U-Pass talks underway

by | Sep 23, 2016 | Featured, Uncategorized

School fees are a necessary part of life for students. The amount for post-secondary varies by program and institute. One fee that is nearly inescapable for most post-secondary students is the Universal Transit Pass or U-Pass. Often that acronym brings about an emotion for students, which varies, depending on program, demographic or desired level of freedom.

The NAIT Students’ Association, along with other student associations representing various post-secondary institutions across our city have started the negotiations toward a new U-Pass contract in 2017. NAIT students will be voting on the new agreement in February. The negotiations have been taking place for several months now and our NAITSA representatives are upbeat about what the future holds.

Jason Roth, Advocacy Director at NAITSA, is the lead negotiator at the table representing our interests. He tells me the No. 1 issue that NAITSA is pushing is the cost to students. When the last negotiations took place, there was difficulty in coming to an agreement on the price increase structure. This time around the transit service providers have been very flexible on working with the various institutions toward an agreement. He believes that students will be very happy with the numbers when they are presented to the student body.

Roth sees the steep discount that students receive for the U-Pass versus a regular four-month bus pass as the primary benefit. Statistics show that the vast majority of U-Pass holders are using the pass at least once, with most using it on a regular basis. When asked about the students who choose to drive, he said the main factor is the ride time. He understands the challenges students face who might live in an area where a bus ride to NAIT wouldn’t be feasible. He wants to hear from you.

Feedback on route improvements, bus capacity, cleanliness, safety concerns and anything else that would encourage tak-ing advantage of transit are welcomed and would be brought forward to the various transit service providers.

NAIT student Debbie Poole brings her vehicle to school and pays for daily parking because of the convenience of having her vehicle with her. She would like to be able to opt out of the U-Pass but does see the benefits. She concedes that if she pursues a longer academic program she would most likely find a way to make transit work.

Katie Spencer, VP External at NAITSA, has joined Roth at the negotiation table and agrees that the transit representatives have shown goodwill towards getting an agree-ment in principle to put forward to the students. Previous referendums have shown large support for the U-Pass and she believes this time will be no different. I posed the question to her about the challenges faced by students from outside of the catchment area of Edmonton Transit System, St. Albert Transit and Strathcona County Transit. The City of Spruce Grove has been approached by ETS recently and has been considered for inclusion into the U-Pass network. Unfortunately, no agreement has been reached to date and it does not appear that one will be prepared in time to be presented to students.

Student Andy Degruchy has seen the benefits of the U-Pass and often finds uses for it outside school hours. He sees it as a worry-free way to enjoy a night downtown and not have to pay for parking. He encourages students to give it a try.

I also had the opportunity to speak with Dave McReynolds, director of Research, Revenue and Expenditure Control for Edmonton Transit Services, who has been one of the main negotiators for ETS this round. He said that he is pleased with how the negotiations have been proceeding. He points to the introduction of a pro-rated replacement fee for lost passes as one of the improvements made from feedback.

So it appears that the U-Pass is here to stay, with the last referendum passing 78 per cent in favour for the U-Pass. It can be claimed on your federal taxes, allowing for a partial cost recovery. Unlike other institutions that mandate that spring and summer courses be covered by a four month U-Pass for what might be a two-month course, NAIT does not. Add your voice to those looking for improvements. Suggest ways that would make transit something worthwhile to you. After all, it is your fees at work.

– A.J. Shewan

Image by A.J. Shewan

Latest Issue