Reformed U-Pass system rolls out to students

Monthly transit passes hoped to curb losses, fraud

New month-by-month U-Passes roll out in late August.

TransLink and area universities are rolling out a tightened system to dispense and regulate student transit U-Passes that were often lost in the mail or illegally resold.

The change comes as 60,000 additional students join an expanded, revamped U-Pass program that gives them all unlimited transit for $30 per month, charged with student fees.

Each college or university is installing vending machines that will dispense the new U-Passes to students each month after they swipe their student cards.

The monthly U-Passes replace the old system of mailing out passes that were good for an entire four-month term.

TransLink estimated $15 million worth of U-Passes were being reported lost or stolen each year and replaced. Many of them later found their way into the hands of other users.

Spokesman Ken Hardie said mailing the passes was problematic because many students weren’t diligent about keeping their mailing address up to date.

“Cards were being sent off and lost in the ether,” he said.

Officials hope doling out the passes just one month at a time via machine will solve that problem and make them harder to sell them as well.

Paying for U-Passes is mandatory but students in areas poorly served by transit contend they can’t use them and often try to resell them.

The passes are non-transferrable but equivalent in value to a $151 three-zone monthly pass, so students who sold them could turn a tidy profit.

Hardie said websites like craigslist and vansky.com have agreed to delete ads trying to sell U-Passes.

And he said students who enroll for courses and then drop out – or otherwise cease to be eligible – won’t be able to get the next month’s pass.

Since the new U-Passes won’t bear names or photos, students must be prepared to show their student cards as well when they board transit.

The switch to the new U-Pass system followed lengthy negotiations between TransLink and the colleges and universities.

Blair Jensen, chair of the coalition of Metro Vancouver public institutions, said the changes bring significant costs for each school, but added the provincial government put up a one-time $11-million subsidy to assist.

The new system of vending machines spitting out monthly U-Passes will be in effect less than two years.

In the spring of 2013, TransLink expects to launch its Compass smart card system for transit payment and the Compass chip will then be embedded in student cards so they act as transit passes as well.

That should end the fraud problem, because students aren’t expected to sell their student cards and their transit access capability can be deactivated at any time.