Starting today, University of Wisconsin students boarding Madison Metro buses will be required to show their Wiscards if they want to board using an Associated Student of Madison bus pass. This is actually nothing new, as it is already a policy of Madison Metro to require identification for usage of unlimited-use passes; Madison Metro is only now enforcing it. To me, and I am sure to many people, although the process of showing your ID and putting it back is trivial, it becomes inconvenient when it is a frequently repeated custom. The ASM bus pass program is facing a problem of fraud.  Some UW students had been selling ASM bus passes to people without Wiscards. Online, the passes can fetch a price of $300. This violates the policy that the cards are non-transferable.

The problem is everyone with a Wiscard is qualified to get an ASM bus pass. However, some people may have very little or no need to rely on the Metro to move around. The best way for them to gain anything from ownership of the passes is to sell them. ASM passes should appeal to non-Wiscard holders and people not in groups who can qualify for other unlimited pass programs, such as municipal employees. With this, the passes of uninterested UW students will not just sit at the bottom of a drawer or used as a bookmark. In this case, the passes are being transferred to people who value it more.

To the buyers, the passes should not be priced more than the difference between the cost of using ASM passes and the cost of paying for rides through other ways for a semester. In other words, the price should not exceed the savings to the buyer.

Who loses as a result of this? For Madison Metro, regardless of who slides ASM passes, they are still getting the same marginal revenue, although it will not be as high if the non-Wiscard holder pays through other methods. From another perspective, the Metro would benefit if theose who bought ASM passes would not ride the Metro at all, if the cost is not as low as with ASM passes.

ASM certainly loses from this. Contrary to some people’s misconception, the ASM bus pass program is not fixed in cost. The more the students use their passes, the higher the cost of the program is. It is not a problem if people who buy the passes use them no more than the average UW student. In that case, the selling of ASM passes by uninterested owners simply results in a non-decrease of the total cost of the program, although the cost could have been lower if uninterested students did not do anything with their passes. However, ASM faces costs higher than expected if the pass-buyer would use it more than an average UW student.

The problem of sold passes may be due to ASM’s bus pass program being part of ASM budget, which is financed by segregated fees paid by students as part of their tuition bills. If a student does not use his or her ASM pass, that results in a lower cost for the bus pass budget. However, the student cannot get back the part of the segregated fee not paying for the pass program. The savings may go to other things under the ASM budget, from Wisconsin Union and recreational facilities to student organizations. 

This relationship between the segregated fees and budget means students who do not use their ASM passes cannot capture their savings. This forms the incentive to part with their passes for something else they actually value. One way the problem of sold ASM passes can be averted (besides the inconvenient ID rule) is by detaching the bus pass program form the segregated fee budget. This would mean students could choose whether to enter and fund the program. This way, the program would exclude less interested students who are the ones likely to sell their passes if they were involved.

One may say, “Why not use the Wiscard as a bus pass”? The problem with this is even former students and faculty have Wiscards. Also, Metro buses would need separate readers for them. However, the Wiscard idea can be made feasible if ASM’s bus pass program is restricted in location and implemented only on routes that connect the campus to areas where most students are. In that case, only certain buses would need Wiscard readers.

For now, before any great change happens, just be prepared to take out your Wiscard before boarding the Metro.

Heikal Badrulhisham ([email protected]) is a freshman.