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U. of Minnesota adds public transit via student ID

The University of Minnesota has successfully integrated a transit pass into its campus card, bringing to fruition years of preparation and planning. Minnesota students who pay the Transportation and Safety Fee can now use their student ID, the U Card, as a Universal Transit Pass (UTP), which allows students unlimited rides on regional public transit providers.

The technology behind the transit pass tie-in is a dual-chip card containing both HID iClass and MIFARE chips, with the Metro Transit system leveraging the latter of the two chips. The dual-chip U Card has been distributed on the Minnesota campus since 2016 in preparation for the arrival of the UTP program.

The U Card Office at the University of Minnesota distributes an average of 27,000 cards annually to students, staff, and faculty. U Cards provide building access on campus, access to meal plans, and a host of other campus services.

The decision was taken to begin issuing dual chip cards in 2016 in order to have a large portion of the campus using the necessary credential before launching the transit program.

The initial plan was to delay program implementation by at least 4 years to have the entirety of the undergraduate population using the cards. Once completed, the university ran into some technical glitches synchronizing the campus system with Metro Transit. After working through those details, and finalizing the contract approved by the university’s Board of Regents in July 2022, the full transit integration was launched this fall.

The University of Minnesota is now the largest institution to offer students unlimited ride transit passes in the Twin Cities region, which is served by Metro Transit and its parent agency, the Metropolitan Council. Integrating UTP to the Minnesota U Card represents a 74% cost savings for students that use public transit.

“The Universal Transit Pass will provide students enhanced and more equal access to nutritious food, affordable shopping, and recreation, from Target Field to the Mall of America and beyond,” says Daniel Tobias, infrastructure director for the Twin Cities campus Undergraduate Student Government. “With this initiative, students will be healthier, happier, and better able to take full advantage of what the Twin Cities have to offer.”

Another goal of the project is furthering campus sustainability.

“Students expressed their strong support for expanding access to destinations in a sustainable way, which is what transit offers,” says Ross Allanson, Director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Minnesota.

The UTP project was approved by the University’s Board of Regents in July and exists as a partnership between the Metropolitan Council and the University of Minnesota’s Parking & Transportation Services and U Card offices.

“There’s a lot of excitement across campus that students now have access to buses and light-rail trains in the Twin Cities metro,” says Stephen Courchane, U Card Office Director. “It’s a great convenience that we were able to add this service directly to the U Card so that students do not need to carry an additional credential to access the Universal Transit Pass service.”

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