A U-Pass at U of T has been long overdue

Re: “TTC board votes unanimously in favour of U-Pass”

A U-Pass at U of T has been long overdue

It appears that the once unfathomable idea of a U-Pass coming to U of T may soon be a reality. The U-Pass would provide U of T students with unlimited transit use of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) paid for by a slight increase in tuition fees, allowing students to access much more affordable public transportation than it is currently being provided with. The TTC board voted in favour of the discount transit pass in December and discussed the possibility of its implementation as early as this coming September.

There is an ongoing trend across the country in favour of providing students with subsidized and affordable transportation by including its costs in their tuition fees. In this sense, I am shocked that U of T has only now pursued this type of program. Ontario universities such as Carleton and McMaster have already implemented a U-Pass, while universities like the University of British Columbia have implemented a system almost identical to the proposed U-Pass. In addition, the city of Montréal provides transit passes at a highly reduced cost to university students. Ontario universities have the highest average tuition costs in the country, making it unfortunate that the cost of transportation has not been included in U of T’s ancillary fees until now.

For students going to school in Toronto, it can be almost impossible to get around the city without access to affordable public transportation. While the U-Pass may be particularly good news for commuter students, I think it’s safe to say that all students will be able to benefit from easier access to transportation regardless of where they live. Even living in downtown Toronto, for example, I find myself having to take the TTC at least once a day, and the financial burden of paying over $100 a month for a metropass can be quite heavy. This burden only increases for students living outside the city and who take a variety of public transportation to get to school. Costs associated with long commutes that traverse the boundaries of the TTC can reach up to $25 a day.

Commuters often abide by incredibly dense school schedules in order to cut back on transportation fees, and long hours often prevent commuters from getting involved with extracurriculars or student life. A U-Pass is therefore a useful tool for all students, as it allows them to have more freedom of movement in a city that is so dependent on public transportation.

Yasaman Mohaddes is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Political Science and Sociology.

The TTC Line 1 extension isn’t a total victory

Re: “Commuter students react to new TTC Line 1 extension”

The TTC Line 1 extension isn’t a total victory

Commuter students celebrating the opening of the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) Line 1 extension should first consider a few facts about the project that may leave them scratching their heads.

The project began in 2009, and was supposed to be completed by 2015 on a budget of $2.6 billion. By the time it was completed, it was $600,000 over budget, two years late, and afflicted by the death of a construction worker that occurred on site in 2011. Dubbed a “fiasco” by Mayor John Tory, the project also saw the firing of two veteran TTC managers and project management turnover to Bechtel Corporation to ensure its opening date would not exceed 2018 or 2019. Even after its completion, the TTC is still settling claims from contractors over alleged unpaid work, and will likely be doing so for years.

Undoubtedly, the construction of public transportation infrastructure such as the TTC Line 1 extension is an extremely complicated and expensive task. However, we should acknowledge the inexcusable incompetence displayed by our elected officials in the municipal government as well as the TTC. U of T commuters should have had this subway extension built two years ago, and could have potentially saved an enormous amount of commuting time and money over this period. Also, given that the project was over budget, a portion of Torontonians’ taxes were wasted on this project due to poor project management by the TTC.

Commuters should feel bittersweet about this project. It will definitely make it easier and cheaper for many students to get to school, but the process it took to achieve this possibility was very disappointing.

Peter Dominicis is a third-year student at St. Michael’s College studying Accounting.

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.”

Commuter students react to new TTC Line 1 extension

Six new subway stations added, bringing TTC into York region

Commuter students react to new TTC Line 1 extension

 

With the TTC’s Line 1 extension now open, students commuting from the York region are looking at shorter commutes and cheaper fares going into the winter semester. Opened on December 17, 2017, the Toronto-York Spadina Subway Extension (TYSSE) subway zone extends 8.6 kilometres between Sheppard West station to the new Vaughan Metropolitan Centre station, with five new stations in between.

The TYSSE allows students living in the York region a more affordable commute to the St. George campus.

The TYSSE has been in operation since the end of the fall semester.

Anne Boucher, the University of Toronto Students’ Union Vice-President External, is excited about the opportunities the extension offers students. She commented on the decreased travel time for many students, writing that “students travelling from Vaughan Metropolitan Centre can now get to campus in 40 minutes, compared to the usual 90+ minute commute.”

