High stakes card game

University-area merchants have repeatedly requested that the UA allow them access to the All Aboard program. Their argument is that if one business is allowed access then all should be.

University administrators said the All Aboard card can only be used within the business confines of the Student Union.

But the merchants persisted by posting petitions and presenting over 2,000 signatures of students who would like to see the All Aboard card opened to off-campus businesses.

Then, UA administrators met with merchants last April and said they would form a committee to address business owners' concerns.

The committee the UA said would be formed has not been formed yet, and University Square merchants feel they have come up against a stone wall while trying to deal with an entity as large as the University of Arizona.

... Story continued on page 5

On April 7, a group of university administrators met with merchants and discussed the possibility of allowing off campus businesses access to the All Aboard card. The end result of that meeting came with the promise of forming a committee to discuss how an off campus debit card for students could be implemented at the UA.

Although administrators promised merchants due process to discuss concerns business owners have, merchants have stated they are unsure of where they stand with the UA.

"We haven't heard anything yet," said Cindy Darego, owner of Mike's Place, 917 E. University Blvd.

"They haven't made any decisions," she said. "It's one of those things the university leaves ambiguous. They have to form a committee in order to make the decision."

Mike Rukasin, owner of University Drug, 943 E. University Blvd., is equally frustrated.

"I have no idea why the university is taking so long to develop a plan of action while other universities around the country have implemented programs from their inception," he said.

Rukasin said he has applied several times to the university requesting access to the All Aboard card. And with every request he has submitted he said he has received a denial.

The All Aboard card is a program, begun in 1982, through which parents and students can deposit money with the UA. Students can use their identification cards as an on-campus credit card and can purchase items in any of the Student Union food venues.

Last year, area merchants expressed concerns that the UA was trying to keep student spending restricted to campus businesses when more students elected to use the All Aboard option instead of carrying cash.

Currently, every one of the 35,000 students enrolled at the UA can be a card-carrying All Aboard member, but at last count, only 14,000 students had open accounts through All Aboard.

Mort Edberg, half-owner of Landmark Clothing and Shoes, 876 E. University Boulevard and one of the leaders of the University Square Merchants Association, said that the committee has not met yet and that there have been no indications of it meeting any time soon.

"I spoke to (UA director of economic development and community affairs) Bruce Wright about a week ago and he said they were trying to get a committee together," he said.

"We thought by this time we would have a committee up and running, policy talked about, and maybe even implemented," said Rukasin.

"None of that has come to pass," he said.

"The ball is in their court," Edberg said. "They (UA) said they would be in contact with us."

Edberg said he has heard that the UA has done some surveys and preliminary work in order to prepare for eventually meeting with the merchants at the committee level, but, he said he is unsure as to the reasons behind the current delays.

"There's got to be a way that it can work," Edberg said.

In their repeated attempts to make the UA aware of their situation, the University Merchants association contacted the State of Arizona's Small Business Advocate, Joseph Dean, to act on their behalf.

"I had a number of contacts with the university," Dean said. "The university has responded by forming a committee to address these issues."

"The standard action has been taken and it looks like things are headed in the right direction," he said.

Dean said his job was to ensure the right people at the university are involved with the issue at hand and that all sides are communicating with each other.

Wright said they are not working toward resolving this issue as quickly as he would like to see, but, he said they are working as quickly as they can and hope to begin meeting with merchants soon.

"Hopefully, in the month of August we'll have some proposals to bring forward," Wright said.

Wright said that one reason for the delay in meeting with University Square merchants has been the analysis process the internal committee has had to follow, such as contacting other schools who have this type of program. He said the internal committee has been meeting regularly for the past three to four months.

Also, Wright said they have had to work around vacation schedules during the summer months.

Another reason for the delay the university has experienced has been in completing the legal analysis examining the concept of an off campus debit card.

"It can be done," David Nix, an attorney for the UA said. "It's a difficult and long and drawn out process."

Basically, Nix said the issue of the legality of access by merchants to the All Aboard card revolved around State and Federal banking regulations. He said that the issue of legality was determined on how electronic funds transfers (EFT's) took place and whether the UA would comply in the future through appropriating the proper licenses and permits, not with actually "looking" like a bank.

For instance, the UA would "look" like a bank if they began paying interest on funds deposited on accounts within the university structure. The UA cannot pay interest on deposited funds because, legally, it is not a bank.

Nix said that if the UA introduces an off-campus debit card he said he recommends that the program be administered by a local bank rather than being overseen by the university itself.

"We are considering the possibility of doing that," Nix said, "as we indicated at the meeting in April."

But, as to whether any progress has been made toward implementing a program beneficial to all concerned, Nix said he isn't aware of any decisions having been made regarding the All Aboard card.

Dean said small-business owners have a right to recourse whenever they feel a problem has occurred either with another business or by the state itself. He said that a Private Enterprise Review Board addresses businesses concerns.

But, if a business has a beef with any one of the universities, their grievance is taken to the Arizona Board of Regents.

In a letter to Dean dated May 1, 1995, Arthur Chapa, president of the Arizona Board of Regents, assured Dean that positive steps were being taken by the UA to address the concerns of private business owners and to clarify the business practices at the UA.

"As I understand it," Chapa said, "the university is making an effort to resolve this."

Read Next Article