Mary Jane Post-Pandemic awaits the WMATA bus.
American University announced on Aug. 14, 2020, that WMATA was suspending the pass indefinitely, stating that “due to the impact of COVID-19 on the DC community and area universities, WMATA is temporarily suspending the U∙PASS® Program for the fall 2020 semester.” First, students were told that they were having on-campus classes, then all second, third and fourth-year students being kicked out of the dorms, then signing a lease, finally to have classes being moved online after your lease is signed, and then your predominant means of transportation access being taken away from you. This is the predicament hundreds of AU students fell into.
The U-Pass is an unlimited metro pass, exclusive to American University students. University students pay a one-time fee (included in their tuition), which allows them to ride any WMATA transportation for free.
Implemented in the fall 2016 semester, this has changed the lives of AU students, giving them complete access to every facet of D.C. transportation, at an affordable price. “Before the pandemic,” said AU fourth-year student and Cathedral Heights resident Liza Wilson, “I used my U-Pass nearly every day, to go to my internship, go out with friends and get around on public transport.” With American University and WMATA suspending their program, many students have been left at an extreme disadvantage.
The global crisis at hand has sprouted a lot of uncertainty for people all over the world. Many students feel that American University did not handle the adjustment to the pandemic as well as they could have. Students were initially ensured that classes would be hybrid and that they should prepare to return to campus in the fall.
An announcement was made informing all upperclassmen that only freshmen would be provided on-campus housing in the fall. As a result, many students scrambled to sign a lease, only for classes to be moved online soon after, leaving many students stuck in D.C., facing financial hardship. This meant that the announcement of the canceled U-Pass, for many, came as another frustrating bump in their transition to a new way of learning. Metro fares one way can range anywhere from $1.35 to $7.50. For a daily commuter, this could add up to $13.50-$70 a week and $54-$280 a month.
“Not having a U-pass means that I never ever take the metro,” Wilson stated, “I did once and it cost me $7 for one return trip and I decided I was never going to spend money on the metro as long as I am an AU student.” With the pandemic, the safest way for students to travel would be in the comfort of their own transportation (car, moped, bike, etc.).
Many students are not financially equipped to acquire a means of transportation at this time, especially considering that now many students have signed year-long leases and are already making financial sacrifices in that area. D.C. residents rely heavily on public transportation in D.C, with there being 174 million trips on the metro alone in 2018, according to CNN.
Now, buses in D.C. are free, which has created some leeway for those who have been negatively affected by the loss of the U-Pass. "Commutes are longer now because I only take the bus to save money,” fourth-year student and Van Ness resident Madison Dalton stated. “If I had a U-Pass it definitely would save me time.” Students relied heavily on the pass, using it to travel to school and attend all other obligations.
The free buses have had a positive impact on several students, presenting them with an alternative means of transportation free of charge. While it is not as fast and frequent as the metro trains, for many, it gets the job done. Bus efficiency in DC is heavily contingent on location, but bus stops are located in more locations in neighborhoods than the Metro.
Another fourth-year student and a Glover Park resident, Mary Jane Builes states that “The free buses have been a godsend and are why I’m not upset that the U-Pass was canceled this semester. Since I barely take the train and all buses are free, my transportation costs haven’t been detrimental to my financials.” She also said that “walking and scootering everywhere have made me appreciate DC so much. There are hidden gems in this city that you won’t notice if you only take the train to travel.” The bus has allowed students to explore parts of the city outside of the north-west, Tenleytown area they are more familiar with.
So while the absence of the U-Pass may be leaving a dent in many students' pockets, other means of transportation have allowed for further exploration of a city that many students now call home, even if it wasn’t made home by choice.
American University Risk, Safety, and Transportation Programs did not respond to requests for comment.
Madison Dalton pre-pandemic enjoys a ride on the red-line Metro.