Yale Daily News

Rather than crowding into Durfee’s to use a $9 lunch swipe, Yale students may soon be able to swipe into restaurants across the Elm City.

Ward 1 Alder Hacibey Catalbasoglu ’19 has pitched the Yale administration on a new dining initiative that would give students the ability to use their Yale Dining lunch swipe to get an entree, side and drink at select New Haven restaurants once a week. Although the plan is still in its initial stages, Catalbasoglu has proposed it to Yale administrators, including Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, Yale Secretary and Vice President for Student Life Kimberly Goff-Crews and Associate Vice President of Yale Hospitality Rafi Taherian. As he plans meetings with Blue State Coffee, Salsa Fresca, Yorkside Pizza and other downtown eateries, Catalbasoglu said he hopes the program will be implemented by the fall of 2019 — but that he could see the talks “dragging out for awhile.”

When asked about Catalbasoglu’s “City Swipe” plan, the administrators referred questions to Yale spokeswoman Karen Peart.

Peart told the News the University values its relationship with Catalbasoglu but did not respond to a question Thursday afternoon asking about the University’s stance on Catalbasoglu’s plan.

“Haci has a strong commitment to his new role as Alder and we are pleased to have open lines of communication with him, and engage frequently across various topics,” Peart said in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to work with Haci as he serves Ward 1 and the New Haven community.”

According to Catalbasoglu, administrators might not have wanted to comment on the program because it is still in its initial stages.

Catalbasoglu said he initiated talks about the “City Swipe” program with administrators in late February as he discussed signing a letter that would allow the University to clear the streets for the University’s commencement ceremony in May. Although the Ward 1 alder typically signs this annual letter immediately, Catalbasoglu took a few days to read over its contents before signing the letter and sending it to City Hall. He said the delay allowed him to “strengthen his relationship with all parties involved.”

It was “convenient” for him to bring up the “City Swipe” plan while talking about the commencement letter, Catalbasoglu said, as implementing the meal swipes idea is a very “bureaucratic process.”

Catalbasoglu and Christopher Moeckel ’20, one of Catalbasoglu’s team members, presented the plan to Chun during a meeting on Wednesday. Although Chun said he thought the plan was a “good idea,” he was concerned about the financials, according to Catalbasoglu.

“[Chun] actually recommended that we look over the costs and find a way to balance the budget,” Catalbasoglu said. “I personally believe that [the cost is] our biggest hurdle at the moment.”

To cover the costs of the program, Catalbasoglu proposed having restaurants subsidize part of the lunch swipe or raising the price of the dining plan. Yale could also cut the costs associated with installing card-swiping technologies in restaurants by using Snackpass, an app that gives discounts to local restaurants while allowing students to place advance orders on food in more than 60 Elm City restaurants, Catalbasoglu said.

Catalbasoglu is not the first student to have proposed a meal-swipe program at New Haven restaurants.

In the early 2000s, the University allowed the use of “Flex Bucks” — money that Yale students could use in two New Haven restaurants, including Yorkside Pizza. But the processing fee for this program was 18 percent, which was too expensive for the restaurants to afford.

In another attempt to bring dining plan funds to area restaurants, Bill Fishel ’08 in 2005 proposed a program called “Campus Cash,” which would allow Yale students to have late-night dining options by using their IDs to buy food at local New Haven restaurants. Despite support from the Yale College Council and an overwhelming 92 percent of Yale students who filled out to a 2006 YCC survey, the University nixed the idea.

“Most students already have Visa or Mastercard relationships that can provide debit cards for use at New Haven merchants,” then-Student Financial and Administrative Services Executive Director Victor Stein told the News in 2008. “So, one might ask, is there a need for the University to create … what, in effect, would be a redundant system?”

But Catalbasoglu said he hopes his plan will come to fruition. The closing of Commons and the crowding of residential college dining halls — as well as discontent over the high prices at Durfee’s — are reasons to reopen the debate, Catalbasoglu said. And in contrast to previous iterations of the idea, this proposal would be associated around lunch rather than late-night options.

By working on the plan, Catalbasoglu could help fulfill one of his major campaign promises — bridging the gap between Yale and New Haven. The program could not only give his Yale constituents an opportunity to have more dining flexibility, but it could also help stimulate sales at small businesses.

“Having worked in a small business nearly my entire life in Brick Oven, I know the value that small businesses bring to our city and the value that Yale brings to small businesses in our city,” said Catalbasoglu, whose father runs the New Haven pizza joint.

Students interviewed expressed support for the “City Swipe” plan, saying it would offer them a greater variety of lunch options and encourage them to go outside the Yale bubble more often.

“It would be nice,” Tyler Helms ’20 said. “It would bring business to New Haven restaurants that I normally wouldn’t visit.”

Both Anna Hwang ’20 and Esther Issever ’19 agreed. Hwang called the plan a “great idea” that would make her life more convenient. Yet both identified one drawback: City Swipes would move transactions away from the dining halls and University retail locations.

Harvard allows students to use Crimson Cash dollars in Cambridge restaurants and in retail stores such as CVS Pharmacy.

Ashna Gupta | ashna.gupta@yale.edu

Britton O’Daly | britton.odaly@yale.edu