Light rail pass renewal confusion gives thousands of students free rides

(2.23) Lightrail
A FREE RIDE: Sophomore social worker major Angela Matus uses her U-Pass to take the light rail between Tempe and Downtown Phoenix campuses. Because of a glitch in the U-Passes, some people are riding the light rail for free. (Photo by Molly Smith)
Published On:
Tuesday, February 23, 2010
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Thousands of ASU students have been illegally riding the Metro light rail for the past month, according to an ASU transportation official.Theresa Fletcher, director of ASU Parking and Transit Services, said students are trying to capitalize on an inaccurate label on the back of the ASU Student U-Pass, which costs $40 per semester to purchase.

The expiration date on the back of the card states that it is valid until May 15, but Fletcher said only those students who renewed their cards for the spring semester are entitled to those privileges.

“It’s similar to a credit card,” Fletcher said. “When you get a credit card, it’s going to have an expiration date on it, but if you don’t pay the credit card bill, the company has the ability to deactivate that card.”

Fletcher said the reason for distributing one card to students that covers the entire year instead of one card for each semester was in part because of convenience.

Parking and Transit wanted to keep students from making two trips, she said.

Cards issued specifically for the fall semester were originally valid until the first Friday of the spring semester, but several cards that were not renewed by that day remained active.

Fletcher said Parking and Transit extended the deadline to help with the transition, and

some cards have yet to be deactivated.

Card distribution fell from 11,000 cards during the fall semester to 9,000 for this semester, Fletcher said.

Of the 9,000 cards, 5,000 are held by students who paid for the full year of their U-Pass, while the other 4,000 are renewals, Fletcher said.

The decline of 2,000 cards from fall to spring semester is mostly unaccounted for, Fletcher said, but can partly be attributed to graduating and transfer students, she said.

“We could have made students pay for the full year all at once,” Fletcher said. “But we didn’t think that would be a good model.”

ASU Parking and Transit Services wanted to make the transition from the free U-Pass last year to charging this year as easy as possible, she said.

Urban planning sophomore Tyler McIntosh didn’t renew his pass this semester due to confusion.

He paid for the fall semester, but when he activated the card at light rail stops he noticed its expiration date label was listed as May.

“I thought I could get away with it,” McIntosh said.

Parking and Transit Services engaged in 31 forms of advertising with students at ASU last semester, but McIntosh said he did not receive the message.

McIntosh said he wished more information had been available to him when he purchased the card instead of afterward. He has to make a second trip to pay for the renewal of his U-Pass, but said he doesn’t want to.

“It sucks,” McIntosh said. “It was a pretty big error.”

A frequent rider of the light rail, McIntosh said he’s in the process of getting his pass renewed.

“I’m definitely going to renew my pass because I want to support the cause,” he said.

Public relations senior David Olsen received an e-mail notifying him that his light rail pass was expired.

“Looking back, it was an inconvenience at the time,” Olsen said. “But considering it’s $1.75 for a one-way pass, it would add up after a while.”

Olsen didn’t want to take the risk of riding the light rail with the old U-Pass because he said it’s easier to pay $40 for unlimited use on the light rail than getting caught and having to pay $50 for a first-time fare evasion offense.

“That’s money I can’t afford to lose right now,” Olsen said.

Reach the reporter at dbjoraas@asu.edu