Students are pushing for Georgetown University to establish a metro pass program, which would allow students to ride Washington, D.C. public transportation at a discounted price.
The Georgetown University Student Association published a referendum calling on the university to adopt a University Pass program, which provides access to Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority services to students at participating colleges and universities. American University is currently the only D.C. institution of higher learning to offer the U-Pass program to its students; other participants are universities outside of the District with satellite campuses.
Georgetown’s campus is separated from downtown D.C., causing students to feel separated from the rest of the District, according to GUSA Senator Lara Santana (SFS ’24).
“I’m a freshman, so I just went through the whole thing where they present the whole university to you, try to make you fall in love, so you decide to commit. Downtown is not as accessible as it could be,” Santana said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “Obviously, there is the Georgetown transportation, but it only goes so far and to specific places. So it really does make it difficult to commute, especially when there are all these internship opportunities. Even if you wanted to enjoy the D.C. scenery, which is something that they advocate in general, it is not as easily available for students.”
Under the program, each full-time student would have access to unlimited rides on both the Metrobus and Metrorail services throughout the entire semester. In the first year after WMATA began offering the program to D.C. universities in 2018, American University students used a total of 1.5 million Metro rides, giving students more cost-effective travel options for internships, jobs and personal activities.
The GUSA Senate voted unanimously April 11 in favor of implementing a U-Pass program for Georgetown’s main campus students. The undergraduate student body will be able to vote on this referendum during GUSA Senate elections, according to Senator Leo Rassieur (COL ’22), who first introduced the referendum to the senate.
Similar to AU’s program, GUSA proposes the U-Pass cost would be automatically included in student tuition, amounting to roughly $136 per semester. Students who receive financial aid would have a reduced or eliminated fee, depending on the student’s financial aid eligibility, according to the referendum.
GUSA hopes to emphasize to the student body that students on financial aid will not have any additional cost if the referendum is adopted, according to Rassieur.
“Because the cost is factored into tuition, any student who currently receives financial aid will benefit from that financial aid from this program as well,” Rassieur said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “The whole idea is to help lower-income students. That’s where the impetus behind this project comes from. So we wouldn’t be doing this if we thought this would put a burden on lower-income students who have to pay some or part of this fee.”
Despite financial aid, the current referendum does not allow students to opt out, which may be one of the administration’s main concerns if students vote to implement the program, according to Senator Rowlie Flores (COL ’22), who co-sponsored the referendum.
“About half of the students do qualify for financial aid and the other half do not, so there will be a big disparity,” Flores said in a Zoom interview with The Hoya. “So there might be a bit of a tension between students on financial aid and those who are not. So maybe an opt-out option is something that Georgetown needs.”
While the university has not offered a U-Pass program in the past because it would require an increase in tuition, it is working with students to explore the option of implementing one, according to a university spokesperson.
“We are always looking for creative ways to provide our students with transportation options while safeguarding against increases to the cost of attendance,” the spokesperson wrote in an email to The Hoya. “We continue to explore new opportunities to connect our campus community to the city via free or low-cost modes of transportation.”
If approved, GUSA projects the U-Pass program would officially begin by the 2022-23 academic school year. Full implementation would follow a trial period during the 2021-22 academic year, which would allow select students to test the program. The data that the university collects from this trial period will be used to gauge student interest in U-Passes, according to Flores.
“Other officers might have different opinions on this, so if this does pass, this is my idea that I would bring up to the university: that the trial period is more like you can decide if you want to partake in the program for at least a semester,” Flores said. “In my opinion, it should be the same logistics that we have in the referendum, but the only difference is that students can decide if they want to try it out.”
GUSA has not yet directly communicated with WMATA to implement this program at Georgetown and will not reach out until both the student body and administration officially approve the program, according to Flores.
The push for a metro pass program is not entirely new at Georgetown, but an effort to measure student support of the initiative will bolster the advocacy efforts, according to Rassieur.
“When we talk to administrators about any kind of big project, their question is, ‘How do you know students actually want this? How do you know this isn’t just you or some small vocal minority?’” Rassieur said. “Which is why we need the referendum, because it completely dispels the myth that this is just a handful of people who want this, when in fact it’s the majority of the school.”