In an attempt to alleviate the parking problems at UCI, the U-Pass program, which provides UCI students, staff and faculty with free access on OCTA buses, has left administrators pleased with the increased ridership since launch of the program one year ago.
The program has already generated more interest than previous attempts at reducing student traffic by selling bus passes. Only 1,050 UCI students and employees bought bus passes under an old program where they were able to purchase bus passes on a monthly basis.
However, last year, 2,872 students and 440 faculty and staff utilized the U-Pass program and boarded the OCTA busses.
UCI officials are pleased with the positive results of the program so far.
‘We have only received positive feedback about the program,’ said Dina Ochoa, manager of parking operations. ‘Word-of-mouth through campus promotions and friends has lifted the program off the ground.’
The program allows students to travel not just to and from school, but throughout Orange County as well.
‘Through the U-Pass program, students are able to enjoy the community without being reliant on their cars,’ Ochoa said.
Modeled after a similar program between OCTA and Cal State Fullerton, U-Pass allows students and university employees to ride buses by simply swiping their UCI identification cards.
Freshmen already have their student ID cards encoded and ready to use. Students with older ID cards can get them encoded at the PTS office or at UCItems. These cards must be re-encoded at the start of every school year.
Kim Byrne, manager of alternative transportation at UCI, explains the long process that brought the U-Pass program into fruition.
‘We have worked with OCTA for two years to get them to accept our ID cards,’ Byrne said. ‘Using the UCI ID card makes the program simple, because the program is accessible through something you already have.’
PTS enacted the program to promote the use of public transportation by students.
‘The goal of the U-Pass program is to increase participation in alternative parking programs,’ Byrne said.
The U-Pass program is funded by revenue from parking citations, which also subsidizes on-campus shuttles.
The program helps the school work toward goals set by the South Coast Air Quality Management District to reduce air pollution. U-Pass also helps reduce demand for parking at UCI.
Students who have used the program for occasional trips generally found it a convenient travel option.
‘Riding the OCTA is better than walking,’ said Eduardo Ascencio, a first-year mathematics major who uses the program mainly to run errands, such as grocery shopping. ‘I would recommend it to other students.’
Lauren True, a first-year chemical engineering major, has also used the program to go shopping.
‘I’ve ridden on the OCTA to go to Fashion Island,’ True said. ‘It was pretty awesome. They drop you off right at the corner of your destination. I would totally use it again. It was really convenient and fast.’
Some students use the U-Pass program on a more frequent basis.
‘I would recommend riding the OCTA because it’s free,’ said Loretta Estalilla, a first-year mathematics major who uses the U-Pass program to get from her apartment to school each day. ‘Sometimes the bus schedules aren’t convenient, but in general it’s a good program.’
The program has been successful in leading students who had not previously used public transportation to try it for the first time, such as Lauren Reyes, a first-year biological sciences major who rode a bus to a friend’s house to avoid walking.
‘I never really took a public transport bus before, but it was pretty comfortable,’ Reyes said. ‘It was very convenient. The only down side would be missing the bus and having to wait an extra 15 to 20 minutes for the next bus.’
Many students, however, have not used the program, for a variety of reasons.
‘I can get a ride with a friend,’ said Akshay Anand, a second-year economics and international studies double major. ‘My friend can get to our destination faster. I also get to listen to music in my friend’s car.’
Nonetheless, parking officials are pleased with the outcome of the program and intend to continue the program in the future.
‘We intend on keeping the U-Pass program in place because it is well received and meets our goals,’ Byrne said. ‘We would really like to encourage people to try this program. It is free and convenient.’
The OCTA network spans a large area, even reaching some cities outside Orange County.
Five bus lines
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