The Georgetown University Graduate Student Government has begun drafting a proposal to implement a subsidized metro pass system for full-time graduate students to increase financial accessibility to transportation.
The draft proposal from GradGov requests that the university participate in the Washington Metro Area Transit Authority’s University Pass program, which provides unlimited riding privileges to District-area students at a discounted price through a transportation card. The cost of the U-Pass for students would be reflected in a calculated rise in tuition of $130 a semester for full-time graduate students based on the value of the card, according to the draft proposal. The cost of the U-Pass for students is $1 per day, which is less than the $2 one-way Metrobus fare.
GradGov plans to submit a formal proposal to the Georgetown administration by Feb. 1. Following the submission, the group hopes to come to an agreement with the university that the school will implement the program should it be approved in a student referendum.
Should an agreement be reached, the program and the associated mandatory tuition increase will then be voted on in the student referendum, which GradGov hopes to hold in the spring with the intention of starting the program by the fall 2020 semester, according to Lewis May, a second-year graduate student in the School of Foreign Service and president of GradGov.
Implementing the U-Pass program will make transportation more affordable for the many students commuting to campus, according to May.
“It’s insane to me that there’s no subsidized public transport at a university where you can’t drive to campus during the day and all graduate students live off campus,” May said. “I feel like transport and having free transport is like one of the most slam dunk ways that you can ensure equitable access to campus.”
While the university provides free Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle buses to some areas of the city, GUTS buses only run on five routes and operate only on weekdays and a limited basis on Saturdays, according to the university transportation website. Transportation options are limited for students who live and work in different parts of the city, according to Henry Watson, a first-year PhD student in the department of government and advocacy director of GradGov.
“While the GUTS bus is an absolutely invaluable resource which is of great value to many students, it does not (and cannot) connect Georgetown University to the entire city,” Watson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Travelling into the city is mandatory for many graduate students who must take on unpaid internships as part of their academic programs.”
While the program comes with a mandatory tuition increase, the initiative would still benefit students because the cost of the U-Pass is less than the current cost of transportation for students, according to Watson.
“The costs of transportation may seem low, but they are important to graduate students living on tight budgets,” Watson wrote. “The $1/day fee structure represents a cost savings even to light users of the transit system.”
The current proposal is directed at obtaining the U-Pass program for graduate and law students only. However, GradGov hopes to eventually bring the U-Pass program to undergraduate students as well, according to May.
In addition to making traveling around the District more affordable, a U-Pass system at Georgetown would support a more environmentally sustainable transportation method, Watson wrote.
“Providing free access to public transportation will take cars off the road,” Watson wrote. “This not only helps to reduce traffic in and out of Georgetown University, it promotes environmental sustainability and reduces emissions.”
The U-Pass program has already been put into place at several universities in the Washington, D.C. area, including Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College, the Washington College of Law and American University. AU adopted the U-Pass program in the fall of 2016 following a successful student referendum. The program provided AU students with over 1.5 million Metro rides in the first year of its implementation, according to the WMATA website.
Georgetown should follow AU’s lead in making transportation more financially accessible for graduate students, according to Watson, who completed his master’s degree at AU last year.
“The cost of transportation creates a discouragement for myself and other students to explore parks and museums, attend special events, partake in community service, and fully take advantage of the experiential learning opportunities off campus,” Watson wrote. “American University has opened up the region to its students through U-Pass, but Georgetown has yet to follow suit.”