– Advocacy group pushes for universal U-Pass

The Ubyssey

By Lisa Fussell

Students across the province are pushing for a universal U-Pass for all Lower Mainland students and have created an advocacy group to better pressure the provincial government.

The group, called OnePassNow, formed in response to BC Premier Gordon Campbell’s May 2009 election campaign promise: If the Liberals were to win a third term, he would ensure that all college and university students in the province would receive U-Passes starting September 2010. The group includes students from Emily Carr and Vancouver Community College.

While Campbell did not address the costs of such a program, OnePassNow is asking that all students be offered the UBC rate of $25 per month.

“As the largest and most successful of the U-Pass programs, it makes a lot of sense to make it the system and price standard,” said Tiffany Kalanj, media coordinator for OnePassNow. “We conducted an online survey in which over 3000 students responded. 90 per cent of students believed that the U-Pass should be the same price as UBC students currently pay.”

UBC students currently pay $23.75 per month. TransLink negotiates U-Pass rates with schools individually. They take a “revenue neutral” approach in which they negotiate a price with an institution based on the percentage of its students that are using public transit. When UBC’s U-Pass was initially implemented in 2003, not many UBC students were using public transit, hence the AMS was able to negotiate the low rate.

However, TransLink is arguing that giving colleges the same price as UBC for the U-Pass is not so easy. Ken Hardie, spokesperson for TransLink, said that colleges have higher ridership and therefore necessitate a higher rate for the U-Pass. They pay $73  per month, about three times that of a UBC or SFU student. “We’ll have to buy more buses and pay for more operators and maintenance,” he said.

Judy Rudin, another spokesperson for TransLink, said that the company has a funding gap at the moment.

“We can’t do much of anything until we know what’s going to happen with our funding supplements. So all of this is very speculative,” she said, adding, “We can talk until the cows come home about U-Passes and what we can do but if we don’t have the money for that kind of program then we can’t do it.”

Rudin went on to say that when details of the U-Pass program were being worked out, a few schools declined participation. She said that while things can be revenue-neutral, they cannot be cost-neutral, and that if the program was expanded they would have to re-evaluate it.

To resolve this issue, TransLink has come up with a compromise.

“If the schools themselves agree to a big, blended program, the costs will be lower for the schools coming in but a bit higher for the existing schools,” Hardie explained. Based on their model of revenue neutrality and excluding possible funding from the provincial government, TransLink estimates they can currently offer a common U-Pass to all post-secondary students for a rate of $35 to $38 each month. While this is half of what a college student typically pays, it is a substantial increase of about $15 per month, or $120 a year, for university students.

AMS VP External Tim Chu said that while the AMS supports a universal U-Pass, they do not support a higher rate.

Kalanj asks for Gordon Campbell to follow through on his promise and to fund that promise.

“Invest in us, invest in the environment, invest in the $25 per month U-Pass for all Metro Vancouver students,” he said.

Explore posts in the same categories: Commentary, Rider Stories, Speak Out, students, Translink, U-Pass

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