Last month, the City of Edmonton’s Office of the City Auditor completed a review of the Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) pilot program (PDF). They found that although costs for the program rose, ridership has increased. I took a look at the report, and thought I’d share some of the more interesting facts and figures from it.
For those of you new to U-Pass: it’s a partnership between Edmonton Transit (ETS), St. Albert Transit (StAT), and Strathcona County Transit to provide a universal transit pass to eligible students at the University of Alberta and MacEwan. The current pilot started in the fall of 2007 and will finish up in the fall of 2010.
A total of 84,954 students were eligible in 2008 (counting both the Fall & Winter terms). Here’s the breakdown:
Here’s the revenue that each municipality received in 2008 (the City of Edmonton receives 84%, and the other two each receive 8%):
As the report was created by and for the City of Edmonton, it’s not known what, if any, service changes were made by St. Albert Transit or Strathcona County Transit (unless they too have a report somewhere). ETS made the following changes:
- 437 service hours were added
- 3 new routes were added
- 19 more buses were put into service
Again, we only know the costs for the City of Edmonton. Here are the key figures for 2008:
- U-Pass Sticker Production costs were $14,500
- U-Pass Advertising and Promotion costs were $2,928
- The opportunity cost of the U-Pass program, which is the loss of other ETS fare revenue, was estimated at $10,480,846
- The cost of providing extra bus service hours was $2,571,221
Add it all up, and you get a total cost of $13,069,495. For the U-Pass program to break even, a fee of $155 per student per term would be required (up from the current $94.50).
In the Edmonton Journal, Councillor Krushell said that ridership nearly doubled from 2006 to 2008, from 7.3 million trips to 13.9 million trips. I’m not exactly sure where she got those numbers, because they aren’t in the report. What is in the report are Campus Passenger Boardings:
As you can see, boardings increased by 21,353 or 12.7% from 2006 to 2008. The report notes that some of this increase may have been caused by factors other than the U-Pass. Other non-financial positives include:
- An 8% decrease in student parking permits at the University of Alberta since 2006
- A greater than 8% drop in monthly parking passes at MacEwan for 2007 over 2006
And of course, there has likely been a positive impact on the environment with fewer students driving.
What’s next for the U-Pass?
Although NAIT students initially rejected the program in 2007, a recent survey indicated that a majority would now be interested in joining. The NAIT Students Association hopes to hold a referendum on the issue early next year. The expansion of the LRT to NAIT will no doubt have an impact on interest. If approved, NAIT could join the program for the 2010-2011 school year.
I suspect the program will continue after the current agreement ends, though it is likely that U-Pass fees will rise. Watch for news on a new agreement early next year – the U of A will be holding a student referendum in March to approve new fees, according to The Journal.