Considering the price tag of the proposed U-Pass deal for students at St. George campus-nearly $500 for unlimited rides on the TTC during the year-there was relatively low turnout at SAC’s town hall meeting on the matter last Thursday.
Chalk it up to essay deadlines and the looming exam period: there were just 30 to 40 students in the room to assess the new TTC proposal.
The present offer would give all full-time U of T undergraduate students a non-transferable metropass from the months of September to April, for a yearly fee of $480 ($60 per month), which would be tacked on to the current ancillary fees.
SAC (soon to be UTSU) currently supports an opt-in system which allows students to purchase a discounted metropass for $87.75. However, no more than 12,000 metropasses are available each month, and lines have been known to stretch around the block.
The catch on the new proposal is that opting out will not be possible-current TTC user or not, all full-time students would have to foot the bill.
“The TTC has said that if there were an opt-out [the pass] would have to be more expensive,” explained SAC VP external-elect David Scrivener. “Including an opt-out [would make] their financial situation less stable.”
It is widely known that the TTC is already strapped for cash, making a lower price (such as the $23 per month that Vancouver students pay) a highly unlikely possibility. Requests for federal or provincial funding to subsidize the cost have both been floated.
The offer has been presented to all major post-secondary institutions in the GTA, including York, Ryerson, Seneca, Humber, George Brown, Centennial, and OCAD. While each will decide on it independently, Scrivener emphasized the importance of coming together as a united front.
“We need to make sure that all of the student unions in the GTA are having a unified discussion with [the TTC],” he said. “I think the best deal we could get is if we do it together.”
Some students, however, argue that U of T is by far the most influential player in the deal, because of the sheer number of undergraduate students. U of T currently has over 52,000 undergraduates, while York only has 43,000 and Ryerson only 23,000.
“They want us just as much as we want them, so I think we really need to take a strong position here,” said Megan Barker, a second-year graduate student in medical biophysics. “We are setting the stage for most of the other universities.”
Barker was one of many attendees angry at the fact that the pass would not apply to U of T graduate students and staff.
“[The TTC feels] that the pass can be first won with undergrads and then extended,” responded Scrivener. “It’s about the path of least resistance and the biggest financial gain for them.”
The exclusive nature of the proposal was just one of many heated issues debated at the presentation.
“Just as a percentage of tuition fees, the price is enormous,” said one student. The $480 that would be charged is roughly equivalent to the cost of one half-credit at the current tuition rate.
In 2005, a TTC-commissioned poll of 5,000 GTA college and university students found that 56 per cent of full-time students use the TTC as their usual mode of travel between home and school.
This does not necessarily mean that a majority of students at U of T would benefit from the deal. Not all of those who regularly use public transit will actually save money by using a metropass. Students would need to take 22 trips per month for the cost of the discounted pass to break even with the cost of the current fare.
Because of the problems UTSU sees with the current proposal, a U-Pass for St. George will not likely surface before fall 2008-and after a successful student plebiscite.
“We want to make it clear that we’re not in a rush,” said SAC VP external Emily Shelton. “This is just our preliminary town hall, and there’ll certainly be more discussion as we go through the process.”