BY PAUL BOREHAM
U-Pass … or no U-Pass – that is the question. Voting begins Feb. 1.
Talk of a universal bus pass has been bandied about for three years now, and judgment day has arrived.
“The only way for this to go forward is to let the voices of students be heard,” said Sheena Witzel, assistant general manager of CSI Inc. at Conestoga College’s Doon campus.
Student bus riders now pay $227 each semester for a Grand River Transit pass – comparable to a parking permit. That will be cut in half with the new U-Pass, which is quoted by CSI as being $245 for a whole year. The only problem is, that fee will become part of everyone’s tuition – including those who drive, ride and walk to school.
“That’s not fair,” said Stacey Romphf, a bookkeeping student at the Doon campus who drives from Guelph. “We have to pay all our vehicle expenses as well as the parking fee.”
She shares the sentiment with those who live outside the region. She’ll be paying $245 for something she will never use.
Some students live in the region, but drive rather than use transit.
“I’m saving time by driving myself, rather than take the bus,” said Murray Maltais, a third-year accounting student. “Time is everything.”
Another student who drives said she needs to get to work quickly after classes and the bus will never provide that.
Natalie Springall, a first-year general arts student, is a transit user and on hearing about the price cut, was delighted. She said she’s going to be voting “yes.” “I think it’s good, but it’s also good that there is a vote. That makes it fair,” she said.
Hoa Phan, a second-year accounting student, said, “There should be a waiver on our tuition fee for those who already have a parking pass.”
But getting the fee waived is almost certainly not going to happen, said Witzel. Students will be getting the U-Pass whether they like it or not, so she encourages everyone to get out and vote. It’s important, she said.
The vote starts Monday morning, Feb. 1, and runs for three days. Students at the concerned campuses – Doon, Cambridge and Waterloo – will receive an email from CSI and a link will take them to the online voting site, or they can go directly to the CSI website (www.conestogastudents.com). Online voting is encouraged, but in case there are problems, ballot boxes will be set up in each campus CSI office.
Nearly 4,200 students currently possess a bus pass out of 12,000 full-time students at the college – about a third.
In November, CSI met with Grand River Transit officials to discuss the proposed U-Pass. In order to address the concerns of drivers who would undoubtedly be opposed to paying the extra fee, better routes and more buses are planned – in short, better service.
“With unlimited access to transit, and improved service, students who normally purchase a parking pass could have a more affordable option to commute while saving the $400+ on a parking pass each year,” said Jeff Scherer, president of CSI.
That improved service will come at a hefty price to the Region, too. Despite this, on Jan. 13 Regional Council approved its 2016 budget, which included funds toward Conestoga’s long-talked-about U-Pass. Now it’s up to students to decide. It could be a reality in September. If students vote “no” there’s a two-year waiting period before another referendum can be held.