U-Pass: Info on the upcoming vote

As your students’ union, our primary goal and objective for the fall 2012 Referendum is to ensure that our members are informed on the question they are being asked, and on the program that is being proposed, which in this case is the U-Pass program. By exploring what the program entails and the reasoning behind why a referendum was even undertaken, our hope is that we can shed light on what exactly is going on over the next few weeks so that all UMSU members feel comfortable  and understand their role in this momentous decision making process.

Firstly, what is a U-Pass program?

A U-Pass is a Universal Bus Pass program, which is collectively purchased by students as a post-secondary institution at a significantly reduced rate than what is currently available only through as a post-secondary pass. Many similar institutions across Canada have a U-Pass, including the University of British Columbia, the University of Calgary, the University of Saskatchewan and many more. The cost associated with a U-Pass program is usually tagged onto student fees at the beginning of each semester. As soon as the fee is paid, every student has access to unlimited bus transportation via their public transit system for the duration of the semester through mediums such as their student card or a card specifically for the U-Pass.

Because it is a collectively purchased program, it operates similarly to many other social programs in that a majority of students are opted in to maximize cost savings and ensure accessibility for all students. In many instances, there are limited opportunities for opting-out, such as students living outside the service area of their local transit system or students whom may be living with a disability which does not permit them to use public transportation.

Secondly, why the referendum process?

UMSU has been investigating a U-Pass program for undergraduate students at the University of Manitoba since 2004. We surveyed our members in 2004, 2006, and most recently in 2009. However, as an organization we are unable to negotiate any program that would institute mandatory student fees unless we could provide demonstrated student support.

As an executive, we were elected with a mandate to hold a referendum this fall on the U-Pass question. On November 14-16,2012, every UMSU member will have an opportunity to vote either “yes” or “no” at polling locations across campus to the following question:

Are you in favour of a mandatory, universal bus pass that would:

– cost each undergraduate student no more than $85 per semester, with the price to be adjusted by inflation yearly (using the Manitoba Consumer Price Index),

– provide free transportation on Winnipeg Transit during the months of September to April, inclusive, and

– include all undergraduate students who are enrolled in a minimum of 6 credit hours per semester?

The referendum would need at least a 5 per cent rate of undergraduate student turnout and a 50 per cent + 1 majority to pass. Needless to say, though, that UMSU is working as best it can to raise awareness around the referendum and encourage a much higher voter turnout than what is required by our bylaws. Indeed, on campuses across Canada who have held similar referendum votes on U-PASS, we’ve seen 15-25 per cent voter turnout on average.

However, in the event that a vote passes in support of a U-Pass, this does not automatically mean the program is implemented immediately. If the referendum passes, it simply authorizes and mandates UMSU negotiate a U-Pass program with transit, including a services agreement, on behalf of the members at a cost which would not exceed 85 dollars a semester. If ever it were the case that we could not negotiate at or below that amount, another referendum would have to be held for members to approve a higher cost to be associated with the program.

As well, any program contract between UMSU and Winnipeg Transit would include any and all specific opt out criteria and the service agreement would clearly outline the expectations in terms of building a better transit system with more service routes and better hours to and from the University of Manitoba to accommodate the guaranteed huge increase in demand. All of these contracts will be thoroughly discussed through UMSU Council (where every UMSU member has an elected representative from almost every faculty, school, constituency and residence) to ensure that all interests are reflected in the final document. These would have to be passed through council (or if council so chooses, at an UMSU General Meeting) before it is implemented. Even while assuming a “yes” vote, the earliest we could see this program launch on our campus would be September of 2014.

Regardless, transit is quickly moving towards an electronic and card reading system for 2013 and the Winnipeg transit system as a whole is rapidly developing into a complex, modernized citywide connecting transportation system. If there is a time to decide if we’re even interested in a U-PASS program, that time is now.

Finally, I want to add that if at any point in time any of our members have questions about the voting process, specific questions about the U-Pass program or would just like to speak to a representative at UMSU about how any of this came to be, they are always welcome to email us at umsu@umsu.ca or visit any of the executive at our offices in 101 University Center. You can also follow us on twitter at @UMSU103, check out umsu.ca/u-pass or visit the referendum website at elections.umsu.ca to stay up to date on the process.

Our job is to help you navigate through this as best we can so that you can make an informed decision about the direction you want to see YOUR union take. Let your voice be heard and VOTE.

Bilan Arte is the President of the University of Manitoba Student’s Union.