Monday, May 07, 2007

Student U-pass a tough sell - Toronto Star

Student U-pass a tough sell
Some schools embrace discounted TTC Metropass as part of tuition, but some resist because you can't opt out of plan
May 07, 2007
Tess Kalinowski Transportation Reporter

They're part of the greener generation, and even the rich ones are broke most of the time.

So university and college students are a natural target for transit authorities eager to grow ridership now and in the future.

But so-called U-passes are proving a tough sell on Toronto campuses, where the TTC has been trying to work out a joint, discounted-fare deal with eight student governments since 2005.

Typically, the cost of a U-pass is included in annual student fees – no opting out.

That means students who walk, bike or drive to classes resent the higher fees. And that makes student governments reluctant to call the referendum required to adopt the U-pass system.

To complicate matters, student governments, unlike municipal or provincial politicians, change annually.

Now, as the TTC begins talks with the latest slate of student politicians, it is ready to negotiate with individual schools, said Michael Anders, TTC market research director.

George Brown College could just be the first in the city to bite: It has indicated it may be willing to move ahead with a referendum on a $60-a-month U-pass, Anders said.

Among the GTA's 11 post-secondary schools, only two suburban campuses have forged U-pass arrangements with regional transit authorities – but at significantly less cost than the TTC is offering.

Oshawa-based Durham College introduced a U-pass in September.

And last week, Mississauga Transit got city council approval for a U-pass to be issued to about 10,000 full-time students at the University of Toronto Mississauga campus starting this fall.

At $89 for the entire eight-month school year, it's a bargain over the $720 it would cost to buy monthly passes – or to park on campus, at a cost of $600 to $1,000 a year.

In the referendum, about 80 per cent of students at the University of Toronto's Mississauga campus voted in favour, but organizers admit there was vocal opposition.

"But every time there's a parking increase there's a huge outcry," said graduate student Sameer Al-Abdul-Wahid.

He and the university's sustainability co-ordinator, Aubrey Iwaniw, say they expect the U-pass will alleviate the pressure on campus parking lots, while being good for the air.

"We're hopeful that a group of drivers will find transit now accessible to them," said Al-Abdul-Wahid, a graduate student who has studied at the University of British Columbia, which has had a U-pass for years.

At $60 a month, the TTC's U-pass proposal wouldn't lose money for the transit system, but it wouldn't make any, either, Anders said.

That fee is less than the $87.85 students pay for a monthly TTC pass purchased through the student government at Ryerson University – which sells about 8,000 a month. But student union president Nora Loreto wants a better deal.

Sixty dollars "is just an amount that we think is a little too high to ask our students to vote on," she said, adding that students already face mounting tuition costs and debt.

"The TTC is underfunded and students have been working with the TTC to get more funding. That's where this campaign has to go," she said.

At York University, where about 500 of the 1,660 buses that come and go on campus each day are operated by the TTC, price also remains the issue.

"A U-pass is definitely quite high on our list of priorities as we are trying to create a campus that is affordable," said Ben Keen of the York Federation of Students.
In the spirit of full disclosure, I must explain how I feel about Nora Loreto, the "president" of the "student union" at Ryerson. She and her entire party ran unopposed in the last election, requiring the ballot to ask "do you support the election of X to the position of Y." Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe has, in my opinion, ran less crooked elections. If you're not going to have more than one candidate to vote for, don't waste my time with elections - or someone at least nominate the ficus.

Anyway, I support the U-Pass, even the fact that one would not be able to opt out of the program, provided that the pass you receive is transferable. I might not use it, but I can think of a dozen people I know who could use it. For sixty dollars, a transferable pass would do wonders to improve transit ridership to and from universities, especially York University, where the parking lot space rivals to footprint of the buildings on campus. One just has to look out west to see the results. At Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC, transit ridership increased 48%, one-third avoided having to buy a car, and over 60% used their cars less. At the University of British Columbia, the pie graph tells to whole story:

It's worthy to note that like York University, neither SFU nor UBC have a rapid transit station - all require a connecting bus.

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At 5/07/2007 9:26 p.m. , Anonymous Anonymous said...

your blog popped up on my google alert for 'simon fraser university', and i was interested to see the news story. i'm the current president of the simon fraser student society, where we managed to go from a 33 vote margin of over 6,000 cast to approve the upass in 2002 to a 81% vote in favour of continuing with the program in 2005. our experience with the upass has been almost uniformly positive, and i'd be happy to chat more or provide more stats if you are curious. best of luck in toronto. my e.mail is


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