U-Commute survey data details student transit use ahead of U-Pass referendum

Nearly 10,000 students from UTSG responded to the survey

U-Commute survey data details student transit use ahead of U-Pass referendum

U-Commute, an organization comprised of student representatives of the University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) and student unions from Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College ran a survey of their members from August 28 to September 28, 2017. The survey garnered over 16,000 responses, nearly 10,000 of which were from UTSG students.

A total of 9,946 full-time undergraduates at UTSG completed the U-Commute survey. Not all respondents answered every question, however. For example, 9,265 students answered to how they usually get to campus and 9,153 answered to which transit systems they used.

Students will be voting on a referendum to implement a U-Pass fee of between $282.50 and $322.50 per semester during this month’s UTSU spring elections.

UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher told The Varsity that she was happy with the survey’s response rate.

“Almost half of the surveys (roughly 7000) were distributed to students via paper copy. Surveys would be handed to all students entering a class, regardless of commute type, to ensure that responses weren’t only being imputed [to] commuter students. They were all collected shortly after distribution,” Boucher said.

She admitted that, although in theory the online responses may have seen a self-selection bias, she was confident in the overall results and how they assisted the UTSU in its lobbying efforts.

Where students live

Of the respondents, 58.11 per cent said that they live in the metro area, either in the west end, east end, north end, or downtown, with 46.71 per cent downtown. Additionally, 41.89 per cent indicated that they live within the city’s post-amalgamation boroughs, such as Etobicoke and Scarborough, or the GTA, such as Ajax, Brampton, Mississauga, Richmond Hill, and Vaughan.

 

 

The survey data also details the distance students must travel in order to reach campus. 43.96 per cent said that they live 11 or more kilometres away from UTSG, while 16.41 per cent live within one kilometre.

Transit use

Students use a variety of methods to get to campus. Principally, those include either walking or public transit. 74.32 per cent of respondents said that they use transit in some way during their commute, and 54.1 per cent said that they walked, either solely or in conjunction with transit or other methods.

 

Of the commuters, 98.25 per cent said that they use the TTC for any type of travel, not necessarily in order to get to campus. Additionally, 36.74 per cent use GO Transit in some fashion.  35.6 per cent use the TTC and GO together in some way.

 

 

Only 458 respondents answered to why they didn’t use transit, with 43.67 per cent responding that it was too expensive and 40.39 per cent saying that they live close enough not to require transit to commute to campus.

Boucher said that fare evasion data helped lead the TTC to consider a U-Pass, as they had not previously had any observable data concerning fare evasion. Of 9,262 responses, 3.57 per cent said that they don’t pay for the TTC on a daily basis; 6.68 per cent did so weekly, 10.49 per cent said they did monthly, 8.8 per cent did so around once a semester, and 9.6 per cent said they evaded paying their fare once a year.

The other 60.84 per cent said that they always pay for the TTC.

 

UTSU to hold referendum on student U-Pass

Students will get opportunity to vote on proposed U-Pass fee during UTSU spring elections

UTSU to hold referendum on student U-Pass

The University of Toronto Students’ Union (UTSU) passed a motion to hold a referendum for UTSG members to establish a new U-Pass fee of up to $322.50 per session, or approximately $80.60 per month, at a Board of Directors meeting on February 24.

UTSU President Mathias Memmel confirmed the fee would be no higher than $80.60 per month, compared to $116.75 per month for a Metropass. Should the referendum succeed, the fee would be established at a TTC board meeting on March 20.

The motion approved the referendum question, which requests that the UTSU board be authorized to increase the fee by up to five per cent per year to account for increases in administrative and transit costs.

Students would not be able to opt out of the fee. UTSU Vice-President External Anne Boucher said the union pushed for that option but was unsuccessful in securing the choice. “We’d even suggested a distance-based opt-out, but there was no take,” she told The Varsity. “It was made very clear to us by TTC stakeholders that an opt-out would not be possible if U of T students wanted a U-Pass.

“It’s a price some of us will have to warm up to, but given all factors, it’s the best price we could have ever hoped for.”

Faculty of Medicine Director Donald Wang was critical of the motion to hold the referendum. Wang asked how the board could ask students to vote when the UTSU has not yet come to an official agreement with the TTC regarding the exact cost of the U-Pass. Memmel confirmed that there is “no scenario” in which the UTSU would begin collecting fees without having a contract in place with the TTC.

“It’s not a perfect situation,” said UTSU Vice-President Internal Daman Singh during the meeting. “In a perfect situation, we’d have a full contract drafted.”

Wang also worried that the agreement with the TTC would not be in accordance with the UTSU’s Bylaw XIX.b on Autonomy, which states that the UTSU “shall not enter into any perpetual agreement that cannot be terminated by a vote of the Board of Directors.”

Memmel claims that the contract with the TTC will not be perpetual and will be fully compliant with UTSU bylaws and policies.

Beginning next week, the UTSU will be updating its website, postering, and publishing ads ahead of the March 5 deadline to give notice of the referendum. Memmel told The Varsity that, before voting, students can expect to know how U-Pass distribution will work, what expenses will be incurred, and what arrangements can be made for students in “unique situations,” including students in second-entry professional programs.

Students can also expect more information regarding the U-Commute survey, which ran from August 28 to September 28 last year. Boucher confirmed that some of the information gathered in the survey includes that 74.32 per cent of U of T students use transit to get to class, 84.63 per cent of U of T students use transit for other travel, and 98.25 per cent of U of T students use the TTC.

The UTSU, along with student unions from Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College, has been in negotiations with the TTC since summer 2017. The TTC board voted unanimously in favour of a U-Pass on December 11, 2017.

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.