University of Manitoba students who rely on transit pay a total of $480.80 over the summer and winter semesters for bus passes, but that cost could be significantly reduced with a UPass program.
The University of Manitoba Students’ Union (UMSU) is reconsidering the UPass for students at the university.
A UPass is a heavily discounted student bus pass that is usually mandatory for full-time students.
Julie Rempel, UMSU vice-president (external), said that the planned rapid-transit route will make transportation to and from the university by bus a lot easier, so it would be “prudent” for students and Winnipeg Transit to plan ahead.
UMSU has considered a UPass in the past, but Rempel said that they have never been able to negotiate a price that is acceptable to students.
“The main factor to consider is cost,” said Rempel. “We want a UPass, but only at a price point that our members will support.”
Rempel explained the UPass would cost less than current bus passes, but students who do not use transit would still pay for a UPass through their student fees.
“You can be assured that we will push hard to broker the best deal for students that we can,” said Rempel.
Rempel said UMSU is trying to build support for the UPass on campus and in the community, and once support is established UMSU will be able to negotiate details with Winnipeg Transit.
Bill Menzies, manager of service development for Winnipeg Transit, said that from Transit’s perspective the money the UPass generates has to equal the money that transit would generate without it.
Menzies said Winnipeg Transit looked at the issue in 1996, and again between 2004 and 2006. In 2006, they calculated a fee of $250 for both semesters, but Menzies said none of the student associations thought their student body would agree to that.
Menzies said the fee for a UPass today would be a bit higher than $250 in order for Winnipeg Transit to break even.
“Whether the student body is willing to pay, [ . . . ] that’s a call for the student association to make,” said Menzies.
Menzies said if the UPass fee was lowered, there would have to be subsidization by property tax payers or by other transit users.
Mark Stewart, a third-year faculty of arts student, raised a few concerns about the UPass at the last UMSU council meeting.
“My main concern about the UPass is that, while it is useful for those that use it, it is simply an additional service fee to be forced upon all the students,” Stewart said.
Stewart said it might not be fair to expect students already spending a lot of money on parking to pay an additional charge for something that won’t be a “utilizable asset.”
“I think the UPass itself is a great idea, [ . . . ] but what is integral is the ability to opt out of the program,” Stewart explained.
The University of Ottawa and the University of Alberta currently use a UPass program. The U of O’s program costs $145 per semester and is mandatory for full-time students.
Elizabeth Kessler, vice-president (university affairs) for the Student Federation of the U of O, said U of O and Carleton University started lobbying for the UPass about 10 years ago and it was implemented in the 2010-11 academic year.
“It’s a huge saving on the cost of taking the bus,” Kessler said. “The program encourages students to use the bus rather than drive or take taxies, which means we’re creating a whole generation of transit users.”
Kessler said the UPass is popular and the majority of students voted to implement the program. But she also said there are complaints from students who have to drive from out of town to the university and don’t benefit from the pass.
The U of A’s UPass costs $125 per term and is mandatory for almost all students.
Colten Yamagishi, vice-president (student life) for the U of A Student’s Union, said the U of A implemented the UPass program in 2007 when about 85 per cent of students voted in favour of it.
“The UPass offers affordable transit for students and works as a universal transit pass in the city of Edmonton, St. Albert, and Strathcona County,” said Yamagishi.
Yamagishi said one of disadvantages of the UPass was that not all students received the same amount of benefit from the program.
“Because of its mandatory nature, some students who do not use public transit often complain that they have to pay the UPass fee,” said Yamagishi.
This is a good idea and one long in the making. I wonder – would it help with financing if the UPass was also made available to staff at the university as well? I see a lot of university staff and faculty on the bus daily – perhaps making it available on a voluntary basis to a broader user group will bring the cost down for students. I would also argue that transit should also be pushed as a more ‘green’ way to get to work/school. And you won’t have to pay for parking!