Benefits of the increased TTC services are not exclusive to students who live in the York region; the new stations open up easier access to places and activities north of downtown.

In addition, Downsview Park station allows much easier access to Downsview Park, a favourite summer spot for music festivals, than was previously possible.

Duke Ogunsuyi, a student who commutes from North York, had the opportunity to test the benefits of the subway extension. Ogunsuyi is pleased with the financial benefits of the new service, saying the extension offers “a cheaper mode of transportation to get to campus.” Students would likely have taken the GO Train otherwise, which is more expensive.

Ogunsuyi is also pleased with how the extension has managed to connect other methods of transport, such as certain York Regional Transit/Viva and Brampton’s Züm bus routes, which connect to the York University, Pioneer Village, and Vaughan Metropolitan Centre TTC stations.

Another student commuter, Danyal Uni, from Richmond Hill, explained that prior to the extension, his commute home took about two hours. While Uni has only had the opportunity to use the extended TTC services once over the holidays, he said that it will allow him to save money and optimize his travel time. “I am planning to use it everyday during the second semester.”

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.”

U-Commute panel discussion criticizes public transit, calls for free services

Transportation funding and student fares among main concerns

U-Commute panel discussion criticizes public transit, calls for free services

TTC criticism, alternatives for transportation funding, and student transit were the topics of conversation at an October 20 panel regarding transit in Ontario. The panel included New Democratic Party MPP Cheri DiNovo of Parkdale—High Park, the Green Party of Ontario’s Transportation Critic Tim Grant, Dr. Ehab Diab of the University of Toronto Transportation Research Institute, Suhali Barot of transit advocacy group TTCriders, and Moaz Ahmed of transit advocacy group CodeRedTO.The event was organized by the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU), in line with its U-Commute campaign with Ryerson University, George Brown College, and OCAD University

DiNovo said that the TTC should consider important changes, including providing its services for free. “Make it at least seniors free, people on social assistance free, people with disabilities of all sorts free, and that’s the very least. I think that the aim should be that everyone should travel for free. The service is a necessity, it is not a luxury.”

The TTC was recently named the best public transit agency in North America by the American Public Transportation Association, largely for its ambitious “five-year modernization plan” the strives to improve many aspects of the TTC, such as public safety, employee relations, financial stability, and public reputation.

Grant highlighted more of what he perceived to be shortcomings by the TTC, such as riders contributing 76 per cent of operating costs, “the highest in North America.” He also implied that its current troubles have been caused by ineffective spending on major transit projects in the last 30 years. Barot criticized the elevated cost of transit and explained that a low-income transit pass is “extremely important in a city where a third of the people make minimum wage.”

With regard to funding alternatives for provincial transportation projects, Grant opined that road tolls are a win-win for both public transit and drivers. On the contrary, DiNovo proposed a “progressive taxation” solution, which would mean taxing large corporations “a little bit more,” seeing as Toronto has “the lowest corporate tax rate of any jurisdiction in North America.” She also hinted that the cost of operating future transit systems could be handled by public-private partnerships.

Free or partially funded student transit was both endorsed by Grant and DiNovo. “The province can show real leadership here by providing a free transit for students, which would be ideal… The province can be somewhat of a facilitator, and if not free, at least pay 50 per cent of the cost of student transit,” said Grant.

DiNovo, who will not seek re-election next year, also stated the importance of student participation in getting cheap transit. “It really requires you to be active and noisy … there’s two elections coming up this year: there’s an election in June, provincial, there’s an election next fall in 2018 for the municipal. If you care about this issue, make sure you know where your candidates stand on it and their parties and make sure that you are there at the all-candidates meeting for [them] to answer questions about your transit.”

The panel was preceded by a presentation of the Draft 2041 Regional Transportation Plan by Metrolinx Director of Regional Planning Antoine Belaieff, which contained the planning decisions required to accommodate transportation growth for the next 25 years in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA). Belaieff mentioned the challenges currently facing the provincial transportation system, such as the fast-growing population of the GTHA areas and the backlog of investment in the project.

Seriously, what’s so good about the TTC? Part II

Two more contributors share their stories of public transit oddities

Seriously, what’s so good about the TTC? Part II

Those of us who use the TTC on a regular basis know the system is far from perfect — commuters deal with a range of technical and non-technical issues: train delays, missing busses, and odd comments from strangers. In this second installment of tales from the TTC, we’ve rounded up a couple of exceptional stories from the depths of Toronto’s tunnels that encapsulate the usual glitches in a typical transit journey.

