This Carlito Pablo story in the Straight is a week old, but I’ve only just now had the time to read it carefully.  It’s about an SFU grad student, Elizabeth Cooper, who’s studied the effects of the U-Pass on students’ transit use.  She shows that, at least for SFU students, the deeply discounted U-Pass encourages more students to take transit.  But maybe more interestingly, she also shows that SFU students who used the U-Pass while in school were slightly more likely than their non-U-Pass using classmates to keep using transit even after they graduate and start paying full fares.  That’s a really interesting finding, and it’s a very good thing that grad students in the region are working on digging up these sorts of useful nuggets.

Cooper’s recommendations are to expand the U-Pass programme in various ways — for example, by making U-Passes available to alumni for a few years after they graduate.  Cooper tells the Straight,

This is important for policymaking because it shows that although the U-Pass costs TransLink a lot of money, it does achieve its long-term goals of creating lifelong transit users, which contributes to increasing the sustainability of the region by reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicles on the road.

Indeed.  The problem, of course, is that Translink has no money, and what money it has, it spends on buses and trains that are already very well used.  So why give up revenue to encourage more ridership the system can’t handle?

That question has an answer of course — a good answer actually, even if not one I’ll ultimately accept.  The reason to give up revenue to encourage ridership is to get more people out of their cars.  You could find the money elsewhere, say, by a heavier vehicle levy or more tolls or whatever.  And you could make those taxes on drivers heavy enough to pay for the new buses and rail needed to carry all the extra people using their newly beefed-up U-Passes.  Worried about why students (and seniors, for that matter) should get a deal on transit, but not other low-income metro Vancouverites?  Fine.  Figure out ways to expand the class of people who get discounted fares.  And pay for it by cranking up the price of driving.

That actually seems like a such a good idea to me that I’ve almost talked myself into it.  Almost.  But I keep thinking about gearing up for fights we know are coming — Translink’s proposed vehicle levy, new tolls, and giving up the revenue-neutrality of the carbon tax, so Translink can get a taste of that money.  Those revenue streams are going to be hard enough to put into place when we’re talking about generating relatively modest amounts of money from them. Try to make too much money from them, and we make it more likely that we won’t get any money at all.  So I’m inclined to think, if only for crassly political reasons, expanding the U-Pass programme is something that’s probably going to have to wait.

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