Thursday, January 17, 2008
Ryerson currently participates in the Volume Incentive Plan (VIP), which offers discounted passes to organizations who commit to selling at least 50 passes to their members, and since the Ryerson Student Union began selling VIP passes, sales have gone up year after year.9000 passes were sold in November of last year for $96 a pass, but this isn't without cost. The TTC does not allow VIP members to add a surcharge, so the $25,000 in debit processing fees, the $70,000 in labour costs annually must come from the Student Union budget - money that could be used for programs to help students. Under the current system, students will pay $768.00 for 8 months of metropasses.
The U-Pass program would give students monthly passes for $60 per month, or $480.00 for those same 8 months. However, and this is the source of most of the controversy, students would not be able to opt-out of this program, as the guaranteed revenue is the only way the city can offer this discount. For this reason, and because of university bylaws concerning student fee increases (as the $480 would appear alongside tuition on the fee statement), a referendum is necessary for its approval. Also, while the pass would not be transferrable, it would grant its owner all the rights and privileges of all adult Metropass users.
After the details were laid out, Mayor David Miller took the microphone and commented about the need to make transit more affordable for students in the name of equity. He said that while the VIP plan is a simple concept, it is very complex to administer. In his view, the U-Pass is a leading program that offers significant savings, meets ridership goals, and can encourage transit ridership at a time when students are beginning to form lifelong habits.
TTC Chair Adam Giambrone spoke next, opening with the need to convince citizens to make sustainable travel choices from the start. He explained that the TTC plans to tie the U-Pass to a rate of 60% of the adult Metropass price, but that if the referendum passes in 2008, the current price of $60 a month will be frozen for at least the first year. Also, the chair explained that agreements-in-principle had been reached with GO Transit and York Region Transit to bring them into the U-Pass program - a comment that caught my attention and one that I will return to.
At this point in the event, the floor was opened to questions from the audience (which I will now attempt to paraphrase):
Concerns about students being unable to opt out
Once students have TTC passes, research suggests that they will use it. According to their studies, riders don't buy passes unless the plan to make 43 trips in a month, but that passholders tend to make 70 trips in a month. In addition, Mike Anders from the TTC revealed that 71% of Ryerson students could the TTC as their primary means of travelling to and from school. 5% use GO exclusively, and 6% take GO and the TTC (those who will benefit from the plan). The rest either drove, walked, cycled, were driven or answered "other", - a category which the mayor mocked.
Can it be a 12 month pass?
Summer demand indicated that it was not viable to offer a 12 month pass, but the VIP pass could continue to be sold on campus.
Since it is tied to the Metropass price, what will be the first price?
If passed this year, the first year will see the passes at $60 per month. The city is willing to take this hit, even in the face of improvements on 77 routes coming next month.
How soon would it be implemented following the referendum?
If the referendum passes, it would be implemented the following fall. However, if the referendum takes place in very early fall, the U-Pass could be implemented for January.
Could the price be lowered like in other cities?
All other cities of comparable size have provincial funding, or the school administration is contributing. Unless either of those change, the $60 price point is the best the TTC can offer. The mayor took this opportunity to praise the Premier for what he has done so far, and to condemn Harris for what he did.
At this point, the microphone passed to me, where despite my famous shaking when I'm nervous, I managed to hold the microphone and speak calmly.
Can you please clarify the agreement with GO and YRT?
Students would be able to choose 8 months of TTC passes, 8 months of YRT passes or 8 months of $60 vouchers for GO Transit.
Can we get a pass that is useable everywhere?
Giambrone spoke about the lack of equity in charging people more when they have longer rides (see this post), and without agreements with other agencies, that would be necessary. The mayor spoke about how densities allow for the TTC to offer a much higher level of service for a fair price than other agencies, and that it would be difficult to merge systems that are fundamentally different. Mike Anders spoke about how groundbreaking the agreements with GO and YRT were, while Mr. Miller pointed out that while they weren't politically approved, they didn't see any roadblocks.
Could corporate or other sponsors (as is done in Vancouver) allow for the price to be lowered?
What about school staff?
The VIP program would continue for the time being, but a Staff-Pass could be considered once full time students have approved it.
What about the exam period?
TTC staff took the lower travel figures into account in their calculations.
Would it be eligible for the federal tax credit?
What about Grad students?
Unlike other schools, Ryerson graduate students are represented by the same student union as undergraduate students, and will be included in the U-Pass.
Can students who get the U-Pass still purchase VIP passes for others?
Will there be exemptions for students who cannot use transit for accessibility reasons?
Yes, but only for students with disabilities which prevent them from using the TTC to get to campus.
At this point, Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy took the microphone and praised the U-Pass for the ways it complements Ryerson's Master Plan. He asked:
If there was an alternate source of funding, would the TTC be willing to reconsider the inability to opt-out?
If the university were able to guarantee the funding for students who opt-out, then the TTC would reconsider that facet of the proposal. However, the Mayor felt the point would be moot, as 97% of the respondents said that they would use it.
If Ryerson were the only school to ratify the proposal, would it still be implemented?
What would the pass look like? Could it be the Ryerson Student Card?
In order to allow TTC operators to easily recognize the U-Pass, they will take the form of a TTC issued card with existing photos from the University's file. It would be issued in September, and if the student drops out, they will be able to return it for a refund.
At this time, the closing remarks were made and the town hall meeting came to an end, where I mingled with the Mayor, the Chair and the Chris Drew - but that is a story for another day.
I have always believed that the U-Pass is a good idea, and while the pass won't benefit those who spend their entire educational careers within a block of campus, the agreement with GO Transit ensures that the pass will benefit more than 80% of Ryerson students. The agreement with York Region Transit ensures that this proposal will be very popular with York University students as well.
I hope that Ryerson University President Sheldon Levy was hinting at something when he asked if guaranteed funding could bring about a change in the opt-out policy, but even in the absence of that funding, I say bring on the referendum!