Students ready for fare fight

The Straight

Student unions across the region claim that TransLink is discriminating against students. And they plan to make differential transit fares an issue in this November’s municipal elections.

Student unions at Emily Carr University of Art and Design, Vancouver Community College, and Douglas College want politicians to support their campaign for fair prices in the regional transportation authority’s U-Pass program.

According to Lori MacDonald, executive director of the Emily Carr Students’ Union, the long-standing revenue-neutral policy of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority in negotiating U-Pass packages has resulted in a discriminatory pricing system.

“It means that some students will be paying twice as much as other students,” MacDonald told the Georgia Straight. “Students generally support having a U-Pass, because it means they can have unlimited access to transit throughout the Lower Mainland.”

A student at UBC gets a U-Pass for $23.75 per month, while another at SFU receives the discounted pass for $26.10. At Langara College, a U-Pass costs $38. A regular monthly one-zone TransLink pass goes for $73.

MacDonald noted that last year, TransLink offered students at Emily Carr and VCC passes for about $40 and $50, respectively, which the unions rejected as unfair.

“It’s unfair because students will be paying different prices for the same service,” MacDonald said.

She explained that TransLink has to ditch its revenue-neutral policy, which calculates U-Pass prices so that revenue matches the amount earned from students at a particular institution prior to the program being introduced. The next step, according to MacDonald, is to standardize prices in such a way that students currently using U-Passes don’t have to pay more.

“Our position has been that TransLink has the responsibility to look at all students in a standardized way. And if you’re a student in the Metro Vancouver area, you should have access to transit, and we should define that price for all students in the Metro Vancouver area, and not do a campus-by-campus price. There are 20,000 students at VCC, Douglas College, and Emily Carr who are currently excluded from the program.” Tiffany Kalan, Organizer, Students’ Unions of Vancouver Community College

MacDonald said student unions will be raising these issues in a forthcoming letter to B.C. Liberal minister of transportation Kevin Falcon. “We are also asking that the B.C. government provide dedicated funding for the expansion of the universal pass to all public postsecondary institutions in Metro Vancouver,” she said.

TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie noted that U-Passes will cost more the longer it takes student unions to negotiate with the transportation authority.

“If you go through a round of negotiations and TransLink says, ‘Look, we could give it to you at this price,’ it’s like a lot of things—that offer is good only for a period of time because, very clearly, as time goes by, your cost of business goes up,” Hardie told the Straight.

Hardie also emphasized that TransLink’s revenue-neutral policy ensures that the transportation authority would be able to address transit needs across all sectors and areas in Metro Vancouver. “Offering a U-Pass to a school is not cost-neutral to TransLink,” he said. “It ends up costing us more money.”

Hardie explained that transit fares are actually subsidized by about 45 percent, and with increased demand for transit service “our subsidy goes up because we’re not recovering 100 percent of costs.”

MacDonald and her colleagues have been meeting with Geoff Meggs, former executive assistant to then–Vancouver mayor and now senator Larry Campbell, who intends to make the U-Pass one of the key issues in the municipal elections this November.

“There will have to be a standardization of the price, and it’s the only fair way to handle the matter,” Meggs, who is seeking a Vision Vancouver nomination for its council slate, told the Straight.

Meggs recalled that Vision Vancouver councillors Raymond Louie and George Chow brought forward to council on February 12 a motion asking the City of Vancouver to make representations to TransLink on the implementation of the U-Pass program at Emily Carr and VCC. The same motion also called for a fairly priced U-Pass. It likewise pointed out that TransLink had a surplus of $386.1 million in 2007.

Mayor Sam Sullivan ruled the motion out of order, noting council has no control over the matter. When questioned by Louie, the mayor’s ruling was sustained by members of Sullivan’s Non-Partisan Association caucus in council.

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