By Scott Zielsdorf

NAITSA is asking to strike the charge to students for the U-Pass in the Fall 2020 semester. Due to a shift in course delivery as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, students will no longer be eligible for U-Pass in the fall semester.

According to the current U-Pass contract, online course delivery voids many students of eligibility. Jerilyn Kotelniski, VP External for NAITSA says that the difficulty stems from how students are labeled by the school.

“The way that NAIT’s system works is that it codes students based on factors like whether the student is online or not, or how many credits they’re in. And that lets us know which students are eligible,” said Kotelniski in regards to NAIT’s current system. This system makes charging for U-Pass non-viable for the fall semester.

NAITSA has had many meetings regarding this complication, with the proposal of an “opt-in” program being brought to the table. The idea is that if a student still wanted the pass they could choose to pay the associated fee. This idea was shut down however as the core tenet of Upass is its universality, meaning either all students get access – or none do.

NAITSA is asking the school not to charge students the Upass fee for the fall semester, as they feel it doesn’t make sense to charge students for a pass that many may not be able to use.

This does not mean that U-Pass is going away for good, as the contract is not up for renewal until 2021. Next February, the student senate will vote for Upass’ continuation in a referendum. Kotelniski says that NAITSA has traditionally shown strong support for the Upass program, with 86% of student representatives voting favourably during the 2017 referendum.

“There [are] clearly students who view the value in [the U-Pass], and as long as it’s a service that they want, I’m assuming that they will continue voting yes and we will continue to see it,” said Kotelniski. She adds that NAITSA recognizes the importance of the pass for many students.

“Some students need transportation. They need it to get to school, perhaps for labs in the fall. They potentially need it for work as well, to get groceries… we recognize that it’s so important and we’re working really hard to find a solution for those students for the fall.”

Discussions regarding U-Pass and potential solutions for students are still in the works. NAITSA is working with transit partners to provide students with transportation alternatives in the future. What that will look like in the fall is still uncertain.

For those students enrolled in spring and summer courses, NAITSA suggests the Ride Transit program provided by ETS. The program is designed to provide affordable bus passes to those below a certain income threshold and has recently been updated to allow students to make use of the program during COVID-19. For those simply waiting to see what the fall semester will bring, more information will be available in the coming months.