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October 16, 2008

Pierce, Everett and Kitsap transit companies join growing U-PASS program

The UW has announced that it is adding three more transit companies to its popular U-PASS program. The addition of Pierce Transit, Everett Transit and Kitsap Transit will allow the 6,000 members of the UW community who live in those areas to complete the “missing leg” of their commutes using the U-PASS.

Since 1991, when the U-PASS program began, the University has partnered with Metro and Community Transit and later Sound Transit to provide faculty, staff and students with a pass that not only paid for rides to the UW campus, but also rides within their own communities anytime, anywhere.

However, commuters from some areas haven’t had such universal coverage. Commuters from Tacoma, for example, have been able to use their U-PASSES on a bus that takes them to the Seattle campus, but up until now they haven’t been able to use the passes to get from their homes to where that bus originates. Now they’ll be able to.

“We have 6,000 members of the UW community who up to now have not been able to make their whole commute by transit using U-PASS,” said Josh Kavanagh, director of Transportation Services. “Adding these transit companies to the program will really make a difference to them.

He added that this marks the first time that the transit benefit under U-PASS has been the same for all three UW campuses, Harborview and Cascadia Community College.

The expansion of the U-PASS program predates by at least a year the implementation of a program that is in the works called ORCA, or One Regional Card for All. Like the U-PASS is doing now, it will involve all the regional transit companies, plus the Washington State Ferries, but it will employ a “smart card” — a card with an embedded microchip processor that can keep track of fare transactions. The card uses contact-less technology so a user only needs to bring it within a few inches of a reader for it to work.

With U-PASS already linked to regional transit companies, the UW will be able to more easily hook up with the ORCA project when it goes live.

The U-PASS is, in effect, a subsidized pass that allows UW faculty, staff and students to ride buses and trains at a reduced rate. Most faculty and staff pass holders pay for the passes through payroll deduction. U-PASS has always provided the UW community full fare on Metro, Community Transit and Sound Transit buses and Sounder Commuter Rail. Now it will do the same for Pierce Transit, Everett Transit and Kitsap Transit.

The subsidy is worth it to the University, Kavanagh said, because of the benefits derived from it. First, by agreement with the city, the University is limited in the number of parking places it can provide and the number of single occupancy trips it can generate. Subsidizing transit passes helps the University stay within those limits.

Second, the passes help the University avoid the costs associated with building and maintaining parking structures and lots and allows it to make different land use decisions.

And finally, the U-Pass builds good will for the University by helping it lessen its traffic impacts on neighbors and reducing its carbon footprint.

Kavanagh believes the addition of the three transit companies will get more people onto transit. “If people have to drive to a park-and-ride, it’s much harder to get them out of their cars,” he said.

But mostly he’s just happy to help UW commuters. “With the current expansion, we’ve doubled the number of transit companies we are partnering with,” Kavanagh said. “For the 6,000 members of our community whose commutes are now the most expensive, this will have a big impact.”