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Students advocate for MBTA U-Pass

Published: Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 12, 2014 02:02

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Annie Levine / The Tufts Daily

  The Tufts Transit Coalition (TTC), a student group dedicated to improving student transportation options, is advocating for the T to provide a university pass (U-Pass) that would provide college students in Boston with unlimited, free access to the MBTA.

While Tufts has agreed to consider the U-Pass program, an outside transportation consultant is examining other, reduced cost ways for students to take the T, according to Sustainability Program Director Tina Woolston

Issues of pedestrian-safety, equal-access to internship opportunities, Boston culture and limited on campus parking have made improving transportation a high priority for university administrators, Woolston said. 

“One of the reasons we want to get people out of their cars is that it’s safer for students walking,” Woolston said. “If we reduce car presence on campus, we could implement more pedestrian walk ways and bike lanes.” 

Unlike other schools, Tufts does not have a transportation office, but the Office of Sustainability has assumed responsibility for transportation topics, Woolston explained.

“I think U-Pass is an awesome idea, we just need someone to make sure it’s the best solution for Tufts,” Woolston said. “We need to get the best bang for our buck.”

The university is also considering improvements to its bike-rental program, expanding the Zipcar program, introducing a university-operated rental car program and extending the Tufts shuttle system to more locations, Woolston said.

“We need to look at all options so we can find the best solution,” he said. “What if we added more bike lanes? What if there was a better ride sharing program?”

While the Tufts Transit Coalition is open to considering other transportation solutions, TTC member Alex Wallach said the group strongly believes that a U-Pass system is the solution to students’ transportation needs.

“The idea of U-Pass is that everyone gets access to the T, it would just be part of coming to Tufts,” Wallach, a senior, said. “Part of what you get in coming here is a dorm, being near Boston and having access to internships, and part of that is a CharlieCard.” 

While the logistics of the program have not been determined, under the proposed plan, the MBTA would sell semester passes to universities at least 50 percent off the retail value. The university, with help from grants, would subsidize the remaining cost, Wallach explained.

“The U-Pass would not be a financial burden on students — we’re very explicit about that,” Wallach said.

While the MBTA has not begun official conversations with universities, the schools have been highly receptive to the proposed program, Wallach said.

“Ideally, the system would be introduced in fall 2014, but we recognize that’s an aggressive goal,” Wallach said. “It’s more about the MBTA and the university being ready.”

Boston is not the first city to consider this program. U-Pass is modeled off existing fare-free university transit systems in Milwaukee, Seattle and Chicago, Wallach said. Surveys of these students show that 90 percent want to keep the university-pass program. 

“One-hundred forty-four colleges have a university pass program, so we know it works,” Wallach said. “We just need to figure out how to make it work here. And that’s really what this whole thing is about.

The benefits of a universal-pass extend beyond university students, according to Kirstie Peccie, a staff attorney at Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group (MASSPIRG) advocating for the program.

“What’s great about a U-Pass program, if it works the way it should, is that not only do students get access and benefits but the system improves, so citizens benefit too,” she said. 

Additionally, the transportation habits that students adopt in college often persist after college. 

“Research shows that universities act as a sort of petri-dish in movements like this,” Peccie said. “Colleges act as a sort of blueprint for municipalities. They can say ‘Oh they did this over at UMass and Tufts, maybe we could implement that here.’”

Peccie explained that the extension of the green-line to Tufts makes these discussions particularly timely to Tufts. 

“This really makes a lot of sense for Tufts right now,” she said.

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