Lawyer queries college students' B.C. transit costs

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      According to a Vancouver lawyer, the fact that college students in the region are charged higher transit rates than some university students “could be construed as discrimination” based on provisions in the Charter of Rights and Freedoms and the B.C. Human Rights Code.

      Jason Gratl, also president of the B.C. Civil Liberties Association, made these comments in a Georgia Straight phone interview, in which it was pointed out that UBC and SFU students—the two groups who qualify for the discounts offered by the U-Pass program—shell out $22 and $24.50 a month, respectively, for a transit pass. Meanwhile, college students pay the regular monthly one-zone fare of $73.

      “I would say it might be possible to construe the differential rates or differential in fees as a barrier to accessing a public service,” Gratl said.

      “That conduct could be construed as discrimination pursuant to the charter and the [B.C.] Human Rights Code.”

      According to Section 15 of the charter, all individuals are equal before and under the law and have the right to the equal protection and benefit of the law without discrimination.

      According to Meghan King, a third-year Emily Carr Institute student, “Every year that goes by, Emily Carr, VCC [Vancouver Community College], and other college students are constantly losing out because we are paying so much more for our transit services.”

      King, spokesperson for the Emily Carr Students’ Union, said litigation against TransLink based on a charter challenge “has not been tossed around, as far as I am aware”.

      “But the notion of differential pricing being a problem for people wanting to access transit is definitely one of our main issues,” she said.

      Lawyer Kirk Tousaw told the Straight that Gratl’s argument was essentially “right”, but he added that “location of your educational institution” may not be one of the grounds provided protection in the charter.

      “I am hard-pressed to see the argument on charter grounds,” Tousaw said by phone. “It strikes me that the place where you go to school, and the benefits you get because of where you go to school”¦is outside of what we refer to as ”˜prohibited bases of discrimination’.”

      TransLink communications manager Peter Louwe said the transit authority has been in contact with a “number of colleges” about setting up a U-Pass system. He said Capilano College and Langara College are negotiating, respectively, rates of $31 and $38 per month. Louwe said TransLink’s “revenue neutrality” model prevents offering colleges the same rate as SFU and UBC.

      “We don’t feel that we should start subsidizing one school at the expense of other aspects of the system,” Louwe said. “That [across-the-board fare parity] would not be acceptable to other users that aren’t getting a subsidized pass.”¦We want it to be revenue-neutral. That is our long-standing policy.”

      Louwe dismissed Gratl’s concerns, adding: “That is his opinion.”

      “Sometimes arbitrary decisions have to be made,” Louwe added. “You have to draw the line somewhere. Sometimes it seems on the surface to be unfair. Why would I have to get a two-zone pass to go two SkyTrain stops, but that is the way the system is until you can design a better system. And there are people here looking at the various options, but until we can come up with a better system that satisfies everybody, we have to stick to the model that we have.”