By CARMEN PONCIANO
Waterloo regional council may be doing Conestoga students a favour as they once again consider whether or not to give students here a deeply discounted bus pass. Currently, students at Wilfrid Laurier (WLU) and Waterloo universities (UW) purchase the universal pass for $81 per four-month term.
In 2011 the region had some staff work with Conestoga Student Inc.(CSI) and administrators to see if a college U-Pass was feasible. Student travel surveys were conducted to predict the amount of extra service needed if the pass were to be offered to all the students. However, they found that it was a lot more expensive than the program at the two universities. Because both university campuses are located along King Street and University and Columbia avenues, there is already a lot of transit there. But in Conestoga’s case, an additional 18,000 service hours and 10 extra Grand River Transit (GRT) buses would be needed. Due to budget limitations in 2011, the U-Pass was not introduced at Conestoga College.
“Since the college is situated remotely from the urban areas, this expansion translates into more service hours than it would have had they been located in an urbanized setting,” said Eric Gillespie, Region of Waterloo’s director of transit services. “It is also very likely that, similar to what occurred at UW and WLU, student use will exceed expectations and that even more service would have to be added after the program started.”
Conestoga students at the moment have to pay $218 a semester for their bus pass in comparison to the $81 (as of Sept. 1, 2014) that university students pay.
“When you look at Conestoga’s prices compared to those of the universities, it is uncomfortable to know that this gap exists in our region,” said Jeff Scherer, president of Conestoga Students Inc.
However, that could change. Last December Cambridge city council put forward a motion based on a recommendation from the Economic Development Advisory Committee (EDAC) “to offer Conestoga College students the same rate as university students for Grand River Transit passes.”
City of Kitchener council member Yvonne Fernandes, who is also an alumnus of the college, has also been working toward this change as she requested that the same motion come from the City of Kitchener at a council meeting three weeks ago.
If the U-Pass were to be approved by the region, Conestoga College administration and CSI representative members, along with regional staff, would have to meet and discuss the amount of interest and gather information, as they did in 2011, for the region’s 2016 budget proposal as well as having a student referendum. Scherer said he would also like to see an increase in bus service if the pass were approved.
“The service that is offered at Conestoga, especially for Doon and Cambridge students, is extremely lacking,” he said, adding that UW students have multiple buses to choose from, all only 10 to 15 minutes apart, that go to the same destination.
He also raised the point that if students miss their bus, it is normally a half-hour wait for the next bus during regular hours. On the weekend it is an hour wait.
The good news is that there is a lot of local interest in resolving this matter.
“I am hopeful that we will be able to collaborate with the various partners and find an effective solution to present to regional council in order to introduce the U-Pass program to Conestoga College,” Gillespie said.