You know it has to happen: U-PASS rates are increasing as of July 1. Parking rates will increase, too.
There was a public meeting on proposed increases in April and the UW Regents approved increases recommended by Commuter Services in May.
The cost to park in campus lots will rise an average of about 12 percent and the price of U-PASS cards will rise by about 13 percent for the coming year. An unlimited U-PASS — providing rides on Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit and Sounder Rail — will cost $23 a month for faculty and staff, up from the past rate of $20.60.
A single-occupancy vehicle parking permit will cost $285 a quarter, reflecting an increase of about 12 percent.
Over recent years, parking rates and U-PASS cards have averaged annual increases of about 5.5 percent. Last year, however, there was no increase at all. That decision didn’t anticipate what Josh Kavanagh, director of Transportation Services, called a “perfect storm” of gas prices, rising bus fares, taxes and other costs that brought up the UW’s costs.
Other costs are going up, too. Seattle’s Metro Transit raised fares 17 percent as of March 1. Also, the City of Seattle initiated a new tax on commercial parking lots last summer and has increased that tax rate this year.
Clearly, rising gas prices are causing many more people to take the bus. The double-pinch of a greater cost per bus ride, combined with a growing number of bus riders, is combining to create a sort of “double whammy,” Kavanagh said.
Rising gas prices don’t directly affect the UW’s parking lots, but revenue from the lots helps subsize the passes, helping keep those fees lower. And Commuter Services has a stated policy of valuing public transportation over the use of single-occupancy vehicles. User fees cover about 60 percent of the cost of U-PASS program and revenue from parking permits pays for another 32 percent. The balance comes from parking fines and other UW sources.
According to the U-PASS Annual Report (read a PDF of the report at http://www.washington.edu/commuterservices/programs/upass/reports.php), “The University has maintained a policy of controlling the rise in U-PASS fees and keeping them significantly lower than the cost of parking. Today, the cost of a U-PASS for employees is about one-fourth the cost of a parking permit. To maintain this relationship that favors modes other than driving alone, parking fees have been raised faster than U-PASS fees.”
Kavanagh said, “Parking supplies on campus are limited and permit holders are only able to consistently find available space because others take transit. Therefore it seems reasonable that a portion of parking fees go to support U-PASS.
He added that if the cost gap between parking and transit closed, more people might choose to drive. “To ensure available parking, we would have to take on debt to build more garages and the price of parking would end up increasing dramatically.”
Even with this year’s increases, Commuter Services, which is part of Facilities Services, is operating at a deficit. “The reality is, I am dipping into the fund balance to take a little bit of the bite out of this,” Kavanagh said of this year’s increases.
Anyone watching the news in recent weeks knows how quickly fuel prices are rising. It prompts the question, are these increases enough to keep the program running and eliminate its red ink?
“We need to see how high fuel prices go and how rapidly people shift” to take the bus, he said, “both of which will radically affect both our revenues and our cost structure.”
He said, however, “We’ve run projections for the next five years and believe that we’re going to have two more years in deficit, at which point we will be able to return to a positive cash flow.”
Commuter Services staff have said before, and it bears repeating, that the U-PASS remains a bargain compared with other transportation passes. A two-zone Metro Transit pass costs $81 a month, and a Community Transit pass costs $108 monthly.
To learn more about fees for parking and bus service at the UW, visit online at http://www.washington.edu/commuterservices/parking/Fees2008_09.php.