Scrutinizing the new TTC two-hour transfer policy

While the policy seemingly benefits low-income folks, the PRESTO-only condition threatens structural violence against homeless people

Scrutinizing the new TTC two-hour transfer policy

While riding on the TTC is fairly straightforward, it is not necessarily enjoyable. Compare our transit system, for example, with Vancouver’s aesthetically superior SkyTrain system, which is a joy to ride and affordable for University of British Columbia students at just $41 a month. Meanwhile, U of T students are stuck with failed U-Pass deals, unaffordable transit costs, and transit officers with multiple complaints filed against them.

With the arrival of the two-hour transfer policy, however, it may seem that the future is bright for the TTC. In fact, we are receiving a benefit that is long overdue, and according to the only comment about the policy in Rocket-Riding Memes for Toronto-Oriented Teens — a Facebook group of over 1,000 members dedicated to TTC memes — the TTC finally “joins the civilized world.”

Discussing the policy, Mayor John Tory comments, “You can get on five times if you want to make five different stops, as long as it’s within the two hour period.” On the one hand, my immediate response is to ask where one could possibly go to make it to five different stops in two hours. On the other hand, I understand how being able to go to multiple stops in one transfer will lower the cost of living for low-income folks and students.

In this way, the policy is clearly a good thing: we no longer have to pay for briefly leaving a transit vehicle. For students, the main advantage is being able to commute to and from a one-hour class while only paying one fare. The more adventurous students could add extra tasks to that journey.

However, I’m opposed to the fact that the policy requires the use of a PRESTO card and is embedded in a plan to get rid of tokens by the end of 2019. This is not only because I’m suspicious of the increasing domination of technology in our lives, but also because I worry that the dominance of PRESTO is a manifestation of structural violence towards the homeless.

Simply put, phasing out tokens results in phasing out easy access to warm places to sleep for the homeless during winter. Being forced to have a PRESTO card, with its $6 start-up cost plus a minimum $10 initial deposit, puts a hamper on homeless entry into the TTC. Compound that with the difficulty in registering and confirming lost PRESTO cards when homeless, and we begin to see the insidious ways structural violence functions.

The policy, with its PRESTO-exclusive benefit, will not be the cause of these problems, but uncritical support of PRESTO-focused policies will normalize the structural exclusion of the homeless under the mask of progress. Fundamentally, the transfer pushes an ideology of individualism. While tokens can be and are distributed to those in need, PRESTO cards are not shareable. We would not drop our PRESTO cards into the cups of the homeless.

While the arrival of the transfer and the growth of the PRESTO system indicate that we’ve gained entry into “the civilized world,” we have lost the opportunity to share that world with others. If two-hour transfers are here, why can’t they be here for everyone? PRESTO users and non-PRESTO users alike would benefit from two-hour transfers, so why exclude service to one group of people?

In one sense, it’s not the TTC’s responsibility to take care of the homeless, but in another, a fundamental part of being human is to care about others. The two-hour transfer expresses the ideology that we are only responsible for ourselves. Public transit is in danger of becoming less and less public. So while the two-hour transfer improves serviceability, whom exactly the TTC provides their services to remains a vital question.

Eddy Wang is a fourth-year Cinema Studies and Computer Science student at Innis College.

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.

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.”