Topic Resources

Tools Used
Initiated By
  • University of Washington
  • University of Washington
  • City of Seattle
  • Metro
  • Community Transit
  • Sound Transit

Morning trips to campus decreased by 16%, and afternoon trips decreased by 10%. Driving alone decreased from a 33% incidence to 23%, and transit use increased from 21% to 33%.

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U-Pass Image
U-PASS program advertisement.

U-Pass Image
Night Ride program ad and map.

Landmark Case Study

U-PASS: University of Washington's Transportation Management Program

U-PASS is a comprehensive, flexible program designed to encourage University of Washington students, staff and faculty to use alternative modes of transportation and thereby reduce the volume of traffic in Seattle's University District. The program provides many inexpensive commuting options and incentives to program participants, including: increased and subsidized transit service, shuttle service, carpools, vanpools, ridematch services, bicycle incentives, reimbursed rides home, daily flex permits, and merchant discounts. U-Pass was designated a Landmark case study in 2009.


In 1983, the University of Washington made a commitment to the city of Seattle to maintain traffic to and from campus at existing (1983) levels (approximately 7,800 trips to campus in the morning peak hours, and 9,400 trips from campus in the afternoon peak hours), and limit parking supply to 12 lots (each lot had approximately 300 spaces). Its 1983 plan maintained traffic levels for the rest of that decade; however, program participation dropped gradually and significantly by the end of the 1980s.

In 1989, two factors led to the development of a new Transportation Management Plan (TMP). The first factor was the creation of a new development plan for the University that would increase the number of students, staff and faculty and decrease the number of parking spaces. The second factor was attributed to the University of Washington Hospital, a fully operational hospital located on campus; the Hospital projected an increase of patient vehicles on campus, based on the trend of outsourcing medical services.

The University assembled a task force of students, faculty, and staff to develop and implement a new TMP for its 33, 000 students and 17, 000 faculty and staff. An Advisory Committee on Transportation (ACT) was composed of staff, faculty, students, and two representatives from transit agencies (King County Metro and Community Transit). The task force faced the challenge of developing a TMP that capped traffic at 1983 levels and did not increase parking in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Getting Informed

In researching options for the U-PASS program, the task force found that some other American universities had successfully combined a transit pass with their student ID card. However, the successes of those programs were specific to areas with low density, and none of the plans included faculty and staff. Further, they usually only offered a bus pass instead of a comprehensive program with numerous alternatives for commuting. Research that the University conducted by telephone surveys showed that commuters did not often use the same commute mode consistently. The U-PASS program was therefore designed to address these varying needs by offering flexibility in commuting options. The University wanted a program that was flexible, and targeted at staff and faculty as well as students, to reduce Single-Occupancy Vehicle (SOV) trips significantly in all three-campus groups, and to have a measurable reduction in neighbourhood traffic.

Delivering the Program

Once ACT approved the plan, the university launched a campaign to inform the campus community of the program benefits and to gain feedback on the plans potential acceptance. The initial campaign used the motto: U-PASS: For You and the U. Promotional materials, including posters, brochures, and campus newspaper advertising emphasized the programs incentives: lower prices and more commute options. The University sent a survey to all students soliciting input on the program, and after much debate, the program was made optional rather than mandatory in hopes of more support.

The program was launched in September 1991. University parking rates were increased significantly as a financial disincentive to driving alone and to provide revenues for the program (Financial Incentives and Disincentives). Everyone who purchased a monthly parking pass received a complimentary U-PASS as an incentive to try alternative modes of transportation.

The U-PASS was priced to offer value at an affordable price: $9/month for staff and faculty and $6.67/month for students (Financial Incentives and Disincentives). Students received a sticker and a U-PASS Users Guide in the mail prior to registration. If they wished to be a part of the U-PASS program, they could simply put the sticker on their student ID and the fee would be automatically added onto their University fees. Students who did not want to participate in the U-PASS program were instructed to return the sticker in an envelope provided and were not charged the fee. Faculty and staff were also mailed a U-PASS Users Guide; to be a part of the program, they could purchase a U-PASS at offices set up around campus.

The U-PASS Program had several components, offering participants a broad range of commuting alternatives to SOVs. The components included:

TRANSIT: The most frequently used component of the U-PASS was the transit pass. Students, staff, and faculty could use their U-PASS for unlimited bus rides anytime, anywhere on either of the two city transit services: the Metro, and Community Transit. An express bus and commuter train services were added in 1999 and 2000 respectively.

