By Keel Dietz
WASHINGTON — The midterm elections may be over, but the horse-trading of election season continues in full swing in the smoke-filled Nitze basement. After returning from Thanksgiving break, students will vote on whether to join the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) “UPass” program or not. The program gives students at participating universities unlimited access to Metrobus and Metrorail systems during school semesters, access that could dramatically change how students commute to school. Students who currently drive or bike would be able to take public transport for free, while those who already take the metro could see their monthly costs decrease significantly.
In exchange, students would see their tuition increase by $1 per day during the semester. For the Fall 2018 semester, students would have paid approximately $120 in additional tuition for free access to the Metro and bus systems from August 31 through December 26; the academic calendar plus five days before and after.
The referendum will begin on Monday, November 26 and continue through Friday, November 30. Students will be able to vote online once specific instructions and a link is emailed to everyone on November 26 when the referendum opens. If the referendum passes, the administration hopes to roll out the program by Spring 2019.
What do SAIS students think? The financial benefits of passing the measure are clear for some. First-year student and Arlington resident Jordan Lorenzen spends $100 per month on a metro pass currently, meaning the measure would “be useful mathematically.” In other words, someone like Jordan would save nearly $300 each semester with this plan. Fellow first-year Tyler Walker, who spends $7 per day taking the metro to school was also enthusiastic, wondering, “is it appropriate to say f*** yeah?” when asked his opinion.
For others, the benefits are less clear. Brittany Miller, an Adams Morgan resident who walks to school every day notes, “I don’t even know what bus lines go near my house,” while Matt Serrone says, “I much prefer biking around the city–it’s by far the easiest way to get around.”
Still, as winter weather closes in, even students dedicated to walking or biking are wondering if an UPass could be useful. Aaron Dresslar, another student who walks roughly 20 minutes every day, plans to vote ‘yes’, as there is a bus that he could take that would save him 10 minutes each way–not enough to pay for, but enough to make a free bus worthwhile. The WMATA certainly hopes that students like Aaron will be moved to change their commuting habits and vote yes.
Others are more skeptical. Atif Ahmad, a probable ‘no’ voter who lives in Silver Spring, was quick to point out problems with the notoriously unreliable red line. “My issue with the Metro isn’t so much about not wanting to take a train–the wait times are just too unpredictable.” Further complicating the issue is that the referendum is all-or-nothing. Students will not be able to opt out, meaning that even students who never use the metro system will need to pay. Students will have to weigh this against the potential benefits of encouraging heavier use of public transportation.
Regardless of personal circumstances, students should take this opportunity to vote in a referendum that could drastically change the way SAIS students commute.