Commuting across campuses as a Varsity Blues athlete

U of T athletics can be difficult for students situated outside UTSG — one UTM athlete details her experiences

Commuting across campuses as a Varsity Blues athlete

As a third-year student athlete, I compete for the Varsity Blues field hockey team while studying Communication, Culture, Information & Technology and Professional Writing and Communication — majors only offered at UTM.

When people ask me what being a Varsity Blues athlete at UTM is like, my answer is simple: I love it. Every now and then I might envy the simplicity of school and field hockey being in the same place, but overall, I view my unique situation as an opportunity to experience the best of what both UTSG and UTM have to offer my athletic and academic careers.

There is no such thing as a ‘typical day’ for me, as my daily routine changes based on my class schedule, commute times, and training requirements. As a student living in downtown Toronto, I catch the UTM shuttle bus in front of Hart House to get to classes, then I take the return shuttle downtown to lift weights, go to practice, study, and sleep.

Sometimes, especially during our off-season, I spend more hours per week on the bus than I do at practice. Depending on the day, I make use of my time on the bus differently. I might do readings, work on assignments for class, catch up on sleep, or rest before practice. I try to make my commute either productive or enjoyable so that I’m less likely to dread it.

Organization is key. I fill the pages of my planner and constantly receive updates from my Google Calendar. In order to perform my best on the field and in the classroom, I focus all of my energy on the task at hand. At training, I think about field hockey; in class, I think about my coursework. These responsibilities — along with my job at the Munk School of Global Affairs, writing for The Varsity, and working with the UTM Innovation Association — are ordered so that I can complete everything I need to. This way I never get too overwhelmed.

My team has always been supportive and accommodating of me. If I’m late to practice or if I have to skip a lift, everyone understands. Our schedule can be flexible, so I miss as little as possible.

But given the difference in UTM and UTSG’s academic calendars, I commonly face logistical challenges. For example, this year I started classes earlier than my teammates, and I had a different fall reading week and a slightly different exam period.

I always look forward to spending time with my teammates on and off the field. In my first year, as I navigated two unfamiliar campuses, my teammates immediately made me feel at home downtown. We like to eat meals, work at the library, and watch other Blues games together. Sometimes I find myself envying the way they help each other study, compare notes, and share textbooks, but I never feel excluded.

Though I don’t have classes in common with my teammates, my small classes and the opportunity to work closely with students and professors are my favourite aspects of UTM. I’ve collaborated on writing pieces, design projects, and assignments with bright and talented individuals who have become my close friends. This year, some of those friends and I founded the UTM Innovation Association to provide students with access to local startups.

Overall, my student athlete experience combines the best of both campuses. I train and compete downtown in a big city, but I attend class surrounded by forest and the occasional deer roaming around campus. I belong to a massive Varsity athlete community, but I study in a tight-knit program. I’m surrounded by traditional brick buildings downtown, but I see my reflection in the brand new glass buildings in Mississauga.

TTC board votes unanimously in favour of U-Pass

U-Pass seeks to make public transit affordable for students

TTC board votes unanimously in favour of U-Pass

More affordable transit may become a reality for students on the St. George campus after the TTC Board unanimously voted in favour of the U-Pass Initiative during a meeting on December 11, 2017.

The Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass), advocated by representatives from the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU), Student Association of George Brown College (SAGBC), and the Ontario College of Art and Design Student Union, aims to provide an affordable means of transportation apart from the postsecondary metro pass offered by the TTC.

A staff report from the Chief Executive Officer of the TTC states that the U-Pass offers greater savings than the 20 per cent discount offered by the postsecondary student metropass, priced at $116.75.

Moreover, the initiative also proposes fare integration between several public transit systems in the Greater Toronto Area, such as Brampton Transit and York Region Transit. According to the report, it is estimated that more than 15 percent per cent of commutes by postsecondary students involve more than one transit system in addition to the TTC.

“The TTC is eager to make the U-Pass program work, everyone is in agreement on this,” said TTC Senior Communications Specialist Stuart Green. “A report is being prepared for our board in the first quarter of this year that would outline the specifics of the pass in terms of price and availability. If it is agreed to, it would be introduced in September.”