NIGHT RIDE: For those who lived within one mile of campus, a Night Ride shuttle would take them home after dark. U-PASS holders could access the service for free; non-U-PASS holders were able to use the service for $1. This was primarily a safety/public relations feature.

CARPOOLING: The University offered free parking to faculty and staff carpools if the driver and at least one passenger had U-PASSes. It also offered free parking to student carpools of three or more if the driver and passengers all had a U-PASS. All vehicle occupants had to live outside a one-mile radius of the University to participate.

VANPOOLING: Vanpools worked similar to a bus route, except there were only 8-15 passengers and the van picked up and dropped off passengers at or near their homes. U-PASS holders received up to a $40 monthly subsidy for Metro and CT vanpools, paying the rest of the fare (if any) directly to the bookkeeper of their van.

RIDEMATCH: The Ridematch Program was a three countywide database maintained by King County Metro that matched people for carpools and vanpools, helping individuals find people with similar commuting schedules to the University. Students, Faculty, and Staff received a ridematch form at the beginning of the year to facilitate participation. (Overcoming Specific Barriers)

BICYCLES: Cyclists benefited from new bicycle paths through the University, as well as from bike lockers and racks funded with U-PASS revenues. In addition, student cyclists carrying the U-PASS got a free helmet ($5 for staff and faculty) with the purchase of a tune-up, from the on-campus bike repair shop (Financial Incentives and Disincentives).

REIMBURSED RIDE HOME: The reimbursed ride home was designed specifically for faculty and staff in order to overcome the concern of missing a bus or carpool or having to leave unexpectedly for an emergency at home. Faculty and staff were reimbursed for 90% of the taxi fare if their usual transportation was unavailable when they had to leave the University. They were allowed up to 50 miles per quarter (3 months) in reimbursed rides home. Less than 1% of faculty and staff used this feature but 34% felt it was a valuable component to have (Overcoming Specific Barriers).

DAILY FLEX PERMITS (formerly known as individual commuter tickets): Faculty and staff who were U-PASS holders could purchase up to 26 commuter tickets every three months for $1.93 each (nearly half the regular price). A flex permit worked like a day parking pass: the driver placed the permit on their rear-view mirror to park legally in parking stalls around the University campus (Overcoming Specific Barriers).

MERCHANT DISCOUNTS: U-PASS holders received discounts at a number of different stores, most of which were within walking distance to campus. Students, faculty, and staff received discounts on food, books, bike accessories, clothing, laundry, and even optical and massage services (Financial Incentives and Disincentives).

The program administrators recognized that they would have to make the program very flexible and very easy to encourage participants who would otherwise drive themselves to and from school to participate. If faculty and staff parking SOV permit holders decided to try out their U-PASS, they could have their parking spot held for them up to six months to lessen the perceived risk of trying out different commuting options (Overcoming Specific Barriers).

The program ensured that all members of the campus community could access information about the U-PASS easily. Nine Commuter Information Centers were set up to operate year-round; the centers were information kiosks (some staffed, some not) that provided complete information about the U-PASS program and all its components. A promotional package was mailed out to students at the beginning of the fall quarter (September) that included a letter and a users guide. New students who began school later in the year were also mailed the promotional package, as were new faculty and staff. At the beginning of each fall quarter, U-PASS staff held a transportation fair that promoted the different aspects of the program to the campus community. The program administrators also advertised the U-PASS program in the campus newspaper (Mass Media), as well as University publications (e.g. Registration Catalogue, New Student Binder, Student Telephone Directory and Student Directory, Faculty and Staff Benefits Guide and a comprehensive Web site and Department Benefit Material).

As the program developed over time, the administrators found that the bus pass component was by far the most used of all U-PASS features. Marketing campaigns shifted to promote the variety of other commuting choices offered by the U-PASS. The slogan was changed to U-PASS plus a whole lot more, and advertising focused on particular components of the program (e.g. carpooling).

In addition, program administrators issued a quarterly newsletter to staff and faculty that featured different components of the program, as well as profiling high-ranking University administrators who used the program (Norm Appeals). For example, a Vice President was profiled because he used his U-PASS to ride the transit to and from the University. As the program developed, administrators created a special listserv for participants that gave commuting tips and information to subscribers (for example, the listserv would inform subscribers of any transit scheduling changes).

