BY CHRIS HUSSEY
Conestoga Students Inc. (CSI) gave students the opportunity to vote from Feb. 8 to Feb. 12 on whether they wanted a mandatory bus pass. And while the proposed “U-Pass” was intended to be universal, reactions to the result were anything but.
A majority of students (57%) voted against implementing the U-Pass, with 2,139 students voting no and 1,591 voting in favour of it. As a result, students will continue to purchase bus passes individually, with those who do getting a sticker from CSI to put on their ONE Card.
Student bus riders now pay $227 each semester for a Grand River Transit (GRT) pass – comparable to a parking permit. That would have been cut in half with the U-Pass, which CSI said would have been $245 for a whole year. However, that fee would have become a part of everyone’s tuition – including those who drive, ride and walk to school.
Some students who voted in favour of the U-Pass said it would have made it more convenient for them. Emily Arnold, a third-year community and criminal justice student, said that was important for her and part of why she voted in favour of the U-Pass.
“I think it would’ve just been nicer for it to have been included in tuition so it would have been all-inclusive instead of trying to worry about getting a bus pass,” she said.
Cody Banks, a second-year protection/security and investigation student, also voted in favour of the pass and he had similar sentiments.
“The results are pretty disappointing,” he said.
For students who voted against the pass, a common concern was that there was no guarantee students would be able to opt-out of the pass, like they can do for the CSI’s health plan. Javier Carrasco, a second-year broadcast television student, said he disliked how the U-Pass would have been mandatory for all students, with the cost being added to everyone’s tuition.
“I thought it was a great idea, but not being able to opt-out was kind of ridiculous,” he said.
Brenden Benson, also a second-year protection/security and investigation student, echoed Carrasco’s concern, and said he would have voted in favour of the pass if he would have been able to opt-out.
“As a driver, I have parking I pay already, and I don’t want to pay … for something I’m not going to use,” he said.
Jeff Scherer, CSI president, said the reason the opt-out wasn’t offered was because GRT based the price it would cost to increase the number of buses needed if a U-Pass was implemented on a specific number of students.
After budgeting $339,000 for the U-Pass, Region of Waterloo council decided to return the money to the taxpayers in a vote on Feb. 23. Coun. Sean Strickland said he and several others were surprised at the results of the referendum because they had taken it for granted that students would vote in favour of the pass.
“I was disappointed because I think (the U-Pass) could be a tremendous value to Conestoga College students,” he said.
Despite the division among students, Scherer said he was pleased to see how many of them were engaged in the referendum.
“I think students were more engaged with the conversation around the referendum than I’ve seen them being engaged in anything on campus,” he said.
Scherer also said he was happy to see so many students vote.
“I believe what we can take away from these results is that we have an extremely engaged and involved student population.”
But Banks said that although there were a lot of votes, it seemed like there were many who weren’t interested and tuned it out.
“I really don’t think (31 per cent of students is) representative (of the student body) at all,” he said.
Scherer said looking ahead, CSI is hoping to work with GRT to increase bus service to Conestoga and to work on alleviating the financial burden of parking passes.