Celebrating 35 Years: The U-Pass

35 Facts for CNT’s 35 Years: Each week we’ll expand on one fun fact. Enjoy!

#14 The U-Pass

UPassIf you live in Chicago, and especially if you attended a college or university in Chicago within the last decade or so, you have probably heard of or used a U-Pass. What you may not know is where the U-Pass came from. That’s right: it was born at CNT…

In the late 1990s, CNT sponsored a one-day, best practice session for the Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) to increase ridership on the transit system. Thought leaders from around the country attended, and there were many presentations throughout the day. CNT’s Scott Bernstein and Jacky Grimshaw invited representatives from the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee to share details of their discounted fare card for university students: The UPASS.

Jacky and the CTA presented the program to three representatives (an administrator, a student delegate, and a communications/PR staffer) from each college and university throughout Chicago. Those who were interested jumped on board for a pilot program. It was very well received! The only complaints were from schools that did not have the program, and they put pressure on their administration to adopt it.

Today, the U-Pass program provides discounted transit passes to full-time students at 52 colleges and universities in Chicago. Since its inception almost 15 years ago, it has decreased the rate of parking expansion, given students an eco-friendly alternative to driving and a pass to explore the city, and has increased ridership, especially during non-peak hours, on both buses and trains.

According to the CTA, U-Pass participants will be issued a new Ventra card in the fall, which will replace the current U-Pass card as Chicago transitions to a new fare-collection system. Like the existing pass, the new card will have the student’s name and photo, but it will be more durable and can be used all year round. (The current U-Pass is pre-loaded and only used during the school year.) Students will also be able to load money onto their Ventra card while they’re not in school.

The U-Pass program showcases CNT’s mission by presenting a product that supports sustainable and economical development. The U-Pass can save transit commuting students over 60-percent off regular CTA rates and limits personal vehicle use. Since most students live on a low income, the U-Pass provides a great, affordable and reliable transportation option. It also introduces many to mass public transit for the first time, hopefully instilling a life-long commitment to alternative transportation.

We’re celebrating CNT’s 35 years of impact on sustainable urban development through 35 weeks of posts like this one. If you have a story or picture from our past, please share it with Anjuli@cnt.org. Thanks!

CNT’s work is made possible, in part, through generous support from individual donors. Please click here to make a gift in honor of our 35th anniversary.

Next week: #15 LEM: Location Efficient Mortgage