Anne Boucher, Vice-President External of the UTSU, spoke of an increased ridership during the TTC board meeting as a result of a U-Pass and how it will improve off-peak travel times.

“Creating a long-term transit reliance is key to the sustainability of transit into the future. By securing the student ridership now, students are more likely to be committed users leading into their professional lives,” said Boucher.

“A U-Pass encourages students to travel at off-peak times. Currently 76.6 per cent of our students say their commute affects how they schedule classes. They’re compressing their schedules into two to three compact days to avoid paying fares, which means they’re travelling in the morning rush and the evening rush,” continued Boucher.

In a survey administered by the students’ unions in late August, 95 per cent of commuter students voted in favour of the U-Pass. Students cited financial burdens as a reason, saying they spend upwards of $100 per month on transportation alone.

“U of T is a commuter school, so most students will benefit if this comes to fruition. Currently, I spend nearly $1,400 on transit. The blow was softened a bit by the tax deduction for Metropass, but since that is no longer in effect, I think more affordable transit is all the more necessary,” said Mayar Sashin, a commuter student at Victoria College.

“Other Canadian universities and cities are ahead of us in terms of providing transportation to students,” said Avneet Sharma, a student at Trinity College. “Though I don’t necessarily have the longest commute, the U-Pass would definitely be beneficial for all commuters at U of T.”

However, not all commuter students can depend on a U-Pass for their daily commute, using other methods of transportation besides public transit.

“Frankly, the UPass won’t be very helpful to me, since I bike to school everyday, so the increase in tuition will negatively impact me, personally,” said Benjamin Liao-Gormley, a commuter student from Victoria College. “Nonetheless, I support it, as it will save many of my friends some money, especially since commuting isn’t cheap if you don’t live in the downtown core.”

In an email to The Varsity, Gabriel Calderon, Co-Chair of the Victoria College Off-Campus Association and Commuter Commissioner on the Victoria University’s Students’ Administrative Council, wrote on how a U-Pass would counter the prohibitive costs of commuting, saying the U-Pass would provide an opportunity for students to come to university when they otherwise wouldn’t.

“I mean this in the context of extracurricular involvement,” Calderon said. “Often, a student will want to attend some sort of club/student society meeting, or go to office hours, etc., but they will choose not to because the cost of commuting will be prohibitive.”

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Mixed housing, Scarborough subway extension main talking points

Tory tackles transit, housing at UTSC town hall

Transit and housing were the main topics of discussion at a student town hall held at UTSC’s Meeting Place, which featured Mayor John Tory. The forum was organized to discuss a collective vision for Scarborough and to discuss the major issues that affect the UTSC community, including transit, housing, and policing.

The event, titled “Vision for Scarborough,” was organized by the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU) in collaboration with the Centennial College Student Association, Inc (CCSAI) and the Scarborough Community Renewal Organization.

During the town hall, Tory campaigned for the Scarborough Bloor-Danforth subway extension, explaining his belief that it will stimulate investments and create jobs in Scarborough. “If you said if I thought it was kind of any strange notion that we would have a subway that has been extended to the east before,” Tory said, “No I don’t.”

Tory has faced widespread criticism over the choice to build a one-stop subway that is estimated to cost north of $3.35 billion. Critics have argued that the same amount of money could go toward a series of LRT lines that would serve more residents in Scarborough and beyond.

Tory believes that transit is the key to converting Scarborough into a job hub. He stated that the main reason investors may not find Scarborough attractive for establishing their business is its poor accessibility via transportation. He said the solution is the construction of “higher-order transportation.”

The mayor also said that safety barriers for subways are not part of any immediate transit plans in the city, as the billion dollars needed to install these barriers is currently being put “into building new transit and improving transit.”

When asked about affordable housing for students, Tory emphasized finding a way to step “up the pace” on mixed developments, including monetary subsidies to incentivize developers to build and operate affordable housing. He also spoke of shelter subsidies, where students would be able to find an apartment of their choosing and receive monetary support from the city.

