On January 24, the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU) held a birthday party for its Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass), a bus pass strictly for UTM students who use the MiWay transit. Following consultations with students, the UTMSU plans to pilot a digital version of the U-Pass this summer, which will eliminate costs for students who lose their pass.

U-Pass history

The UTMSU created the U-Pass in 2007. UTMSU President Maëlis Barre, in an interview with The Varsity, explained that the union hosts commission meetings, where students can voice their opinions and suggestions for the initiatives they would like to see the union take on. According to Barre, a student came into one of the commission meetings 15 years ago and brought up the idea of a bus pass.

“I think that’s a really good testament to how much power students have to make changes and that 15 years down the line [those changes are] still there,” Barre said. 

In September 2022, students reported experiencing issues with MiWay — namely, shuttle bus capacity and bus schedule frequency. The union addressed these issues through different discussions and MiWay tabling on campus. Since then, students have highlighted the improved capacity and service. “Students are no longer being left behind as often as [they] used to be,” Barre said.

On January 27, the UTMSU Board of Directors approved an increase to UTM students’ mandatory U-Pass levy fee from $144.74 to $157.77 per session. However, the summer 2023 U-Pass price will stay at $192.29. 

U-Pass changes

The new policy changes to the U-Pass were born out of the UTMSU’s outreach efforts: gathering over 200 responses of student feedback, emphasizing the importance of the U-Pass service to students, and facilitating discussions about concerns with MiWay policy makers. “[What was] important in our decision to go digital was that it means we’re eliminating any replacement fees,” Barre said. Currently, if a student loses their physical U-Pass card, the replacement fee for the U-Pass is $130.

Students will be able to access the new U-Pass through the PRESTO app. Additionally, rather than showing the pass to bus drivers, students will tap their phones on the card readers. 

“It’s going to be simpler for students… You don’t have to carry your card around because everyone has their phone on them,” Barre said. 

Barre also explained that there soon won’t be any physical U-Pass options for students. She said that this is to prevent any fraud by selling the physical U-Pass, while still using the digital one. She highlighted that it may turn into a “case-by-case thing” to accommodate accessibility issues. 

“We don’t want to leave people behind and make it impossible for them to use their U-Pass,” she said. 

What’s next?

The digital version of the U-Pass requires that students ensure their phones remain charged, because if their phone dies, they’ll lose access to their U-Pass. As well, some phones will not be capable of hosting the PRESTO U-Pass, because not all devices have the software required for the app to communicate with the PRESTO card reader. Barre explained that she will follow up with MiWay to continue advocating for student accessibility in regard to the pass. 

The digital U-Pass program will pilot in the summer semester “to finetune any problems that may arise,” Barre said.  

Students are still unable to opt out of paying for the U-Pass. Barre highlighted that, despite certain students not requiring the MiWay transit system, there are no plans to add an opt-out option for students. She explained that MiWay requires payment from all students for the U-Pass program to remain sustainable. If there were an opt-out option, the price for students to opt in would increase so much that students wouldn’t benefit from it.

The next U-Pass negotiations are set to begin in 2026. 

The digital pass will replace the physical U-Pass card.