Last week, 84% of the 1,247 students who voted in the most recent Georgetown University Student Association election passed the referendum on the Metro U-Pass Program, which would allow students to ride Washington, D.C. public transportation at a discounted price. Georgetown must officially consider the proposal and implement the program by the end of the 2021-22 academic year.
According to the referendum, the cost of the Metro U-Pass Program would be automatically included in student tuition as a $136 semesterly increase and would grant students unlimited Metro rides, which, all told, would cost only $1 per day through a special U-Pass authorized by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority. The referendum makes accessing D.C. more affordable, as the usual fare for riding the Metro at a peak time can cost up to $6. Additionally, the referendum asks the university to provide financial aid for the fee of the Metro pass program. The Editorial Board calls on Georgetown to advance the Metro pass program to provide students with more affordable and accessible transportation options.
Currently, transportation options from Georgetown to the D.C. area are limited by cost, time or distance. Rideshare apps can rack up expenses of more than dozens of dollars per trip, but free Georgetown University Transportation Shuttles require students to work around the university’s schedule. Electric scootering and walking can only let students travel so far.
Particularly for low-income students, transportation around the D.C. area can pose significant financial challenges, as multiple students relying on public transportation have expressed to The Hoya. Though Georgetown provides all students with free GUTS rides, many students find the shuttles’ operating schedules inconvenient and their routes restrictive, according to GUSA Senator Rowlie Flores (COL ’22), who co-sponsored the Metro U-Pass referendum. Flores interned on Capitol Hill for two semesters and depended on public transportation for his job.
“Balancing meals and transportation costs is often required for low-income students looking to gain experience in their field of study,” Flores wrote in an email to The Hoya. “While I did rely on the Law Center’s shuttle to go to work, the GUTS schedule was not accommodating to students who can only work part-time due to class schedules.”
Georgetown’s existing transportation infrastructure is designed around D.C.’s public transit system. GUTS shuttles connect students to just a few locations around the city, two of which are Metro stations. The Metro pass program, when combined with GUTS services, will allow more students to travel into the city to pursue professional opportunities, visit museums and explore neighborhoods outside of Georgetown.
Exposure to the city is an integral part of being a Georgetown student. The opportunity to experience the history and culture of D.C. is part of what makes the Georgetown experience unique; the university even advertises that students can “share in new experiences” by “taking in world-class restaurants, a vibrant music scene and historic landmarks.”
After a year of COVID-19 pandemic isolation, students are eager to experience all that D.C. has to offer. Implementing the Metro pass program will make transportation more accessible and allow more students to take advantage of their time at Georgetown, according to GUSA Senator Leo Rassieur (COL ’22), who introduced the referendum in the GUSA Senate.
“Folks in GUSA know that this proposal, if implemented, would help lift up our low-income and middle-class students and empower them to take full advantage of the opportunities that D.C. has to offer,” Rassieur wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The university must implement the Metro pass program to ensure all students, regardless of their financial status, have access to the opportunities living in D.C. offers. Without this program, only students who already have the resources to use public transportation or ridesharing services will be able to take jobs and internships that will ultimately give them a career advantage. Low-income students will be forced to pay for transportation at the cost of sacrificing resources that could go toward other living or educational expenses.
The university acknowledged the significance of referenda and displayed interest in working with students to explore the program. The administration has not yet committed to adhere to the referendum, but it should be noted that the GUSA Election Commission only announced the election results May 1.
“Because U-Pass requires enrollment of all students — whether they use the pass or not — and has historically been funded as an addition to student tuition bills with other universities, Georgetown does not currently participate in the program,” a university spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
U-passes have shown great promise though; WMATA’s pilot metro pass program found that a significant number of students take the opportunity to use public transit when offered a discounted rate. The WMATA has partnered with American University to grant its students U-Passes starting in 2016, and since then, the program has managed to support more than 10,000 students. AU’s program, which includes identical costs as Georgetown’s Metro U-Pass referendum, paves the way for Georgetown to partner with the WMATA. Although AU is directly on the Metro train line while Georgetown is not, the Metro bus stop outside the university’s front gates provides convenient access to D.C.’s public transportation system.
While not all students agree on the exact way to implement the program, there is still wide support for any initiative that seeks to help students better access D.C.’s public transit. Finn Thompson (COL ’22) argued that implementing a more means-tested approach in which students could receive a Metro card with an initial balance to be refilled by the university would accomplish the common goal of connecting students to the Metro.
“I’m not against the goals of the UPass referendum, I just think that we could better focus the University’s resources,” Thompson wrote in an email to The Hoya.
While students may disagree on the best way to implement a program to connect Georgetown students to the rest of the city, it is important to acknowledge that these disagreements recognize providing students with discounted Metro cards will greatly help the community navigate D.C.
The university must implement the Metro pass program to ensure all students can participate fully in the Georgetown experience; without it, Georgetown’s most economically disadvantaged students will miss out on invaluable opportunities around D.C.
The Hoya’s Editorial Board is composed of six students and is chaired by the Opinion editors. Editorials reflect only the beliefs of a majority of the board and are not representative of The Hoya or any individual member of the board.