Ravneet Kaur, President of the CCSAI, also expressed satisfaction with Tory’s proposals but “wanted to know more about the subway system.” Sitharsana Srithas, President of the SCSU, told The Varsity that she was satisfied with Tory’s answers in the town hall but felt that “there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of investing in Scarborough.”

Over 16,000 students complete U-Commute survey

Next steps are meetings with TTC and Metrolinx

Over 16,000 students complete U-Commute survey

 

A total of 16,597 students filled out an online survey for U-Commute, a joint campaign of Toronto student unions that seeks to make the U-Pass — an affordable transit pass for Toronto students — a reality.

The survey, which ran from August 28 to September 28, was shared on the UTSU’s social media pages. It sought to determine if the U-Pass was popular among students and to detect student transit trends essential for future negotiations. Preliminary results of the survey are to be released in the near future.

After the results are in, the next steps for the U-Commute initiative will be meetings with TTC chair Josh Colle and Metrolinx. “Realistically, we need to get the TTC on board first for this pass to work for the majority of our students. We’re working on including GO (Metrolinx) as part of the U-Pass too,” Boucher wrote to The Varsity.

U of T, Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College — the schools that make up U-Commute — are among the few Ontario post-secondary institutions without transit passes included in their tuition costs. McMaster University, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, Durham College, and UTM all have transit passes included in their ancillary fees.

The last attempt at securing a U-Pass was in 2008, when a $60 per month, $480 per year, no opt-out plan proposed by the TTC was rejected by the UTSU, after which talks stalled. Since then, there has been willingness on both sides to negotiate. The UTSU has been actively pursuing the U-Pass option, and TTC Head of Customer Development Arthur Borkwood stated that a U-Pass could increase ridership by 20 percent.

As part of this latest push, U-Commute recently held a transit panel discussion that aimed to offer different perspectives on current transit issues that may affect the U-Pass.

Boucher expressed confidence that the current push for a U-Pass will be more successful than the last. “At the end of the day, all [that the TTC] is interested in is ‘will a U-Pass cost us money or will it be profitable,’” she said. “So we’re set to show them how a U-Pass benefits them, not how it benefits us.”

New UTM shuttle buses to hit the road

Four shuttle buses with WiFi capabilities to be added

New UTM shuttle buses to hit the road

During the first Quality Service to Students (QSS) meeting in the new academic year, the council announced that four new shuttle busses with WiFi capabilities will be added to service the routes at UTM.

The QSS is a council of students and administrators that works on issues concerning the student experience at UTM. The council discusses the improvement of services like the career centre and the shuttle service.

There are 11 student voting members of the council who come from the University of Toronto Mississauga Students’ Union (UTMSU), the University of Toronto Mississauga Association of Graduate Students (UTMAGS), the University of Toronto Athletic Council, and the University of Toronto Mississauga Residence Council.

There are also six staff voting members, which include the Student Affairs Dean, the Career Centre Dean, the Department of Physical Education, Athletics, and Recreation Director, the Health and Counselling Director, the Principal of UTM, and the Chief Administrative Officer.

According to Salma Fakhry, the President of the UTMSU and a voting member on the QSS, “The UTMSU and UTMAGS have been lobbying for better shuttle busses with the administration for a number of years through QSS and the transportation advisory committee.”

All four shuttle busses will provide WiFi; however, the WiFi will not be fully accessible immediately. The busses are also equipped with shock-proof technology.

Fakhry stated that students who regularly use the shuttle bus service had expressed explicit desire for these capabilities over the years. “We’re excited to finally see it happen,” Fakhry continued.

UTM students can ride the shuttle busses for free, provided that they are registered and have paid their fees. Non-UTM students can also use the shuttle service. However, non-UTM students must buy tickets at specific locations. The regular, one-way fare is $6.

The shuttle service currently offers three routes that are available for students to take. The St. George route runs between UTM and UTSG, the Sheridan route between UTM and Sheridan College, and the last route between UTM, the Mississauga Hospital, and the Credit Valley Hospital. However, only students registered in the Mississauga Academy of Medicine are permitted to take the last route.

