Nimmi Takkar: TransLink must stop U-Pass discrimination

By Nimmi Takkar

There are few issues that unite students more than the need for real change in our chronically under-funded transit system.

Overcrowded buses and lack of late-night service plague our system. But the most significant problem in Metro Vancouver is that over 20,000 college and university students are excluded from TransLink’s universal transit pass program.

The U-Pass is a system whereby every student at a given campus pays a (compulsory) reduced fare in exchange for an unlimited-use bus pass.

In Metro Vancouver, only certain institutions are allowed to be a part of the program. Institutions for which TransLink ridership is high are not allowed to participate.

Yes, you read that correctly: the students who would most benefit from a U-Pass are actively excluded from participating.

Current TransLink policy puts profit ahead of fairness and environmental sustainability. Naturally, students are fighting back.

On April 8, students at Vancouver Community College, Emily Carr University, and Douglas College filed a complaint with the B.C. ombudsman regarding discrimination within the U-Pass program.

Students had no other choice. After working for over eight years to expand the U-Pass program in a fair and universal manner, we have tried every avenue available to engage TransLink.

The complaint has two basic assertions. First, TransLink discriminates arbitrarily against students at certain institutions in the name of profit.

Secondly, students argue that TransLink has been inconsistent with the implementation of its own policy. Based on TransLink’s 2005 student survey, the U-Pass generates significant revenue at some institutions and operates at a loss at others, making the ban on our three institutions even more confounding.

Discrimination in similar programs would never be considered acceptable. Offering a seniors’ bus pass that depended on where the senior is living would generate a backlash at the ballot box that would have politicians cowering in their offices.

Students have, with some success, used elections for organizing too. Students won a partial victory when the B.C. Liberals’ 2009 election platform included a commitment to work with universities, colleges, TransLink, and B.C. Transit to introduce a common U-Pass program for all postsecondary students across the province. The platform committed to “a flat fee that is the same for students throughout Metro Vancouver, and lower for students in other areas that have less access to public transit in their region”.

As the pressure on TransLink builds, CEO Tom Prendergast has stated publicly that TransLink is ready to “put revenue-neutrality aside” and work toward a fair and equitable program.

However, TransLink is in the process of setting its 10-Year Transportation and Financial Plan. To increase transit service, including the expansion of the U-Pass, TransLink is in need of $450 million of additional funding.

Despite the positive developments, members of the TransLink board of directors have suggested that the funding for an expanded and standardized U-Pass program will not be included in the next strategic plan.

Without immediate dedicated funding, the provincial-government commitment of an expanded U-Pass program by 2010 seems all but impossible.

Former transportation and infrastructure minister Kevin Falcon legislated a TransLink board of directors nominated by the provincial government, essentially amplifying the responsibility that the B.C. government has to fund public-transit improvements in Metro Vancouver.

Although their powers have been reduced by the minister, area mayors are recommending a $450-million investment, and the City of Vancouver supports the expansion the U-Pass program as promised in the provincial election.

The U-Pass is characterized by a fair and standardized price for students that encourages sustainable transit. The B.C. government must keep its promise to provide dedicated funding for U-Pass expansion, starting immediately with the TransLink 10-year plan.

We encourage TransLink and Minister of Transportation and Infrastructure Shirley Bond to consider our complaint to the B.C. ombudsman on U-Pass price discrimination, as well as our willingness to find fair solutions, and to ensure that the U-Pass program can be expanded to public postsecondary students within Metro Vancouver by September 2010.

Nimmi Takkar is the external relations officer for the Students’ Unions of Vancouver Community College.



Eric Chris

Jul 8, 2009 at 2:31pm

I agree with Nimmi, TransLink is unfairly discriminating against certain students who don’t go to UBC and aren’t as worthy in the eyes of TransLink. Transit is very heavily subsidized by taxpayers, and taxpayers willingly pay taxes to provide a basic level of transportation at a fair cost to students as well as the elderly and poor.

TransLink has an obligation to use our tax dollars to provide a decent level of service at a modest cost without the transit service being a detriment to residents living along the bus routes. TransLink isn’t providing an adequate level of service, even to the UBC students, and is using 99 B-Line articulated diesel buses on trolley bus routes. These diesel buses not only emit high levels of toxic emissions and GHG emissions but are noisy and disruptive to residents living along the 99 B-Line route.

Sadly, TransLink is a self serving bureaucracy spending millions on such things as its website, transit studies by high priced consultants and salaries for its superfluous layer of transit executives, including Tom Prendergast. TransLink is not run by people of high integrity, and TransLink executives do not put the interests of transit users and the public above their own.

In things worked properly, City of Vancouver transportation staff would be putting pressure on TransLink to provide adequate transit service without allowing TransLink to resort to the over use of diesel bus rapid transit service which is hazardous to the health of residents living along the 99 B-Line and other B-Line routes. Unfortunately, City of Vancouver transportation staff cannot help as City of Vancouver transportation staff are in the back pocket of TransLink and are just as corrupt as TransLink.

Shirley Bond if you are a decent person and read the Georgia Straight, you know what to do. Hopefully you are able to do the right thing and end the corruption at TransLink.


