AskNBN #9: why do NU undergraduates go without free CTA?
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    Unlike many colleges in the area, NU students have to pay out of pocket to travel across the city via the CTA, rather than using a school-subsidized U-Pass. Why is this the case? We investigated. Transcript below.


    Jakob Lazzaro: Hey, welcome to NBN Audio. I’m Jakob Lazzaro ...

    Heather Budimulia: And I’m Heather Budimulia. And today…

    CTA: “doors closing”

    Jakob: So, Chicago’s a big city. Lots of students here take public transit at least once a week.

    Heather: But when Northwestern students take the "L," there’s a big difference.

    Jakob: Yeah, we have to pay for it. You see, all the other universities in Chicago like Loyola, UChicago, DePaul and Columbia, they all have something called a U-Pass.

    Heather: Basically, it’s free rides on the CTA for all students. Now, graduate students at Northwestern can get U-Passes. But it’s not an option for undergraduates.

    Jakob: For Medill senior Dani Levi, the time and money spent on public transportation was a huge factor in what stories she chose to cover. So, she bought a car.

    Dani Levi: It's just impossible to get around or you have to spend so much of your own money to cover a story that maybe really interests you, or you think is really good but if it's just too hard, it's sometimes not worth doing. We go to a campus, go to school on a campus that prides itself on being so close to the city, but we can't always get downtown. The shuttle buses only run for certain times so having that and being able to use the public transportation that they, the school prides itself on being so near I think just makes sense.

    Savannah Eadons: My name is Savannah Eadons and I’m a journalism major at Columbia College Chicago.

    Heather: At Columbia, all undergrads get U-Passes. Savannah said it has really made her life easier.

    Savannah: Everything that I do for school is usually on campus so I just walk, but if there's anything outside the South Loop, for a class project or just adventuring with friends, I always use CTA. Columbia automatically charges students 120 dollars a semester into their tuition for a U-Pass. If I sat down and did the math for how many times I use my U-Pass, I think I’m probably getting a really good deal on it.

    Jakob: Back at Northwestern, two people shed some light on the U-Pass situation: Lance Hale, the Director of Parking and Transportation Services and NUPD chief of police Bruce Lewis. Here’s Lance, and then Bruce.

    Lance Hale: CTA is the one who sells, manages, they offer the U-Pass. They require or at least currently from what I’ve been told by them, they require that if you’re going to offer it to undergraduates it has to be to all undergraduates. It’s a dollar and seven cents per day per student for the U-Pass program. With our current undergraduate enrollment for the current academic year, you’re looking at roughly 2.5 million dollars.

    Bruce Lewis: One of the things I want to be careful about, that this conversation, this consideration, our interest is not reduced or restricted to the financial implications.

    Lance: No, not at all.

    Bruce Lewis: It’s important, but the social implication in terms of the overall experience of our students. I think Chicago has a lot to offer, and getting access to Chicago is important to engage in that social experience. I think in part, we’re the service providers. And if there’s expressed interest then we would reconsider the level of service we’re providing.

    Deborah Miloslavich: I mean it’s really a good program. It’s great for the students, the students love it because it can be used not just for school but for work or for just whenever you want to use it.

    Heather: That’s Deborah Miloslavich, she’s with the Chicago Transit Authority. She says that schools seem to be pretty happy with the U-Pass program.

    Deborah: Since I’ve been doing this, and I’ve been in this department for I’d say like 7 years, I’ve only had schools leave, and they were very small schools, if they closed. We just started issuing U-Passes to the University of Chicago, and I think they were a little concerned in the beginning that the students weren’t going to use them. They’ve had it for two semesters so far and they love it, they haven’t said anything. This does encourage the students to you know, go downtown or to see other parts of the city. That’s what they wanted the students to do.

    Jakob: Bruce Lewis, Lance Hall, and Deborah Miloslavich all said they’re open to the possibility of U-Passes for Northwestern undergraduates. So maybe soon, I’ll be able to cover a story outside of Evanston without having to pay for it.

    Jakob: I’m Jakob Lazzaro.

    Heather: And I’m Heather Budimulia. The music in this podcast is courtesy of

    Jakob: And this is Ask NBN.


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