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2005 Transportation

Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (TransLink), British Columbia

U-Pass Program

Population: 2,133,000

TransLink's universal pass program serves 60,000 students at Simon Fraser University (SFU) and the University of British Columbia (UBC) and was designed to increase transit ridership and build a transit culture over the long term. The U-Pass allows students unlimited travel on the area's bus, SeaBus and SkyTrain transit systems for a significantly discounted price. It also provides a $2 discount on rides on the West Coast Express commuter rail service, as well as new bus routes and increased bus service to both universities. Full- and part-time students supported the U-Pass with their approval of a referendum, which made it a mandatory program, the costs for which are shared by the entire student body. Transit is now the leading mode of transportation to and from both universities, and automobile traffic at both sites has decreased by between 10 and 12 per cent, for associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emission reductions of about 21,000 tonnes per year.


Sustainable transportation is one of the cornerstones of the Livable Region Strategic Plan, the Greater Vancouver Regional District's (GVRD's) long-term growth management strategy. The GVRD also endorsed the University of British Columbia's Official Community Plan (OCP), which recognizes that increased transit use is a leading success factor in reducing GHG emissions and improving air quality. UBC incorporated ambitious targets in its OCP to reduce single-occupant vehicle travel. To achieve these targets, it was clear that a major transit initiative, combining supply, transit pricing and parking demand and pricing, was necessary.

The GVRD has been active in sustainable development issues for years and has been a member of Partners for Climate Protection (PCP), jointly supported by FCM and ICLEI-Local Governments for Sustainability, since 1996. The GVRD is currently working on milestone three (preparing a local action plan) of PCP's five-milestone framework and is working to implement the plan through its Sustainable Region Initiative, its overall sustainability framework. It has also received Green Municipal Fund (GMF) loans and grants for a number of transit, planning and energy projects.

TransLink, the Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority (GVTA), serves the 21 municipalities that make up the GVRD and is responsible for planning and providing funding for transportation services and major capital transportation projects, and for delivering, through operating subsidiaries, bus, light rail, commuter rail and ferry services. TransLink is committed to increasing transit ridership to support the GVRD's sustainable development initiatives.


  • Transit is now the leading mode of transportation at both universities. Automobile traffic to UBC and SFU decreased by 12 per cent and 10 per cent, respectively, translating into GHG emission reductions of 21,000 tonnes.
  • Students have saved on average between $200 to $800 per four-month semester on transportation costs since the implementation of the U-Pass.
  • In marketing research surveys conducted by TransLink, about half of all students reported that the U-Pass has increased their access to employment opportunities and social and recreational activities and has expanded their choice of residential locations.
  • Demand for parking on both campuses has decreased. The cost to build a 500-space parking lot is approximately $15 million, and UBC has already been able to remove several hundred parking spaces as a result of the U-Pass program.
  • Student referendums held in the spring of 2005 approved a price increase of $2 per month for UBC and $1.75 per month for SFU. At UBC, 93 per cent of students voted in favour of the increase, while 83 per cent of SFU students voted in favour.

Lessons Learned

  • BUILD EFFECTIVE PARTNERSHIPS. Implementing the U-Pass required the efforts of many people. Establishing partnerships with the school administrations, student societies and Vancity on a solid foundation of trust was critical. "TransLink's planning, finance and legal departments had to be involved, along with a technical team and the universities themselves," says Mr. Lambert. A steering committee was formed to implement the program. The team's philosophy - to design a program that met the needs of all stakeholders - fostered a high level of commitment from all parties. As part of the partnership, UBC changed its class start times to assist TransLink in its scheduling of transit resources.
  • PLAN FOR THE UNEXPECTED. "You definitely need to have contingency resources if demand is higher than anticipated," says Mr. Lambert. Even though TransLink performed thorough estimates of the service changes that would be necessary to support the program, ridership was higher than anticipated. "There was an adjustment period when we introduced it, and there was some overcrowding at first, so we had to put on more resources to address that." Some routes continue to be problematic, and TransLink has committed additional funding to continue to improve transit service.
  • IMPLEMENT AN EVALUATION PROCESS. TransLink, UBC and SFU hired an independent consultant to conduct a comprehensive review of the program in the fall of 2004. This included interviews with all stakeholders, student focus groups and a marketing research survey to identify program benefits, costs, transportation impacts and operational issues and opportunities. The evaluation confirmed the costs and benefits of the program for all parties. TransLink will use the information to improve and expand the program in future.


  • University of British Columbia
  • Simon Fraser University
  • Simon Fraser Student Society
  • UBC Alma Mater Society
  • Vancity Credit Union
  • Partners for Climate Protection
  • Green Municipal Fund
Page Updated: 21/12/2015