By Sarah Nelson Chicago is host to a huge number of colleges and universities, and the U-Pass is essentially a Ventra card that offers them unlimited rides. Since the CTA first introduced it several years ago, many colleges have jumped on board to make a contract with them offering the U-Pass to their students. North Park has not. While it may seem that we have fallen behind our neighboring schools, this is not the case; the U-Pass simply does not fit our unique student body. The unlimited rides are not free, and our tuition should not be raised to accommodate them if this is not the best solution for our campus' specific needs.
For a school such as Loyola, big enough to lay claim to both a downtown campus and their own stop on the Red Line, the U-Pass is a no-brainer. However, North Park is very different from Loyola. We don't have students commuting downtown for classes, and we make much better efforts to remain affordable for our smaller student body. Our tuition goes almost entirely to the operational costs of the school, meaning that North Park has thus far done an exceptional job of keeping our tuition low. For the sake of college affordability, we have to look at how the U-Pass will factor into each student's financial situation because a U-Pass contract would have to include every single North Park student.
The most conservative estimate for the raise in tuition for the U-Pass is $150, and some estimates are significantly higher. The University of Chicago went through this process last year, and their student life costs went up by $250 to fund the U-Pass. An increase of more than $150 may seem small for some students, but other North Parkers can hardly pay their tuition bills as it is. In addition, some students are already paying $150 for a parking pass and would rarely use the U-Pass. It is not fair to ask them to pay for their classmate's expenses on the CTA.
It was found in SGA sponsored surveys taken earlier this semester that residents of North Park mostly use the CTA for sightseeing. As important as it is to explore the city we study in, sightseeing is not something that everyone should be required to pay towards in their tuition. Commuters, on the other hand, typically use the CTA either every day or hardly ever. Those who don't drive use public transportation to get to school, but those who do drive perhaps have never ridden a bus in their life.
Since almost half of our students are commuters, we need to make sure we are not neglecting them. If there are more commuters taking public transportation daily rather than driving, then the U-Pass might make sense. Until we know that as a fact, however, a lot of students might be alienated by it. We would be adding another transportation cost on top of the parking pass those students are already paying for. The students with cars don’t ask that we subsidize their parking passes or gas, so why should they subsidize our CTA fare? The bottom line is this: it is unfair to expect certain North Parkers to pay for their classmates' weekend excursions downtown when they themselves can barely afford to be here.
The current system for Ventra cards is not perfect, but we can tweak it to fit our students' needs because it is not subject to a CTA contract. It should be streamlined, specifically with the goal of making the Ventra cards available during the first week of the school year. SGA is trying to find the best system because it is their priority to make Chicago accessible to North Parkers. That is the point of the Ventra cards or U-Pass at its core. Hopefully, whichever program is implemented will accomplish this for the best of our student body, lightening the burden of transportation costs rather than adding to it.