College students question U-PASS price discrepancy
By Naoibh O'Connor-Staff writer
TransLink wants college students to pay more than their university counterparts for U-PASS, a program which offers bus passes to university students at a steeply reduced price.
UBC students pay $22 a month and Simon Fraser students pay $24.50 per month for the program through mandatory student fees. The theory behind the program, launched a few years ago following campus referendums, is that students who don't use transit help offset the price for those who do. The regular price for a one-zone pass is $69 a month.
Christa Peters, executive director of Vancouver Community College's student union, said TransLink wants to charge VCC students $10 more a month than university students for a total of approximately $35.
"It's a simple matter of equality," she said. "Our members have made it very clear to us that it's unfair to them that they would have to pay more for exactly the same service as people studying at UBC or SFU. It's ludicrous."
College student unions have lobbied for the pass since it was instituted at the two Lower Mainland universities. They formed a coalition, which includes VCC, Langara, Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design, Capilano, Douglas and Kwantlen colleges, to push for equal treatment.
The U-PASS price is fixed according to ridership figures, said TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie. Post-secondary institutions with higher transit ridership are charged more to ensure the program doesn't cost TransLink any money. Sixty per cent of VCC students already take transit, so there aren't as many non-users to offset the price.
Hardie said TransLink must determine the numbers of students from each college currently taking transit, what TransLink's fare revenue is from that school and what the ridership would likely be if U-Pass was instituted to determine the cost for each student from that school, he said.
"What you get is, depending on location of the college, different numbers."
Hardie said TransLink is examining a blended rate for all college student unions who want to join U-PASS, but said they must all approve the program through a single referendum. Not all college student unions are prepared to do that, he said, adding that if one or more opted out, the price of the pass would change.
Peters maintains TransLink should have worked out a single U-PASS price for all post-secondary institutions when the program was designed, even if the pass had to be rolled out in stages to the colleges.
"Now they've found they're in a situation where college students aren't going to buy a U-Pass that's a full $10 more a month."
Charles Latimer, external affairs coordinator for Langara students' union, agreed. He pointed out colleges wanted to be involved in the initial U-PASS negotiations, but were rebuffed by TransLink.
He maintains it's now TransLink responsibility to sort out the problem. "We are frustrated we can't get through negotiations with TransLink," he said.
Peters said college students were told by TransLink after the civic election that plans for referendums at other post-secondary institutions are on hold. VCC had hoped to hold one this spring for rollout of U-PASS in the fall, assuming it passed the vote.
Hardie said another problem holding up implementing U-PASS at more colleges is the fact some smaller schools can't provide TransLink with membership information needed to administer the program. TransLink might also need more buses to handle a potential increase in ridership.
"We hope within the next couple years to see more schools on line, but it's been a little bit slower with the colleges than it was with the two universities," he said.
That pace is frustrating Peters and students at VCC.
"It's troubling. Our students ask us every day for it. At the beginning of the semester we have no fewer than 10 students a day asking us when we're going to get the U-PASS," she said. "It's making college students a bit angry that it's not been moved ahead."
published on 03/01/2006