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USF loses ticket to ride

For the past two years, the U-Pass program has allowed USF students, faculty and staff to ride HARTline (Hillsborough Area Regional Transit) buses around the Tampa area for free.

USF’s agreement with HARTline will officially expire on Dec. 1. Right now it is unknown how Parking and Transportation Services will continue to pay for the program, which has been slowly increasing in cost as it’s become more popular.

In August of 2003, USF signed a two-year agreement with HARTline that led to the U-Pass program. Anyone with a valid USF ID was allowed to ride the HARTline free of fare, and the cost was passed on to USF Parking and Transportation Services. Parking and Transportation Services in turn paid the fares for these rides, but at a greatly discounted rate of 50 cents per ride. The normal adult one-way cash fare is $1.30. USF opted to extend the contract six months when it originally expired in June of 2005.

According to Jeff Mack, the assistant vice president for Campus Business Services, the money to pay for the U-Pass program comes from two main sources. Part of the money comes from the $2.25 per credit hour Transportation and Access fee paid by students, and the rest comes from parking permits. Mack said about 30,000 rides are attributed to the U-Pass program each month, approximately 360,000 a year. That puts the bill for the U-Pass program at $180,000 each year.

According to HARTline spokeswoman Jill Cappadoro, two options to continue the U-Pass program were presented to USF. One is to raise the cost per ride to Parking and Transportation Services to 55 cents a ride. That would result in an estimated annual increase of $18,000 to the current cost of the program. Cappadoro said the other option presented to USF is to keep the cost to Parking and Transportation Services per ride at 50 cents, while people using the U-Pass program would pay 25 cents when they get on the bus.

HARTline recently announced an increase in fares across the board, beginning in January 2006.

Nobody on the USF side of things seems to want the service to end. Student body President Maxon Victor and Director of Student Affairs Kyle Myers have been working closely with USF’s chief financial officer Carl Carlucci to find a way to continue the U-Pass program.

“We want to avoid an increase in any kind of fees,” Victor said. He said that one option Parking and Transportation Services is looking at is to sell more lucrative advertising on the BullRunner shuttles.

Another possible way to make money for Parking and Transportation Services is charging off-campus apartment complexes for having BullRunner stops. Victor was concerned that might cause an increase in rent, which he said would be no better than a fee increase.

One of the ideas discussed to curb the costs of the U-Pass program would be implementing an ID swiping system on the buses to prevent fraud. As it is now, there is no definite way to ensure the riders are in any way affiliated with USF. Drivers press a button whenever they see a USF ID, but there is no way to be sure the IDs are valid or that riders and drivers are even looking for IDs. Theoretically a driver could charge the U-Pass system for whomever they want whenever they want.

“There is no way we can check (to see if the program is being run correctly),” Victor said. “This might become more affordable if we implement that system.”

According to Mack, a card-swiping system is being considered seriously, but there are no estimates available on how much it would cost to start that program.

Cappadoro said the last meeting of the HARTline board before the current contract expires would be Nov. 7. Most people involved are optimistic about the future of U-Pass, though.

“We’ve had a great partnership with HARTline over the years and look forward to hopefully continuing it,” Mack said.