long advocated something I refer to as a system-wide U-Pass. Let me explain.
According to TransLink’s 2018 Annual Report, ridership totalling all services was 263 million trips. While calculating current cost per person is complicated, given the various fare and zone variables currently used, based on the student U-Pass experience, it is logical to assume that total revenues would be maintained as every worker would now have a bus pass already paid for, almost certainly leading to a significant rise in ridership.
The time for a system-wide bus pass has never been better than now.
Partly, this is because of TransLink’s current structural deficits, which are primarily the result of two factors – a slow but steady reduction in gas tax revenues as car owners shift to electric vehicles, and COVID’s negative impact on bus ridership.
Left unaddressed, the structural deficits will lead very soon to reductions in service levels. These service levels reduction will inevitably lead to a reduction in ridership which will further reduce fare box revenues, necessitating even more service cuts.
A very negative, downward spiral.
Secondly, the current climate crisis makes it extremely timely to take bold steps to increase transit ridership and reduce automobile trips as much as possible. Governments at all levels are clearly committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and the U-Pass example illustrates the value to our climate of using a universal pass to increase overall transit ridership.
Let’s call on TransLink to be visionary and to lead us away from a downward transit spiral and even more towards a carbon-free future.
Daily atmospheric CO2 [Courtesy of CO2.Earth]
Latest daily total (Mar 7, 2023): 420.85ppm
One year ago (Mar 7, 2022): 417.88ppm
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