The mayor and TTC officials faced off with UTSU at Monday night’s town hall to discuss the U-Pass proposal. As currently offered by the TTC, U-Pass would have postsecondary students at participating institutions pay $60 per month for a metropass in a compulsory payment of $480 per year, with no opt-outs. The offer would only include full-time undergraduates, and would have to be approved by a student referendum.
Mayor David Miller’s commitment was unswerving.
“The U-Pass is something that I’m very passionate about,” said Miller. “What we’re trying to do at the TTC is to provide a way for university and college students to get better, cheaper access to transit.” Miller had promised to create a U-Pass during the 2006 municipal election.
Many students at the meeting were thrilled at the proposal, but a greater number were disturbed at the thought of having to buy nearly $500 worth of unneeded transit passes.
At the St. George campus alone, U-Pass would sell 30,000 discount metropasses. Currently, UTSU only sells between 4,000 and 12,000 metropasses per month.
TTC councillor Joe Mihevc and chair Adam Giambrone pointed out that people with unlimited passes use transit more often. They assured students that even if they didn’t use the pass to commute to school, it would be their “passport to the city.”
“Once it’s up and running, you’ll love it,” said Mihevc of the program.
The city officials cited a 2005 study carried out by the TTC’s marketing department, according to which 92 per cent of U of T students said they would use a U-Pass during the school year. Not everyone was convinced.
“I’d use it once!” called a heckler in the crowd.
Data for the 2005 study came from a questionnaire given to 5,353 students across the GTA. City officials referred to the offer as though negotiations were concluded and nothing remained to do but vote. Mihevc urged students to push for a referendum as soon as possible.
The city hall suits won some converts. One student took the microphone during a Q&A period just to thank the councillors for their offer.
One angry man lambasted both the offer and the TTC for proposing it. “I’m kind of disturbed that you’re pitching this project to our student union as a band-aid to your public relations,” said the undergraduate St. George student. “I would greatly prefer the TTC would figure out how to organize its resources.”
Matt Kopzinski, a third-year civil engineering student, took a dim view of the TTC’s claim that they would lose money on the U-Pass program. The new ridership, he contended, would likely bring increased federal subsidies for transit. “You’re trying to bump up your numbers by getting us all to mandatorily do this,” he accused the councillors.
UTSU is so far unsatisfied with the TTC offer, and is working with all other GTA schools who are considering a U-Pass. If one school accepts the current offer, the bargaining position of the others will be weakened.
UTSU likely will not consider voting on the program until at least fall of the next academic year.
“This would be the biggest referendum we’ve taken to students, so we’d want to make sure we get all the details out and that everyone knows what they’re voting for,” Scrivener said.
Gabe De Roche, who represents Trinity College on UTSU’s board of directors, warned that city politicians must make their proposal more attractive to non-commuter students.
“You’re going to have a very difficult time to get the ‘yes’ votes, because as anyone familiar with student politics knows, it’s very hard to get commuters to vote.”
Asked repeatedly about opt-outs, Miller, Mihevc and Giambrone maintained that allowing opt-outs would drive the price up to the same levels as the $96 VIP metropasses currently sold through UTSU.
Asked how planners estimated the number who would opt out, Scrivener replied, “Really there is no estimate, but we have geographic statistics that give some indication.”
Residence students make up 14 per cent of St. George campus’s undergraduate population.
“It essentially amounts to a 10 per cent increase to our tuition, and a 10 per cent increase is not acceptable,” said De Roche. “It’s got to be cheaper, and if it can’t be cheaper, then we have to maintain the current program with opt-outs.”