I recall my first TTC experience as a new international student, trying to get to the Eaton Centre to buy a Canadian SIM card. I remember how scared I was when the subway stopped moving and I could barely understand the garbled announcement. We stayed stationary for 10 minutes, but when the train finally started moving again, we were told to exit at the next station because the line was going out of service. There was no one to ask for help and I had no ability to find my own alternative route. Instead, I had to find a train to take me back to St. George — the only station I knew — and then walk to the Eaton Centre. I still have very limited knowledge on how the whole system works since it seems to operate on assumed knowledge.

— Charmaine Nyakonda

I was once on the Bloor line and an older woman sat down beside me. She started talking to me and we fell into conversation about our days. Then she started to talk about her family. I couldn’t understand too much of what she was saying, but I made out that her son had drowned in a lake. I said, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” but then she started to laugh. We started talking about pets and she told me she’d had a dog once. She laughed again and told me he got run over. Then she told me that her father was in an airplane accident. Through all this, she was laughing hysterically, like all these deaths were one big joke. Finally we arrived at my stop, and as I was about to leave she gave me a hug. It was the most bizarre subway ride ever. On the one hand, she seemed pleasant, but on the other hand, she clearly had the most twisted sense of humour ever.

— Nicole Sciulli

Seriously, what’s so good about the TTC?

Our contributors share some public transit horror stories

Seriously, what’s so good about the TTC?

Over the summer, the TTC was awarded Outstanding Public Transportation System of 2017 by the American Public Transportation Association, the first time it had won since 1986. Given the train delays, missing buses, and grimy seats, many of us who use the TTC regularly disagree with this judgment. Here, our contributors share some of their stand-out TTC horror stories.


I sat in my seat on the subway, ready to begin my late Tuesday commute. Being a first-year at the time, I was still getting used to using the TTC and still learning its nuances.

That night, I experienced the classic random stop in the middle of a tunnel for the first time. Stuck in the same car was a man in a large, inflatable dinosaur costume, who was clearly not a fan of the random stop.

He leaped out of his seat, loudly complaining about the current state of affairs. As his tirade reached its crescendo, the train started moving again, causing the man in the large, inflatable dinosaur costume to fall over.

— Sarim Irfan

It was a hot August day, and I was heading down to Kipling to my friend’s pool. After I grabbed a seat in the subway car, a man in construction gear sat down beside me. He seemed totally dazed and unaware of his surroundings. As the car got moving, he started leaning closer and closer toward me until eventually he was asleep, practically on top of me.

Commuters around me began to notice and yell words of encouragement — “you don’t have to put up with that, girl!” One offered me their seat. When I stood up, the man fell forward, completely unresponsive. Chaos ensued.

One woman pushed the emergency button, and another produced a fan from her purse. People were yelling, asking me if I smelled alcohol on his breath. When the train came to a stop at the next station, it took 15 minutes for paramedics to arrive.

Meanwhile, several people, including a young nurse with shaky hands and a doctor who spoke little English apart from “I’m a doctor,”  tried to help. On the platform, one man yelled, “I have places to be!” followed by profanities. A woman shouted how selfish he was, and then a brawl broke out. The man was still unconscious. Someone began videotaping, but the woman then turned on him, too. More profanities.

Others joined in, momentarily forgetting the unconscious man. Paramedics arrived and the man seemed to briefly regain consciousness while they carried him out.

— Leah Kuperman

This summer, right at St. George station, I was harassed by a middle-aged woman for the sole reason that I was wearing a dress and heels. It was a friend’s birthday party, so I was appropriately dressed for the occasion, or so I thought.

As my friends and I entered the subway station we noticed the woman looking at us, but we paid it no mind because she was exiting the subway. As we waited for the subway, the same lady we had seen before came back down to where we were and started to yell at me about my clothing choices. She called me a slut, a whore, and a whole slew of other things that were completely disrespectful.

There was no one in sight at the station who could have come over to make sure I was safe or comfortable. I’m thankful my friends were there, but what if they hadn’t been? Harassment like I experienced continues to occur on the subway, and until everyone can feel safe on their commute, the TTC will still be a frightening place.

— Aryana Munsamy