With the return to campus this fall semester, UTM students have expressed concerns about the frequency, crowdedness, and reliability of local bus services.
In response, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) hosted emergency meetings with UTM’s administration and MiWay, the official transit service for Mississauga, over the week of September 19. Through videos published to the UTMSU’s Instagram account on September 23, the union’s President, Maëlis Barre, expressed disappointment at these organizations’ responses and what the union perceived as a lack of foresight. The UTMSU furthermore called on the administration to ensure that students have access to reliable transportation.
In 2018, over 75 per cent of U of T students identified as commuters. Recently, through online forums, many UTM community members have shared their frustrations with overcrowding, long lineups, and delayed buses.
The issue is not only with MiWay but also with UTM’s Shuttle Bus service. UTM students pay for a pass for the shuttle through their incidental fees, and non-UTM students can purchase shuttle bus passes for upward of $650.
This September, the UTMSU released a feedback survey on its Instagram story to gain insight into students’ concerns. In an interview with The Varsity, Barre noted that the story received over 250 responses in 24 hours. “Essentially, those concerns were regarding frequency of buses — there were not enough buses and people were lining up for a long time; capacity limits of buses, with students being left behind not able to board the buses because there was no space for them; as well as some students concerned about COVID on the buses.”
According to Barre, a lack of reliable public transportation can be a barrier to education. “When a student cannot come to campus… or is late to their lectures because of transit, that’s holding them back from getting a proper, quality education that they’re paying for and that they should have a right to,” she said.
After collecting these concerns, the UTMSU met with MiWay and the UTM administration to create short and long-term solutions. Specifically, the UTMSU asked MiWay and UTM to look into increasing the frequency of buses to reduce congestion.
In multiple Instagram videos, Barre explained that MiWay plans to make manual adjustments to increase bus frequency. However, MiWay’s schedule was established months in advance and so they cannot commit to major changes in the bus schedule. The company agreed to set up a pop-up booth on the UTM campus to collect student complaints and solutions.
The UTM administration acknowledged the “shuttle delays,” but is currently unable to increase shuttle frequency due to staffing issues. Ontario is experiencing a shortage of bus drivers, resulting from their low pay and a reluctance to return to work post pandemic. These factors have led to route delays and cancellations in a number of school districts across the province.
Additionally, staffing shortages have created “no ability for ‘extra’ shuttle runs to be added to the schedule at peak travel times such as the early morning commute,” wrote a UTM spokesperson in a statement to The Varsity. “The shuttle service is a priority and extra runs will be added as soon as additional drivers become available.”
UTM warns that “students, staff, and faculty should be prepared for possible delays and are asked to allow extra time and consider taking the next bus.”
The UTMSU expressed disappointment at UTM and MiWay’s responses. “We wish that both MiWay and the UTM shuttle bus had anticipated the return to campus in a more proper way,” Barre expressed on behalf of the union through an Instagram video. “Students should not have to look for alternatives to get to university when they have those services that they’re paying for.”
Barre reiterated this frustration to The Varsity but said that the UTMSU will continue demanding action from UTM and MiWay. “We’re continuing to hear out students who come up with concerns, and we’re going to continue lobbying those decision makers to ensure that proper and efficient transit is implemented, because this is really important for students.”
MiWay has not responded to The Varsity’s requests for comment.