Why do the U-Pass people wish to ease access to a flawed transit system?
To be clear, I like the idea of working towards a practical, sustainable, and efficient transportation system for the University of Regina and the city. However, the current initiative of the U-Pass, although well intentioned, does not provide a good plan for achieving this. Rather, it, like the three failed referendums before, does not address several key issues that this student population faces. The argument of achieving maximum utility through spreading cost across 14,000 students is an easy one to make, especially if we only discuss it in the broadest terms possible. However, something just does not add up. For example, the U-Pass would allow for on campus and out of town students, each estimated at around 1,000, to opt-out of the pass; this leaves 12,000 students that would benefit. Now, Regina Green Ride Transit Director David Vanderberg estimated that each student will pay $70-$90 per semester, creating $1.6 million in new revenue to the city. But, students would only have to pay $66.66 per semester to achieve this goal. That means that students could end up paying between $40,000 and $240,000 per semester under the Regina Green Ride proposal. Furthermore, at $90 per semester, the city would earn $2.16 million. That is a lot of cash to just hand over without knowing what it will achieve. Improved bus service is not good enough; we should have some idea of what the new service would look like.
According to the Regina Public Interest Group website, 30 per cent of our students are parents. Without on-campus living available to students with families, it is safe to presume that approximately 3500 students would be negatively affected by the new cost. For students, $140 – $180 is a lot of money when you have another mouth to feed. The extra demands on child care, work schedules, school commitments for both parent and child, as well as extra-curricular activities, makes access to reliable transportation a must. The bus system does not even come close to meeting these needs, nor is there a plan that addresses how the new funding will help. I fall into this category; I tried using the bus service last winter semester and it was a disaster for me. 45- 60 minute commutes, no notification if the bus is running due to heavy snow, lack of shelter for small children at the bus stop, and inconsistent pick up times are some of the issues I faced.
Part-time and off-campus working students are also not accounted for in the U-Pass proposal. Both demographics most likely need quick access to transportation. My experience has been that my employer, not Regina Transit, determines work schedules. Using the amount of potential available housing around the university, I estimate that approximately 3,000 students pay a premium rent to live within walking distance of school. Not accounting for off-campus work, as the crossover is most likely high, this leaves 9,020 students that do not benefit from the proposal.
Students as a whole are a vulnerable group. Rising tuition, interest rates, available loans, cost of living and transportation add up quickly. It is not hard to see that student debt has changed key economic areas such as when young people buy their first house. Placing the weight of transit improvement on their shoulders alone is irresponsible. The university, city and province need to collaborate on this issue. If we are serious about expanding the university, the city and the province, then we should be serious in how our actions will impact future growth plans. It is not just students that are stressed for parking, but U of R employees as well. The Park and Ride program is a great idea that could be designed in collaboration, spreading the cost beyond just students, and service the entire university. Mutual goals can be met without a U-Pass, whose proposal does not guarantee the creation of this program.
The goal of this campaign is to help the city recover 45 per cent of every dollar spent on transit expansion. Thus, if we use the $1.6 million quoted, the city would need to add approximately $1.95 million in a best-case scenario. In a new year that saw increased taxes, this is not a guarantee. In fact, it will only get us a conversation about expansion; this is expensive. I do not see why we need to pay for a service that is not guaranteed. The plan should come first and a feasibility study needs to be done to see how the plan meets the university’s needs. Lucky for us, we are in a university that could produce such a report without paying $1.6 million for it.
I want this campus to have a strong sustainable transit system that makes the entire city more efficient. However, there are too many questions, unfinished ideas, and ‘pie in the sky’ ideals that hinder this program’s development. We need a plan, a strategy, and actions that lead to our goals, not just suggesting that we should do it because it is a good thing to do.