Evaluation of an Innovative Transit Pass Program: the UPASS

A report to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation
by James Meyer and Edward Beimborn

See also UPASS Questions and Answers

Executive Summary of Project Report, March, 1996

This report evaluates the UPASS transit pass program at The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM). UPASS is an innovative transit program developed by the University and the Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) in which all UWM students receive an un limited transit pass as part of their tuition. The pass can be used anytime, anywhere, for any trip purpose throughout Milwaukee County without any additional fare required.

The UPASS program has the potential to serve as model for other Universities as well as large employers as a possible Transportation Demand Management (TDM) strategy. The program could have significant impact on transit usage and ultimately lead to chang es in land use patterns. The findings indicate that UPASS has been effective in reducing vehicle trips, increasing transit ridership, and reducing the impact of the automobile on the environment. The main findings of this research include the following.

The UPASS program has influenced modal shifts.

  • Students who drive to UWM declined from a rate of 54% prior to UPASS to a rate between 38% to 41% after the implementation of UPASS. Students choosing to ride MCTS increased from 12% prior to UPASS to a rate of 25% to 26% since the implementation of UPASS.

    The UPASS program has increased transit ridership to UWM.

  • MCTS on-board counts show between a 31% and 45% increase in transit ridership compared to counts conducted prior to the implementation of the UPASS. Survey findings show approximately a 35% increase in ridership.

    The UPASS program has increased transit ridership for trips to work, to shopping, and to other locations.

  • Transit mode split for work trips by survey respondents showed nearly a doubling over pre-UPASS semesters from a rate of 8% to approximately 15%. Surveys indicate a 17% to 18% increase in transit ridership for these trip purposes compared to pre-UPAS S ridership.

    The UPASS program has attracted new riders to transit and increased ridership levels of regular transit users.

  • Approximately 13% to 14% of students riding transit to UWM after the implementation of UPASS were new transit users. Approximately 9% to 10% of students using UPASS for work trips were new users.

    Express transit routes serving UWM experienced the majority of the increase in transit ridership.

  • MCTS on-board ridership counts indicate express service to UWM showed a 75% to 136% increase compared to ridership counts conducted prior to the UPASS program.

    Close proximity to transit service appears to be an important factor in a persons decision to use transit.

  • Approximately 57% of students living near transit indicated using transit as their normal mode of transportation to UWM compared to only 12% for students who did not live near transit.

    Freshman students in particular showed high rates of transit usage compared to other students.

  • 44% of freshman indicate using UPASS at least one or more times per week for trips to UWM during the Fall 1994. Nearly 48% indicate using the pass one or more times per week during the Spring 1995. Freshman living in Milwaukee County in particular s howed the highest transit usage rate at 70% during the Spring 1995 semester.

    The UPASS had a minimal immediate affect on housing locations and job access.

  • Approximately 5% of Fall 1994 survey respondents indicated UPASS allowed them to find less expensive housing while 5% of Spring 1995 survey respondents indicated they planned to move to a location with better transit service. Another 5% of survey res pondents indicate UPASS allowed them to find employment.

    The UPASS program reduced vehicle trips to the university which resulted in a reduction in emissions, fuel consumption, and resulted in a dollar savings to students.

  • The UPASS program resulted in 221,055 fewer vehicle trips made to UWM during the 1994-95 academic school year. This resulted in a reduction of 5,084,265 VMT for trips to UWM, a savings of 242,108 gallons of fuel, and a savings of $295,371.76 in fuel costs. The program also reduced emissions by 20% for trips to UWM and by approximately one-tenth of one percent for the entire Southeastern Wisconsin region.

    Students perceive the parking situation at the university has improved since the implementation of the UPASS program.

  • 19% of students indicated parking on-campus was easier since the implementation of UPASS while 16% indicated parking off-campus was easier. 24% of students who drove prior to the implementation of UPASS, and who continue to drive, indicate they find it easier to locate parking near campus.

    Student support for UPASS was extremely high during the first year of the program.

  • 90.4% of students from the Fall 1994 survey and 86.9% from the Spring 1995 survey indicated they either favor or strongly favor the UPASS program. Frequent users of UPASS, as well as non-users, indicated the program should continue in future semester s. Over 90% of survey respondents from the Fall 1994 and Spring 1995 survey said the program should continue.

    Focus group discussions and survey results show that UPASS has the ability to attract and retain students at UWM.

  • Participants in focus group discussions mentioned the UPASS could attract potential students to UWM. In particular, participants felt freshman would find the pass the most beneficial since they often do not have access to an automobile. Spring 1995 survey results indicate 15% of respondents said the UPASS would have a major impact on their decision to attend UWM in future semesters while 21% indicated the UPASS would have a minor impact.