UVic is seeking to save labour costs and cut down on lineups at the beginning of semesters by bringing in automated kiosks for students to activate their public transit service.
The U-Pass system was originally implemented through a student referendum in 1999. The U-Pass allows students to use their student card as a bus pass on B.C. Transit after paying a fee of $81 per term, which is included in student fees. The $81 fee for a four-month period offers significant savings over the B.C. Transit price of $85 for a single-month pass for a student.
Since the implementation of the program, staff have re-encoded U-Passes each term at one of three locations: the Grad Centre, the UVSS info booth in the SUB, and the photo ID centre in University Centre. But now, two automated machines have been placed in the University Centre and a third will soon operate in the SUB, once its faulty motherboard is replaced.
Director of Campus Services Jim Forbes says, “As opposed to going into a line-up when it’s fairly busy, now people are able to go anytime to any of the three kiosks and insert their card and have it done by the kiosk. So it’s re-encoded for U-Pass privileges on the spot.”
Students may activate their U-Pass anytime the buildings that contain the machines are accessible, and it takes seconds to accomplish. Forbes says they tried to place the machines in central areas. “It’s really about the effect on the student, that they don’t have to line up to go get their card re-encoded . . . I think it’s a better service level certainly.” Forbes will bring in extra machines if there is a demand for them. Presently, however, he feels that they have determined the correct number and that no more than the three will be required.
The new kiosks are considered a low-cost solution to the problem of lineups. The university saves money by reducing labour hours which would previously have been spent re-encoding cards. Forbes says, “We were hiring people to manage re-encoding cards, and we just thought, as opposed to spending $5 000 to $7 000 a year re-encoding cards with a staff member, we can probably develop one-time technology to eliminate that cost. So over the course of our discussions with B.C. Transit, they were also very supportive of anything that makes the U-Pass a better experience for the student at the end of the day. So, to that end, they helped support us financially in terms of developing the technology. It’s going extremely well so far. The three kiosks cost $40 000, with B.C. Transit contributing between 35 per cent and 40 per cent of the costs.”
The kiosks aren’t the only technological addition made on campus recently that Forbes has been involved with. An app available for free download under the name UVic Mobile was introduced six months ago. The app includes many student-friendly elements, such as allowing students to see the next three buses that are leaving campus, the specials of the day at various eateries on campus, and emergency alerts. It is also tied in to campus security.
According to Forbes, about 3 000 students have signed up for the app. “It’s great for a student to be able to come out of exams or a class at 9:30 at night and know within six minutes that they should make their way to the bus stop or that the bus is not coming for half an hour so they have an extra 20 minutes to study,” says Forbes. “So again, all of these things are contributing to the student experience.”