– U-Pass helps bus use triple in decade: UVic

Times Colonist

By Jeff Bell

System was Western Canada’s first, later spread to other universities

The number of people taking a bus to the University of Victoria on an average day has almost tripled over the past decade, and the 10-year-old Universal Bus Pass program, known as the U-Pass, is being given much of the credit.

“If you came onto the campus 10 years ago, you would have found that we had 5,800 parking spots, but you would have had trouble finding an [empty one],” UVic vice-president of finance and operations Gayle Gorrill told a crowd yesterday at an event marking the 10th anniversary of the program, which also operates at Camosun College.

“And that would have been because 75 per cent of the people that were coming here were coming by car, and there was only 11 per cent that were coming by transit.”

Today, bus ridership has jumped to about 31 per cent, and motorists can find a place to park, despite the fact there are 1,000 fewer spaces.

Student participation in the U-Pass program is mandatory — most of the 31,500 capital region students who attend the university or college pay $69.25 per semester, whether they use the bus or not. Exceptions include students with mobility disabilities and those with a B.C. Bus Pass, a universal pass available to seniors and low-income disabled people.

The U-Pass program was the first established in Western Canada, and was emulated at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia in 2003. The system has since started up at a number of other post-secondary sites in B.C.

Victoria-Swan Lake MLA Rob Fleming, who was chairman of the UVic Students’ Society when the U-Pass was created, calls it the “single biggest thing” done in the capital region to lower carbon emissions and contribute to tackling climate change.

Students voted 67 per cent in favour of the U-Pass in a 1999 referendum.

The program is not without problems, including the fact that the high usage can mean students are left behind when buses are full at peak times.

B.C. Transit has been working on solutions, said Veronica Harrison, chairwoman of the UVic student group.

“It’s always the case where there’s a few pass-ups — especially at the beginning of the year you hear from students who haven’t had that happen to them before. But we’ve been fortunate that the UVSS and B.C. Transit have a really strong relationship of working together.”

Harrison said B.C. Transit has been adding buses and rerouting. “They’ve been really receptive to some of the issues that we’ve heard from students.”

Other speakers raised the prospect of a U-Pass program for high schools or even middle schools, and extending the concept to taxi use or car-sharing.

jwbell@tc.canwest.com

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