UTSU partners with Ryerson, OCAD, and George Brown on U-Commute project

Unlimited transit may come out of Toronto campus cooperation

UTSU partners with Ryerson, OCAD, and George Brown on U-Commute project

On August 28, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) shared a survey across their social media pages to gain data for a new initiative called  U-Commute. Partnering with students’ unions from Ryerson University, George Brown College, and OCAD University, the UTSU is hoping to bring Toronto students the U-Pass, an affordable transit pass.

This is not the first time that the UTSU has attempted to get a transit pass for all students at U of T. According to Anne Boucher, Vice-President External of the UTSU, the last push for a transit pass was in 2008.

“I feel like ever since [2008], many of our students had given up on the idea that they could ever have a U-Pass too,” she told The Varsity. “It’s just been assumed for so long that a U-Pass is not viable, when really, it’s just that no one had been trying.”

Transit passes and U-Commute initiatives are not new to Ontario universities. Other schools like McMaster University, Carleton University, the University of Ottawa, and UTM have transit passes included in their tuition costs. The University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Durham College also have transit passes included in their tuition that give students unlimited use of the Durham Region Transit and GO Transit bus routes within the Durham Region.

It’s these programs that could possibly pave the way for U-Commute Toronto. Ottawa’s transit system, Ottawa City Transpo, saw an “unprecedented” record for ridership after the implementation of the U-Pass.

“Increasing ridership (and therefore fare revenue) is one of the TTC’s goals,” wrote Arthur Borkwood, Head of Customer Development at the TTC, to The Varsity. “Based on experience elsewhere … a U-Pass can increase ridership by 20%.”

When asked how a U-Pass could be detrimental to the TTC, Borkwood wrote that “the only real downside would be potential for lost revenue but that would be balanced by an increase in ridership.”

For students, the cost will be part of their tuition fees. If U-Commute were to pass the referendum, Boucher said that an ancillary fee would be added to everyone’s tuition.

“The idea is that with everyone pooling in, it ends up being cheaper for everyone,” Boucher wrote. “The hope then is for a price that’s as affordable as possible. Of course, we recognize that transit in Toronto is quite unique, and that the negotiations will be tough.”

However, Boucher also believes that the pass will be beneficial for the students.

“The U-Pass is the key to the city – sure, it could get you to class, but it would allow you to explore every corner of the city,” she stated. “Fun restaurants, cool spots, beautiful trails, your friend’s house on the opposite end of the city – getting to these once inaccessible places suddenly becomes a lot easier.”

An unlimited transit initiative could also change the way students with mobility issues navigate campus. Currently, those students use taxis subsidized by Accessibility Services to get around campus. It remains to be seen how transit and transit initiatives will be made more accessible.

The UTSU is urging students to participate in their U-Commute survey.

Toronto City Council moves forward with Scarborough transit plans

SCSU, UTSC admin supportive of decision

Toronto City Council moves forward with Scarborough transit plans

On July 13, Toronto City Council arrived at a verdict regarding recent transit proposals. It voted to move ahead with the one-stop extension of the Bloor-Danforth line from Kennedy Station to Scarborough Town Centre, and the 17-stop Eglinton East Crosstown LRT to UTSC; it rejected the seven-stop LRT from Kennedy Station to Sheppard Avenue.

The Eglinton East LRT. VANESSA WANG/THE VARSITY

The Eglinton East LRT.
VANESSA WANG/THE VARSITY

This decision concludes debates concerning the finances and the practicality of the differing potential systems.

Recent estimates show that the City is short on funding to build the $3.1 billion one-stop subway and the $1.7 billion Eglinton East Crosstown LRT, which have both undergone rising anticipated construction costs.

Subway vs. LRT

A comparison of the one-stop subway and the seven-stop LRT plans. VANESSA WANG/THE VARSITY

A comparison of the one-stop subway and the seven-stop LRT plans.
VANESSA WANG/THE VARSITY

Several city councillors opposed Mayor John Tory’s subway-centric approach, instead opting for the seven-stop LRT plan.

