This November, UR will launch the URos program. A revamped version of the accounts formerly known to students as Flex, URos will be valid for purchases made off-campus at participating retailers.
The area retailers that are currently contracted to participate in the URos program are Pellegrino’s, The Distillery, Center Stage Cafe, Mount Hope Diner, Quizno’s, Aja Noodle and Subway.
Subway is the most recent addition to the lineup of participating businesses, the rest of which were presented to students earlier this fall in a Town Hall Meeting led by Cam Schauf, Director of Auxiliary Operations at the University.
The program is projected to start in mid-November, once the retailers working with the University are equipped to handle the card technology. Card readers will be made available to students at each participating location.
This past spring, students were polled in a survey through the Hive Web site to choose area businesses that they’d like to see involved in a Flex off-campus program. There were 47 businesses that received one or more votes on the survey. The businesses that were approached to participate received at least 10 percent of the total number of votes, roughly 35 votes.
While some area businesses declined initial involvement, others are still in talks to participate in the URos program, including top vote-getter CVS Pharmacy and coffee retailer Starbucks, which received 114 votes.
“There are several businesses that are a part of larger corporations, so the decisionmaking process takes a bit longer. Starbucks and CVS are in that category,” Schauf said.
By the projected start date or shortly thereafter, a total of ten to 12 businesses will be signed up to participate. The final number depends on the outcome of the outstanding invitations extended to area businesses and will likely be capped at that point.
“We are not going to expand the program right away,” Schauf said. “We don’t want to spread ourselves too thin, it would not be fair to the businesses involved.”
The current Flex accounts are available for non-dining related uses in retail areas on campus, including the bookstore, the Common Market and computer sales.
The financial incentive for participating businesses is the base of money that is already being put into the Flex accounts. It is anticipated that adding functionality will increase the amount of money that students add to the accounts.
The off-campus functionality of the new URos account does not extend to the club meals and declining dollars that are a part of students’ meal plans.
“Meal plans are tax-free. Declining dollars, as a part of the meal plan, are tax free dollars,” Schauf said. “New York State tax law mandates that these funds may only be applied to meals prepared on campus.”
The plan to bring Flex accounts off-campus evolved from the need for incentives to bring students into the greater Rochester community, as well as provide more options for students to use the funds to which they already have access.
The change of name from Flex to URos was debated in the Student’s Association Senate. The change of name allowed for the incorporation of a University-specific identity.
“Flex stands for ‘flexible spending dollars,’ but if ‘Flex’ goes off campus then it doesn’t scream ‘University of Rochester!'” SA President Alexander Pearlman said. “For example, RIT has TigerBucks because their mascot is the tiger. If we are going to roll out a brand new program, then we had a perfect opportunity to change things around.”
The initiative has been largely student-oriented, originating from the plans of SA Senators who worked closely with Schauf last spring.
“I think that one of the most exciting parts of this program is that students have been very involved in what this program looks like,” Schauf said. “Now we look forward to getting the students out and able to utilize it.”Pomaranski is a member of the class of 2010.