New WOLFcard changes the way UAA travels

On the afternoon of June 11, buses were running late all across town as People Mover bus drivers explained a new fare box system to boarding passengers along their routes. Though the new fare boxes held back the bus schedule on that day, now that passengers are more familiarized with the process, they streamline the boarding process, the fare boxes ultimately make it easer for buses to stay on schedule.

Students are waiting for the bus outside of Consortium Library.

According to  People Mover marketing manager Paula Kangis, this is the first time the fare boxes have been replaced in 18 years, and decreased boarding times are actually the main reason for the fare box upgrade.

“It’s supposed to speed up boarding times,” said Kangis. “People that purchase the Smart Cards can just tap the card and go.”

No longer do bus drivers have to check for expired or invalid boarding passes; the new fare boxes do all the hard work for them. The only thing passengers have to do is simply swipe their day pass, insert their ride ticket or tap the face of the fare box itself with a Smart Card (loaded with period passes or individual rides) and make their way to a seat. People Mover has been making an effort to change every passenger’s old bus pass to a new pass compatible with the new fare boxes, and UAA has been working alongside to ensure that all current students’ WOLFcards are compatible with the fare boxes as well.

Before the fare box upgrades, UAA students would just have to show their WOLFcard while boarding, and the driver would simply check the photo on it to be sure that the card didn’t belong to someone else. From there, students were free to use the People Mover for free at all times, which was particularly helpful for students at UAA who don’t own vehicles or are environmentally conscious and want to minimize carbon emissions.

“I use the People Mover because I live on campus, and paying 200 dollars for parking was ridiculous. … People Mover takes me the few places I need to go for free,” said Waverli Rainey, an international studies major at UAA. “Aside from that, I am fully supportive of public transit, as it is better for the environment.”

The WOLFcards never had to be replaced like a monthly or yearly bus bass — which was convenient but flawed system. Though this system was good for students like Rainey who are on a budget, it erroneously benefited non-students as well, as students no longer associated with the university that kept their WOLFcards could still use their cards as a People Mover pass.
According to WOLFcard administrator Brian deZeeuw, the university pays $80,000 a year to People Mover to allow students to ride for free, but because of their suspicions about non-current students, People Mover wanted to increase that amount by near-double.

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“We did a test,” deZeeuw said. “We put some readers on some buses that served the UAA campus, just to see, and we did find out that about 21 percent of the people riding the buses were not current students or staff.”

This problem has been snowballing ever since the old WOLFcard came out ten years ago, as a decade’s worth of non-current students who could still use the bus added up. Still working under the assumption that People Mover buses wouldn’t have card readers to check if a student is enrolled, UAA rebranded its WOLFcards to better reflect the university’s colors, as well as to distinguish it from a decade of old cards. However, in the development process of the new WOLFcards, People Mover was busy securing their new fare boxes. Kangis said that People Mover is now working closely with deZeeuw to make sure the fare box system can be updated to reflect the current enrollment of each spring, fall and spring semester — so when a student becomes inactive at the university, so will their WOLFcard on the People Mover.

As of now, it is still possible to use old WOLFcards. Until June 30, the old WOLFcard can be swiped and accepted while boarding — though if it cannot be swiped for any reason, showing the bus driver will suffice. The new, updated WOLFcards will be mailed to all active students for free by July 1. After that date, the new WOLFcards will replace the new ones, but the process is still the same — swipe and go — making it easier than ever before to travel quickly, safely and on a budget.