Full-time undergraduate students at UTSG will have the opportunity to vote on the proposed U-Pass transit plan from March 26–28. If a majority of them vote “yes” for the plan, an unlimited semesterly TTC pass will be implemented. The TTC set the price of the U-Pass at $280 per semester, with most students having no option to opt out of payment.
Exceptions to the no opt-out rule will include students “whose personal circumstances or needs related to a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code restrict their ability to utilize transit.”
Ahead of this week’s vote, both supporters and detractors of the U-Pass are attempting to persuade students to their side of the issue. The detractors, U of T students Aron Sankar and Donald Wang, have created a Facebook event page called “Vote NO to the U-Pass Referendum on March 26–28” to share their message. As of press time, almost 700 people said they were attending the event on Facebook. Sankar is also a Faculty of Applied Science and Engineering director on the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) Board of Directors; Wang is the Faculty of Medicine director.
Aidan Swirsky, a representative of the pro-U-Pass U-Commute team, explained that the group has been “handing out flyers, doing class talks, spreading the word via word-of-mouth, conversing with student groups over email and giving them all the information (especially commuter and residence-related ones), and posting on social media – including a UofT Reddit AMA.” U-Commute is also hosting a Facebook event, “Vote YES for the St. George U-Pass! (March 26-28),” with over 280 people saying they were attending as of press time.
Sankar and Wang argued that the pass will have an overall negative impact on students. They believe that “at its core the U-Pass levy essentially amounts to a cash transfer to students who use the TTC regularly from those who do not.” They emphasized that the contract negotiations with the TTC regarding administrative fees and term length, among other things, are not concrete, and that “everyone should have the right to know those things before they vote.”
Sankar and Wang explained that they cannot justify supporting a U-Pass without an opt-out option, which the “TTC would never go for… unless the fee were higher.” Otherwise, they believe, non-commuter students would be forced to pay over $500 per year for a pass they’d rarely use.
They also said that GO Transit users, whom they estimate would make up about 10 per cent of U-Pass users, would see their expenses rise, as the U-Pass does not cover GO Transit. There is currently a co-fare discount in effect for those who travel between the GO and TTC systems. Sankar and Wang worry that many students are not aware of the actual cost of the U-Pass. Despite their best efforts, they believe “there are so many people who will not find out that this is even happening until they see their ACORN account come August.”
Conversely, Swirsky argued that a U-Pass is the best option for U of T students, who can use the pass to improve their quality of living in Toronto through opportunities “such as finding lower priced food and household goods” and replacing “more expensive forms of transport (like taxis and Ubers).” The U-Pass is also eligible to be covered under OSAP, and it offers students a 40 per cent discount on a regular postsecondary metropass. The pass must be mandatory, he said, to have the cheapest price; he added that this framework is used successfully at many universities across Canada.
Swirsky continued that “the U-Pass will establish a two-way partnership with the TTC that student advocacy organizations such as the UTSU should be able to leverage,” including on issues such as with GO. He also noted that the program is revenue neutral, meaning “that the amount of money they generate from student ridership now, would be the same after pass implementation.” He stressed that “all of the information students need to know about the pass has been made public before the vote,” and that any additional negotiations would cover administrative details, such as fee remittance dates.
Swirsky said that the U-Commute team’s “extensive consultation of UofT students through meetings with stakeholder organizations, frequent progress updates to its constituents and of course the U-Commute survey” points to a wide base of support. Sankar and Wang disagree, worrying that students who are against the measure will not vote “because many of the demographics that are hit the hardest, such as international students, are also typically less likely to be involved with or aware of happenings at the UTSU.”
Both sides will continue to lobby students until the referendum, which will take place online alongside the UTSU elections from March 26–28. Voting will take place at utsu.simplyvoting.com.