Jayme Sileo / Nevada Sagebrush
A Regional Transportation Commission bus drives on North Virginia St. on Monday, July 1. RTC created the U-Pass Pilot Program, which will allow UNR students, faculty and staff to ride RTC buses for free.

The Regional Transportation Commission rolled out the U-Pass Pilot Program on Monday, July 1 allowing students, faculty and staff from the University of Nevada, Reno, and Truckee Meadows Community College to their school IDs to ride any RTC fixed-route for free.

RTC Public Information Officer Lauren Ball said the U-Pass Program could help lessen congestion on campus, reduce the number of cars around campus to better parking, reduce carbon emissions and create more public transportation awareness.

“We believe this program will really allow students to get around town more easily,” Ball said. “Students can now go anywhere our buses go. For students who can’t afford to have a car on campus, this will make a huge difference in their ability to visit different parts of our community. We also hope this will also help students get to and from nightlife more safely by celebrating responsibly and planning a bus ride home.”

The U-Pass Pilot will be free the first two years due to funding from a congestion mitigation and air quality grant from the Federal Highway Administration and will be judged by the Associated Student of the University of Nevada if it is a good fit on campus.

“The 87th session will invite RTC to work with the Senate body to update them on progress,” said ASUN President Anthony Martinez. “The goal is to have the Senate pass a ballot question for the next ASUN election so that the students can decide if a fee or something along those lines is worth continuing the program. Until then, we will collect data and update the student body with the success of the program and ensure we are working with admin to compile information they would also deem necessary.”

ASUN began conversations with RTC concerning the U-Pass spring of 2018. RTC Representative Scott Miklos presented the idea to ASUN on Oct. 24, 2018. He proposed four different options for the U-Pass Program. Some of these ideas included a student fee, using funds from parking revenue, using parking fine revenue or the university’s general fund. 

ASUN also required to conduct a survey to evaluate student support of the U-Pass program. Former Director of Sustainability, Sierra Jickling created a U-Pass committee with other ASUN officers to conduct the survey.

Jickling first got involved with the U-Pass project in spring 2018, as a student representative from the Environmental Club. She said RTC has been interested in a program like this for years, but was not able to get interest from campus administrators. When she applied to be Director of Sustainability in 2018, she added the U-Pass program to one of her goals in the position.

“I see the [U-PASS] program as a really exciting opportunity for UNR— I think it’s a great way to facilitate a transition away from our campus’ reliance on cars, and I hope that it will strengthen campus culture around alternative transportations like public transportation, biking, and walking,” Jickling said to the Nevada Sagebrush through a social media message. “I’ve visited many other cities that have similar campus transit programs, so I was really excited about the idea of bringing one to UNR. Also, riding the bus is a great way to get to know an area. It’s a mode of travel that I’ve always liked, and I hope that it will increase the sense of community and connectivity that campus members experience within Reno. And for our population of students who don’t own cars or have drivers licenses, I hope that it serves as an opportunity to get out to different parts of the community. Additionally, as a sustainability concern, increased bussing and decreased single passenger vehicle occupancy is great for air quality and fuel consumption.”

RTC and UNR first began a partnership in 2002, in order to create the Wolf Pass, a transportation alternative for UNR students, faculty and staff. In 2012, the program was extended to TMCC and created the Lizard Pass. The Wolf Pass was priced similar to the “Blue” Parking Permit at UNR before RTC began to raise the cost in 2010. In 2017, the Wolf and Lizard Pass was $230 compared to “Blue” Parking Permit which was $125. A survey found 61 percent of students from UNR who have purchased a parking permit or Wolf Pass did not want to pay a semester fee for unlimited access to the RTC Ride System.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, College of Southern Nevada and Nevada State College have a similar U-Pass program. Their program includes a 30-day monthly pass which cost $32.50 or a semester pass which cost $104.

Students are encouraged to try the program and give any feedback about it to current Director of Sustainability Zachary Green or other ASUN representatives.

Taylor Johnson can be reached at tkjohnson@sagebrush.unr.edu or on Twitter @NevadaSagebrush.