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A defence of the U-Pass

This bus will be welcomed by everyone thanks to the U-Pass./ Jingyu Zhang
This bus will be welcomed by everyone thanks to the U-Pass./ Jingyu Zhang

Lead organiser responds to editorial.

Author: David Vanderberg

I’m all for healthy debate, and for that to occur, the facts need to be clearly presented. The Carillon’s first issue of 2015 featured an op-ed piece entitled, “The flaws of the U-Pass,” by Shaadie Musleh (Volume 57, Issue 14, p. 13). In it, Mr. Musleh compiles some rough numbers based on figures that have been published regarding the U-Pass. As U-Pass organisers, we can’t control how the facts are interpreted. However, by reading the faulty conclusions of Mr. Musleh’s interpretations of the U-Pass details, it is obvious that we haven’t done our due diligence in making sure that all the details have been clearly laid out. It is evident that Mr. Musleh is simply trying to critically dissect the U-Pass so that students know what they’re getting. We are totally on side with this and have nothing to hide. To clear up some confusion, let’s juxtapose some fact against the U-Pass fiction that’s out there.

The City will not earn millions off students’ backs. Students will not “just hand over” cash to the City. The reason that we used the $70-$90 range is that we don’t have the City’s permission to publish the final number until the Referendum passes. Regardless of the final price, the City won’t make additional cash: the U of R Students’ Union (URSU) will owe them a flat rate every year. This means that if 1,000 more students use the U-Pass in 2017 than in 2016, URSU will still only pay the required amount. Any surplus will go into an URSU U-Pass fund that will either cover years when less students use the U-Pass or help fund other transit upgrades for students if this reserve becomes full.

Also, U-Passes save you tax dollars. Mr. Musleh falsely asserts that “the city would need to add approx. $1.95 million,” in taxes in order to fund the U-Pass. The student U-Pass fee covers the program’s operational funding. The replacement cost of buses has been factored into Regina Transit operational cost and does not need a tax increase to fund it. The City of Edmonton reported in 2009 that two years of their U-Pass program saved the city $1.3 million in road maintenance.

As well, students who live near the University can opt out of the U-Pass. Mr. Musleh correctly asserts that many students live close to the University. This is why students who live within a one-kilometre radius of the University will be able to opt out of the U-Pass, if they so choose. Off-campus students won’t pay U-Pass fees (but could opt in). Most off-campus students don’t pay URSU fees because these programs are worth zero credit hours. Students who aren’t enrolled in any credit hours (co-ops, internships) won’t pay the U-Pass fee. However, if these students still live in the City and want a U-Pass, they should be able to opt in. Currently, there is an issue for off-campus students who would still like to get their cheap University gym pass but cannot because they don’t pay URSU fees. This wouldn’t be an issue with the U-Pass because URSU will administer it, unlike the University-administered gym pass.

Regina Transit is also adding bus service as part of the U-Pass. It has worked the following upgrades into the U-Pass: nine more trips to/from the University, and 15 minute service on routes 4 & 30 between 7:00-8:00 a.m. and 3:30-4:30 p.m. There is also a possibility of extending Sunday service to 9:30 p.m. All of this is promised for the first year. Once they see evidence of increased transit demand, Regina Transit will continue to improve service.

Students own the U-Pass – the City won’t be able to “meddle” in it. This project’s goal is to offer more (cheaper) options for students to get to school, and to make students into key transit system stakeholders. In Fall 2014, the U of S Students’ Union (USSU) withheld $8,868 in U-Pass fees from the City of Saskatoon for every day it locked out transit workers during their strike. Our U-Pass will be structured the same way. A “Yes” victory on the Mar. 16-19, 2015, U-Pass referendum means that students would allow URSU to negotiate with the City for a U-Pass costing each student less than $90 per semester. If the deal is lousy, URSU can walk away; students hold the power here.

The U-Pass has been well-researched and documented. Within the last year, the Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG), the U of R and URSU commissioned research on parking. Further, there is no shortage of research-by-example as over 40 universities across Canada that have implemented U-Passes since the 1970s, including the Universities of Manitoba and Winnipeg; they voted their U-Passes into implementation last year. U-Pass organizers and the Students’ Union have been meeting with Regina Transit and the University since Fall 2013 to plan their U-Pass. They’ve researched and based their decisions on facts, and are responding to demonstrated student need as parking infrastructure crumbles and disappears, and provincial money for new parking dries up.

Getting to campus is difficult for drivers and bus-riders alike. There is no magic solution for this problem. We recognise that the U-Pass is not perfect. However, it is definitely the only solution that can solve both parking issues (via the Park and Ride) and ludicrous bus-fees as well as save money for all students. As we clarify the details that make this viable for all students, we encourage students to be curious, critical, and to voice their concerns, like Mr. Musleh, in order to find a student-centred, student-led answer to our collective commuting woes.

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