Metro UPass pilot program


Freshmen get a free ride

Last year, during SLU’s budget negotiations, members of the Student Government Association’s (SGA) executive board presented an idea to university president Dr. Fred Pestello and other key administrators.     They asked for money to fund a program to purchase MetroLink and MetroBus passes for SLU students – a program already in place at other schools in the area, like the University of Missouri-St. Louis and Washington University.

That request became reality on Monday, Jan. 11, when UPass cards were made available to freshmen – who can retrieve them out of their BSC mailboxes – as part of a pilot program, costing approximately $35,000, paid for out of the university budget.

The initiation of the program, though, is the culmination of months of work and collaboration between various SLU leaders – including SGA president Jay Bryant and Director of Parking and Card Services Laura Forhan – and Metro authorities in St. Louis.

“There has been a lot of effort put in on this on working with Metro – we’ve been working with them since April – on kind of putting this together and making it a success,” said Forhan.

“Metro has come up with a campaign … they’ve helped us with a lot of things in making this a success … We want the students to get out and enjoy the city … We just want to make sure that students are able to get out and be a part of the community, not just the university.”

The program runs from Jan. 11 to May 13, and it will only be available for freshmen – which was part of the agreement between SLU and Metro.

“Originally, we wanted to have a group of select students from a bunch of different classes, randomly select students,” said Forhan. “Metro does not allow that because the pricing structure is based on students who use it and who don’t use it. So it would have to be an entire set of students, so what they agreed to was to have one set of [a] class.”

Both Bryant and Forhan stressed that the freshman class was then chosen by SLU for the program because of its potential to make use of the passes. Most freshman at SLU do not have cars, they mentioned, so they believe that the program will therefore provide freshmen an easy way to get around the St. Louis area.

“We tried really hard to get it randomized,” said Bryant. “But they said [that] with the structure of their pilots, and then [with] what SLU was wanting, this was the best structure.”

In addition to providing SLU with the opportunity to launch a transportation initiative for freshmen, the pilot program also will allow Metro to examine new ways to manage its transportation system.

The card that SLU freshmen were given allows Metro to track usage for each student, and this information will not only be helpful to SLU as it looks into the progress and success of its investment, but also to Metro, who is hoping to incorporate the pilot program’s technologies across the board to all of its customers.

The passes distributed to SLU’s freshmen are Gateway cards, which include technology to track usage and provide other data.

“As part of our Gateway program, we’re giving Saint Louis University reports … we know … by the ID associated with the card, we’re knowing – and able to tell – which students are using them and where they’re using them at – which of our transit centers and MetroLink stations,” said Patti Beck, a Metro spokesperson.

“So that’s helping us because we are transitioning to a paperless fare collection system at some point in the future … this is a new, special group that is helping us test this new technology for our Gateway card to see what data we can get from it, and we’re working with Saint Louis University to provide them data as well.”

“We’re very excited, and we’re very glad that this is a product that we have been able to team up with Saint Louis University on to get them unlimited rides on MetroLink and MetroBus,” she added. “And we’ll see where it will take them around the St. Louis area.”

SLU will use the tracking data provided by Metro as it works to determine whether or not the program is a success – if it is something that can be implemented to the entire student body. Ridership numbers will be a factor in the evaluation of the pilot program, along with student surveys and other engagement initiatives.

Talking about the usage reports from Metro, Forhan said, “[W]e’ll be able to look at the usage and kind of analyze it and look at it and see. We don’t want to take the usage from just one point, from the beginning … and we don’t want to take it from the end.

“We want to look at it and see if it’s growing … like anything, it takes a while for it to ramp up and for the word to get out there and to get it used.”

“It’s very hard to … quantify what is a success or a failure. But it is basically going to be on usage and trending usage. And … that coupled with the cost and other things associated with it,” she added.

“I would love … to see 75% ridership,” Bryant said when asked about the measure of success for the pilot program. “But since this is so new and it’s a pilot and not every school has this kind of benchmarking, since this technology is new, we just don’t know.

“We want to survey students maybe midway through [the semester] – students who are using it and aren’t using it. Kind of like the why. Why are you using it? Why aren’t you using it? And would you use this is the future?”

If passes to ride Metro are extended to the entire student body, however, Bryant suggested that additional costs might be involved – including possible tuition increases like those required for the student activities fee. And giving passes to faculty and staff is not part of the question at this point.

“There are no immediate plans for [faculty and staff passes],” said Pestello in an email to The University News, “but it is something we might consider in the future as resources allow.  At the moment, our focus is on this SGA-led effort to make it easier for our students to traverse the region.”

The SLU pass program is unique, say its backers, because it focuses on something that the programs at other schools do not stress: getting students off of campus.

“As a Jesuit university, we are called to join with and serve our neighbors,” Pestello said. “We also consider St. Louis an extension of our campus with a rich range of activities and opportunities  from the arts and culture to sports and dining and many things in between.

“Education and recreation are not confined to the borders of our physical campus.  Having SLU students engaged with individuals and organizations throughout the community is part of our holistic approach to education.”

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