By Niall McCrossan
Students at Conestoga College can now vote in a referendum that would allow full-time students to receive a bus pass as part of their tuition.
The universal transit pass would be effective September 2019 and would cost no more than $137 per semester.
The pass, also known as the “U-Pass,” would grant full-time students unlimited access to all Grand River Transit (GRT) services which will also soon include ION bus and light rail transit. It will also provide access to the MobilityPLUS service. This would not only provide students transportation to school, but they could also use it off-campus for travel to work and other destinations.
The Conestoga College ONE Card would act as the U-Pass and could be used on all forms of public transit including GRT buses, the smaller 19-seat fully accessible BusPLUS buses, ION express buses and light rail. Students would just tap their ONE Card on the farebox card reader on buses and on the card reader that will be located on the ION light rail station platform before boarding a train.
Currently, over 3,000 students travel to Conestoga College using GRT on an average weekday and over the last two years ridership has increased by 65 per cent from 2,000 to over 3,300 riders daily, according to Conestoga Student Inc. To accommodate this rapid growth in ridership, GRT has increased their service to Conestoga College’s Doon campus by roughly 125 more bus trips daily and with the launch of the ION LRT, an additional 125 more trips are planned to be added each day, according to Grand River Transit.
Unfortunately, there is one major flaw with this proposed U-Pass referendum. Students who use public transit currently only account for approximately 23 per cent of the full-time student body. Approximately 10,000 students don’t require a U-Pass because many of these students drive to school.
These students are now being told that if this vote passes not only will they be paying roughly $137 more per semester for tuition, but they will still be required to purchase a parking pass which costs $262 per semester or $502 annually.
To make matters worse, there will be no option to opt-out. The U-Pass will be mandatory for all full-time students attending Conestoga College’s Doon, Waterloo or Cambridge campuses. With all students participating, the cost of the U-Pass will be much lower than the cost that students who use public transit currently pay for the semester or adult monthly pass.
This is extremely unfair for students who drive to school or carpool. A parking pass is already an added expense and now they will be forced to pay an additional fee for a U-Pass which they may never use. Students currently have the option to opt-out of the college’s health and dental benefits if they already receive benefits elsewhere. By opting out of these benefits they are entitled to a $323 reimbursement, however, this will not be the case with the U-Pass.
We believe students should be given the option to either opt-out of the U-Pass or to have a reduction in the cost of their parking pass if they will not be using public transit. We strongly urge all students to take part in this vote which is taking place from September 24-28. All eligible full-time students should have received an email with a direct link to the vote. If you don’t vote, don’t complain in the future.