By Matt Holt
WASHINGTON, D.C. — When Kris Schneider arrived at American University to begin his freshman year, he was surprised to find out that public transportation was not subsidized by the school.
“Coming from the New York City metropolitan area, knowing that public transit is so vital to college students and high school students to get around, I was actually really surprised to hear that we didn’t have something similar,” he said. “That’s just kind of standard.”
Schneider is currently serving as the Secretary of the AU Student Government, a position he’s held since October of his freshman year. However, his most proud accomplishment during his time at AU was his work advocating for the U-Pass, which gave students unlimited rides on Metrorail and Metrobus during the school year.
At the beginning of the Spring 2016 semester, former student government president Sasha Gilthorpe asked Schneider to be the student representative on a forming committee to explore the idea of a partnership between the University and WMATA to have a “University Pass” program.
“It was already in the works when I joined the team,” he said. “But they didn’t know what it would exactly look like, how much it would cost, what the exact parameters would be. But the idea was already there.”
A fee of $130 would be added to tuition in exchange for free unlimited rides on Metrorail and Metrobus. Students voted overwhelmingly in favor of the U-Pass, with 85% of students voting year in the March 2016 student referendum.
Although the majority of students who voted in the referendum were in favor of the U-Pass, Schneider is aware that some students were not in favor of the program.
“Most of the complaints were that [the U-Pass] acted like a tax,” he said. “People were asking why are we adding this mandatory fee? I don’t take Metro, I don’t live off campus, I never plan to live off campus, I don’t have an internship. And these are all valid questions.”
However, Schneider will continue to advocate for the U-Pass because he believes that it helps enhance the student experience at AU.
“It’s more than an internship, it’s more about living off campus and having to get to campus, it’s it’s kind of going into what the University’s central mantra is,” he said. “We’re in a laboratory for learning. Washington, D.C., is part of our classroom, and that’s something we tried to emphasize a lot during the referendum period and as we were rolling out the actual program.”
“This isn’t just for the students who take the initiative to get an internship, this isn’t just for the students who want to move off campus and want to experience DC living life,” he went on. “This is for a professor to be able to say we’re going to go to a museum today, and removing the barrier of the cost to get there.”
For some classes, professors send their students into the city, and for Schneider, removing the cost of that assignment was important.
“At minimum, it would probably be 6 or 7 dollars round trip. That’s a meal. Or more than a meal. We wanted to emphasize that professors are going to do this anyway, and in fact, this is going to make professors more comfortable and enable them to do more outings like that,” he said.
The U-Pass program was renewed for the 2017-2018 school year, but the program is in still in the pilot phase.
“When it was announced in April that the U-Pass was being renewed, the student response was overwhelmingly positive,” he said. “And I think they covered it in Eagle Summit more than they did in the past for incoming students because it’s getting institutionalized now. Like, this is something that you’re going to get. This is a benefit of attending AU.”
“So the next step is going to be talking with Metro, talking with the university about making this an institutionalized, permanent program that will continue to benefit students now, next year when I’m a senior, and down the road. It’s not a question anymore that this is something that goes along with being a student at American University and going to school in Washington.”
Going forward, Schneider will advocate for the expansion of the U-Pass to include faculty and staff, as well as an option for students who stay in DC over the summer.
“When I was interning in DC over the summer, as soon as the U-Pass deactivated for the summer, I immediately felt the impact,” he said. “Spending seven dollars a day on the Metro adds up. Students should be able to opt into a summer U-Pass program. That’s something that we’re looking at going forward.”