Ward 22 Councillor Josh Matlow brought forward a motion to replace the one-stop subway with the seven-stop LRT plan. The cost estimates for this proposal were similar to those of the one-stop subway.

The seven-stop LRT had a funding commitment for $1.5 billion from the province in 2010. The initial project was replaced by former Mayor Rob Ford’s three-stop subway strategy; those plans were modified again this year by Mayor Tory’s one-stop subway proposal.

At the council meeting, Matlow committed to “providing transit to as many people as possible in Scarborough and across the city.” He believed the 7-stop LRT, coupled with the Eglinton East Crosstown would “provide more service to more people and use dollars more wisely.”

Matlow told reporters during the meeting that his proposed seven-stop LRT would give Scarborough residents easier access to “virtually every major institution” in the district, including Centennial College, the Civic Centre, and the UTSC.

Matlow’s seven-stop LRT motion was defeated with 16 votes in favour and 27 against.

Reaction from UTSC

Sitharsana Srithas, vice-president, external of the Scarborough Campus Students’ Union (SCSU), called the vote in favor of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT a “massive victory for both Scarborough residents and UTSC students.”

“The Eglinton East LRT will be immensely valuable in connecting UTSC to the rest of the city. As a student, I can see this expansion allowing students to now have better access and more opportunities to take courses at the downtown campus,” Srithas said. “I hope the City stays committed to the Eglinton East LRT.”

Srithas also mentioned that in 2010, UTSC students voted in favour of a levy to contribute to the construction of the Toronto Pan Am Centre in the hopes of prompting rapid transit construction to UTSC.

Srithas continued, “As both a student representative and as a student of UTSC, I don’t want another cohorts of students to lose out on rapid transit in Scarborough because of the failure of the City to act on its promises.”

UTSC vice-president and principal Bruce Kidd also praised the decision. In a blog post, he wrote, “The decision this week by Toronto City Council to move ahead with the subway between Kennedy Station and Scarborough Town Centre and to extend the Eglinton LRT is great news. We at U of T Scarborough are very excited about the benefits this will bring to our campus, to the Scarborough community, and to Torontonians across the city.”

Kidd, in conjunction with four other Scarborough community leaders, penned an open letter ahead of the council meeting, urging councillors to move forward with the transit plans.

The future

Council also voted in favour of appointing third-party transit construction and cost-estimation experts to weigh in on the overall process.

Motions passed at the meeting included requests to consider additional transit projects, including extending the Sheppard Line to Scarborough, and the Bloor-Danforth Line to Sherway Gardens.

UTSU investigates selling PRESTO cards in September

Cards to be preloaded with $20

UTSU investigates selling PRESTO cards in September

As the TTC transitions away from Metropasses and tokens in favour of PRESTO, the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) is also preparing to sell PRESTO cards.

The union hopes to sell PRESTO cards beginning in September as part of a pilot project. The cards will have $20 preloaded and the student rate preprogrammed into the card. The UTSU may offer reloading and registration in the future. Since PRESTO cards do not expire, unlike Metropasses that can only be used on certain months, the union plans to always keep cards in stock. The union will continue to sell Metropasses and tokens until they are discontinued.

When asked about the financial implications of this transition, vice-president, internal and services Mathias Memmel indicated that the UTSU, as an agent of the TTC, takes a very small commission of about one per cent from the sale of products, so the PRESTO card sales will not translate to a major revenue change for the union.

“Our arrangement with the TTC isn’t really about profit, and we don’t expect our arrangement with PRESTO to be especially profitable either. Our aim is to provide a convenient service to our members,” said Memmel.

The PRESTO electronic payment system, which was launched in 2009 and has since been implemented by 11 transit agencies across Ontario, is already available on all streetcars and in 31 TTC subway stations. The card will replace Metropasses, tickets and tokens to become the only available fare, other than cash, by December 2016.

Editor’s note: A previous version of this article stated that the UTSU would sell PRESTO cards in September. In fact, the union’s plans to sell the cards have not been finalized.