August 12, 2022

Conestoga College’s board of governors has struck a determined tone ahead of meetings with Grand River Transit (GRT) regarding a proposed universal transit pass (U-Pass) for students.

Conestoga College’s board of governors meets in regard to upcoming U-Pass negotiations with Waterloo Region. Photo by Darick Charbonneau, Spoke News

At its meeting on Dec. 10, the board backed president John Tibbits’ call for fairness concerning the cost of the U-Pass, which was endorsed in a referendum among students earlier in the fall.

“We don’t think our students should pay one dime more than university students,” Tibbits said. “Whatever the fee is for university students, that should be the fee Conestoga students pay. We are talking about equality and fairness. We are very serious as a board about this. We want a mandate going into negotiations.”

Among the proposed fees for students for the 2019-20 school term is the proposed U-Pass, which is currently priced at $137 per semester — an amount floated by Conestoga Students Inc. (CSI), which is pushing the universal pass over the objections of some students who drive to the college and must still pay for parking. The mandatory fee would be imposed on all full-time students who pay student association fees and attend Conestoga’s Doon, Waterloo or Cambridge campuses.

Currently, a four-month GRT pass is $292, much higher than a U-Pass, even at CSI’s proposed rate. The U-Pass for students who attend Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo — both located the new light rail system — currently sits at $93.91. Conestoga’s board of governors believes the price should be the same across the board.

“The GRT can put one billion dollars into the light rail [transit], but can’t give our students the same price as university students? It hasn’t been fair from day one,” said Tibbits. “With our increased enrolment and with the number of students that will be using the pass, they would still be making great revenue.”

During the meeting, the board discussed the possibility of lowering other student fees to offset the new proposed fee for the U-Pass. Ultimately, though, the board’s resolve was to head into negotiations with the GRT for a fair price for all students in the region. Based on student feedback, the board feels it has the all the support it needs heading into negotiation.

The board also discussed how, with the constant increase in enrolment, there is plenty of revenue from post-secondary students going to the GRT. Two years ago, income generated by the GRT from Conestoga College students buying semester bus passes was slightly more than a million dollars. Last year it was more than $2 million and this year it is expected to be more than $3 million. By comparison, students at Wilfrid Laurier University, a larger institution, are contributing a half million dollars per year less than Conestoga students.

“We really do need to negotiate and see what happens,” said Tibbits. “Our students are paying a lot and it simply isn’t fair to them. We should not have to pay more.”

Conestoga College’s universal transit pass (U-Pass) referendum, administered by CSI, passed on Oct. 2, but many students have been wondering what will happen next. CSI president Aimee Calma has regularly declined to comment on the issue.

Any agreement between the college and GRT would also have to be approved by Waterloo Region’s council before it can be implemented in the 2019 school term.

— with files from Darick Charbonneau

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