March 29, 2023

Two weeks after the contentious U-Pass referendum at Conestoga College, students on both sides of the issue are wondering what happens next.

Before the U-Pass can be implemented, it must be approved by the college board of governors and Region of Waterloo council.

“I don’t think there is any question that our board wouldn’t approve this,” said John Tibbits, president of Conestoga College. “We need to sit down and negotiate with the GRT on some of the details.”

In 2016, when a similar U-Pass referendum was held, regional council had approved $339,000 to cover the cost of additional services. However, after students voted no, the council removed it from the budget to keep property taxes in check.

This time around, students have voted yes to a proposal before regional council has considered the subject of the U-Pass and increased transit services to Conestoga College. Without council approval, the U-Pass cannot be implemented.

“I think we need to sit down with the Region and get a sense of the price that they are going to charge our students. I know the price out there, but I feel, my own bias is, that our students should not be paying any more than the university students,” said Tibbits. “I think that it is not right and that has always been wrong, and I think we have not been treated in the same way as the university students have been.”

Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo students currently pay $93.91 for their universal bus passes, while Conestoga College students pay $292 per four-month term. During the latest referendum, in which voting closed on Oct. 1, Conestoga Students Inc. floated a fee of $137 per semester, to be paid by all full-time students at all campuses.

Only about 25 per cent of full-time students voted in the latest U-Pass referendum and, of those, 58 per cent (2,293 of 3,950 votes) supported the measure. The results caused concern among many students who drive to campus and who feel they may now be paying both their parking fees and the fee to subsidize a service they do not or cannot use, given GRT’s limited reach. Besides its Kitchener (Doon), Waterloo and Cambridge campuses inside Waterloo Region, Conestoga has campuses and training centres with full-time students in Guelph, Stratford, Brantford and Ingersoll.

According to a Feb. 23, 2016, report from Waterloo Region staff to councillors, student representatives from Conestoga College at that time indicated their strong support for a U-Pass program — and said they were prepared to pay a higher fee than the universities in Waterloo Region for the U-Pass, given the anticipated expansion of services to Conestoga College campuses. That was before students turned down the proposal.

Tibbits said he was not aware that CSI had told the region, during the 2016 U-Pass referendum, that Conestoga students were willing to pay more for equal access to the U-Pass.

“That is not my view,” Tibbits said on Friday. “I am surprised that someone would say that. I was not aware of that.”

CSI president Aimee Calma did not respond to repeated requests from Spoke for comment regarding the most recent questions about the U-Pass.

Proposed transit passenger facility at Conestoga College (Grand River Transit)

Firm dates for the next board of governors and council meetings have not been set. However, the Conestoga board of governors will meet sometime in December and the issue will be reviewed further at the regional level once the newly elected council approves the 2019 meeting schedule on Dec. 5.

Grand River Transit and Conestoga College have discussed a new transit passenger facility to be constructed and functional sometime in 2019. It would accommodate nine buses, offer a convenient waiting area and reduce traffic congestion on campus. The proposed transit hub would be built in parking Lot 6, near the A Wing.

— with files from Jessica Towriss

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