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.

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.”

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.”