Financing the Program

The initial U-PASS pilot program funding came from a transportation subsidy from the university administration, increases in parking fees, and pass sales. The cost was estimated at $17,471,000 for a three-year period (1991-1994)

U-PASS Element Total Cost Percent
Administration $644, 000 3.7
Monitoring & Evaluation $127, 000 0.7
Information & Marketing $692, 000 4.0
Health Sciences Express $1, 504, 000 8.6
Disabled Persons Shuttle $362, 000 2.1
Night Ride $769, 000 4.4
Transit Services $12, 766, 000 73.0
Vanpools $376, 000 2.2
Carpools $128, 000 0.7
Daily Flex Permits $6, 000 0.0
Reimbursed Ride Home $34, 000 0.2
Bicycle Operations $63, 000 0.4
Total Expenses $17, 471, 000 100.0
University Sources $5, 646, 000 32.3
Parking System $4, 962, 000 28.4
User Fees $6, 863, 000 39.3
Total Funding (Revenue) $17, 471, 000 100.0


Measuring Achievements

The University used several techniques to measure specific achievements of the U-PASS program. Each year in the fall it placed traffic counting equipment at entrances to campus, to count vehicular traffic.

In addition, the University administration wanted to determine if the U-PASS program would continue to affect commute trips throughout the entire school year. It therefore conducted a special traffic count in April of 1991 (pre-U-PASS baseline count) and again in April of 1992 (post-U-PASS implementation count).

The University also conducted a telephone survey on a biennial basis to determine the commuting choices of the campus community, as well as their feedback of the U-PASS program to make changes accordingly.

The U-PASS Web site provided monthly tracking of the frequency of use of each service. In addition, the audio library, a telephone information system, tracked the number of times a particular feature was selected.


Overall, the University of Washington was able to meet the targets set out in the initial transportation management plan, as revitalized in 1991. In the 1991-1992 academic year, 72-74% of students participated in the program and 68% of faculty and staff participated, compared to the goal of an overall 75% participation rate.

Based on figures from the annual traffic count, within only three weeks of program operation, trips to campus in the morning decreased by 15% and afternoon trips decreased by 9%, compared to the previous year.

The extra April traffic count results demonstrated that the program continued to decrease trips to campus to an even greater level than was reported in autumn (16% decrease in morning traffic and nearly 10% in afternoon traffic).

The most dramatic shifts in commuting behaviour were found in single-occupant vehicles and bus rides. Before implementing the U-PASS program, the dominant commute mode was driving alone (33%), followed by transit (21%). By 1992, the numbers had reversed: 33% of commuters travelled by bus and only 23% drove alone.

The U-PASS program continued to be tremendously successful, meeting its targets in 2000 for its ten-year transportation management plan (begun in 1991).


Peter Dewey
Assistant Director of Transportation Services, Transportation Services
1127 NE Boat Street
Seattle, WA 98105-6709
p: (206) 616-2050
f: (206) 616-0478


U-Pass was designated a Landmark Case Study in 2009 by a Tools of Change peer selection panel consisting of:

  • Danny Albert, University of Ottawa's Parking and Sustainable Transportation Department
  • Daniel Coldrey, Transport Canada
  • Mark Dessauer, Active Living by Design
  • Catherine Habel, Metrolinx
  • Jacky Kennedy, Green Communities Canada
  • Jessica Mankowski, Federation of Canadian Municipalities
  • Gary McFadden, National Center for Biking and Walking
  • Lorenzo Mele, Town of Markham
  • Chuck Wilsker, U.S. Telework Coalition
  • Phil Winters, University of South Florida
  • JoAnn Woodhall, Translink


Key lessons learned:

Providing the financial disincentive of increased parking and the financial incentive of affordable commuting options worked well in combination to entice increased participation.

Recognizing the difficulty in changing commuter habits, the U-PASS program was made as flexible and as accommodating as possible. The program's philosophy was that even if a person did drive to work, reducing the number of trips they drove alone still had a positive impact.

Last updated: July 2004. This case study was written in 2001 by Deanna Yerichuk.

Funding for the addition of this case study was generously provided by the Government of Canadas Climate Change Action Fund, Suncor, Syncrude, Enbridge Consumers Gas and TetraPak Canada.

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