author: matt wincherauk | editor-in-chief
Bus puns aside, the Carillon talks with URSU on the first days of the U-Pass
During Welcome Week, the University of Regina Student’s Union (URSU) began their rollout of the U-Pass, the universal bus pass program that was approved by city council back in Sept. 2015. The Carillon sat down with URSU Operation’s Manager Neil Middlemiss to talk about the rollout process, student frustrations with the opt-out rules, and any changes they plan on making in the future.
Has the U-Pass rollout been a success so far? What kind of feedback have you guys gotten so far?
We’ve been pretty satisfied. For such a big program, it’s hard to imagine how it could’ve gone much smoother. There were inevitable complaints that you had to deal with, but in terms of the process, everything has worked out really well, and the vast majority of students have positive and enthusiastic about it, at least out of the ones we’ve seen. There’s also a very large percentage that it indifferent to it so far. We’ve been advertising pretty heavily so far, and maybe they’re just not seeing those advertisements, and if they do it still doesn’t make a difference to them. It is definitely a possibility that some people just won’t pay attention, I know that based on what other universities have told me.
One of the things that we’re doing to try and better understand what kinds of things get out to students is a student survey on our website, where students can tell us which services our students know about, and which sort of advertising reach [students]. So is it social media, or do you find the TV ads effective? Lots of people poster, but it seems to me that most people see a wall of posters and keep walking. So we’re going directly at the students and figuring out which way is the most effective to reach them.
There has been some resistance to the U-Pass, with some students frustrated with the opt-out rules. Could you comment on that?
There are a lot of students that find the idea of a mandatory bus pass to be unfair. While to some extent I understand their complaints, I think that they need to keep the big picture in mind, and that’s not just talking about subsidizing someone’s bus pass, it’s talking about the community benefits that are good for all of us. It’s been the same way at a couple universities, and after a couple years it’s totally normal, and not much of a problem. We just have to ride through a bit of a rough first year.
Are their any plans to make the opt-out rules less strict?
We do track the reasons of those that opt-out, so we have a sense of how many people within the opt-out zone, and outside of Regina, are opting out. Based on that we’ll look at the numbers and see if there’s room to change the opt-out process, but we won’t have a better idea of that until November and then in March. The other complaint, and this is admittedly really difficult to deal with, is that some students say they don’t get mail to their house. Usually when we ask more questions we found out that that’s not really true, but there are genuinely some students that don’t get mail to their house, and thus can’t prove that they live in an area where they can opt-out. We’ve been dealing with those on a case-by-case basis, and once we’ve gotten through this month I’ll have some idea on how we can make it a little bit easier on people to prove that, but on the flip side, we have to be careful with people who just say “trust me, I live at this address.” Not that we don’t trust our students, just that URSU has to cover its own butt, making sure that we’re only letting people opt-out that can.
This has been a twenty-month journey to make U-Pass a legitimate thing for students. Has this been a worthwhile venture for URSU?
I think so. One of the things that is very clear, is that the students that are in the most difficult financial situations have been directly helped by it. For the most part, that seems to be the group that has benefitted the most. Also, we do want to make the university and community better in a long term and meaningful way, and I think this program has been proven at other universities, and I think we’re starting to see that here. It has been an awful lot of work, and we don’t regret it at all.
Is there anything you’ve taken away from this rollout to try and make the next time in the winter a smoother process, or do you feel this is a pretty good strategy?
It’s working out well so far, and it’s based on the data that we get by the end of the year. So I’ll give you two really big examples: I’m considering allowing a one-year opt-out. So those who opt-out in the fall will have to opt-out in the winter, and I’m considering changing that. Also, we’re thinking of anywhere from a one to two year activation on U-Pass. The only reason we didn’t do that right away is a technical explanation. So if we activate someone’s pass and then they drop classes, we have to deactivate the pass, which cannot be activated again. They would have to get a completely new student ID. So we avoided doing that right now because we thought we would steer clear of an extra technical problem and avoid possible frustration with students. It will be easier once more people have the double-sided card. Overall though, I’m pretty happy.
The Owl situation has actually been more frustrating, so that has given me more sleepless nights than U-Pass has. With U-Pass, the only thing that has been kind of hard has been parents, because they can get very upset. Normally, they don’t understand that this is something that has happened at every other university ten years ago. So they call and tell us this is the most ridiculous thing they’ve ever heard of, when actually it’s really not that ridiculous! Compared to when we talk to students, they normally get to the point where they understand where we’re coming from.
For further information on U-Pass and FAQs, visit ursu.ca/upass. U-Pass activation can be done in the Riddell Centre Multipurpose Room until Friday, Sept. 16.