Jul 8, 2009 at 4:26pm

Eric, you either don't use transit much or you haven't really thought this through.

Using electric buses for the 99 would be ridiculous. An express bus that couldn't pass the local buses? An express bus that has to slow down frequently when going through intersections (pay attention next time you're on a trolley, you'll notice this - it's to avoid decoupling from the cables)?

Not to mention it would require a huge number of new articulated buses. Since Translink doesn't have unlimited funds, that's not exactly a good idea when a subway is planned to replace the 99 in the next 12 years or so.

Eric Chris

Jul 8, 2009 at 8:18pm

Ripley, isn't it ridiculous and unethical for TransLink to put the health of residents along the 99 B-Line route at risk to operate diesel buses on trolley bus routes? Couldn't TransLink install a second set of overhead cables for articulated express trolley buses parallel to the local buses? It would require the same number or articulated trolley buses as diesel buses, about 40, costing $30 million and not a big deal to TransLink which spent $2,000 million on the RAV Line.

Look, I'm in favour of transit and used transit going to university, but TransLink isn't being fair to the residents living along the 99 B-Line route where you have 600 articulated diesel bus trips daily on the 99 B-Line route counting deadhead buses which aren't in service. Residents along the route can't get to sleep and are choking on diesel bus soot.

I've lived in dozens of cities and none allow their transit company to do what TransLink does and it is only because we have a group of rotten people with a low level of morality working for TransLink and the City of Vancouver in transportation. Residents don't have to wait 12 years for some pie in the sky SkyTrain extension to UBC. If TransLink knew what it were doing it would simply operate a set of ferries from False Creek in downtown Vancouver to UBC at a fraction of its planned $3,000 million rapid transit extension cost to UBC. Come live out by UBC for a while. Maybe you'll change your attitude.

Paul Roberts

Jul 9, 2009 at 6:39am

The simple solution is to get rid of the U pass program. Why are regular people paying more than double what students pay for the bus. They overcrowd the bus system, people who pay full price get to stand instead of sit on the bus and by charging students the full amount it would increase the profit for translink. If you can afford to study in Vancouver you can afford a regular priced buss pass. If not take the bike or walk.


Jul 9, 2009 at 3:30pm

Trans-Link is in the business to make money they are not a charity.

What dream world do you live in? Wake up and face reality. If you get a free pass, someone else has to pay for it. How about paying for your own bus pass. Just cut back on the beer and you can afford one.

When I went to SFU no one gave me a free pass. So, grinn and bare it


Jul 9, 2009 at 6:20pm

It's quite evident to me (after a couple years of experience working with Emily Carr University and advocating for the UPass) that it isn't a matter of discrimination which is keeping our students, and students all over the city from receiving a reasonable discount on transit. It's the power that larger schools hold- in voting, and in public opinion.

Translink isn't being charitable to some schools and not to others. It's simply not giving the UPass to schools that don't have the money and manpower to pressure them into doing it.

It seems reasonable at this point to step away from arguments of fairness and who deserves a Upass and who should suck it up. IMHO, it's more a matter of economic intelligence and long-term planning.

People who develop a habit of taking transit in University, when they are first responsible for taking full care of themselves, are more likely to continue using transit in the long term. Unfortunately, at over $70 a month, a transit pass simply isn't a viable investment for many students. Those are the same students who will drive a car once out of University and can easily afford it.

Translink is a a social service run by the government, which is simply behaving like a business. It's about time it started earning the taxpayers dollars (and respect) which it receives.


Jul 9, 2009 at 10:45pm

i am a student at kwantlen and i think it bullsh*t that we don't have a upass even though I drive to school. Its unfair for students to not get one just cause we don't go to ubc or sfu!


Jul 10, 2009 at 9:44am

As a student myself, originally from Australia, I understand the notion of subsidized public transit. The system that operates nationally in Australia allows students in post-secondary education to travel without financial burden in getting to school. In coming to Vancouver I was appalled that the so called 'public' transit system makes no such allowances for students in some post-secondary institutions, such as Emily Carr and VCC. Shame on Translink for not addressing this issue, as it is clear that students have shown determination and put forward a reasonable request for affordable public transit.
It may be that however many years ago the UPass did not exist and students used to bare the brunt of the cost associated with public transit. But please put this into perspective, there has undoubtly been a fare increase, the cost of education along with the cost of living has risen dramatically and the minimum wage is still at 8 bucks. Taking into account that a monthly transit pass is between $73 and $136 students would need to work around 4 hrs a week just for basic public transport, put in a small budget of $880 for shared accommodation and food and a student would need to work around 32 hrs a week (before tax). $4000 per year in education costs works out around 10 hrs per week. Put in 50 hrs a week for study and full time course work and students are working 96 hrs per week.
Isn't B.C. gearing up for a knowledge based economy? We are hurting the future of B.C. because for sure student’s studies would suffer if they are put under this sort of stress for extended periods of time.
Give students a break for goodness sake and provide affordable public transit for all post-secondary schools, not just some.

Evil eye

Jul 13, 2009 at 9:11am

Abandon the U-Pass as it has crippled the transit system. The U-Pass was created in Seattle to "put bums on empty seats" on dedicated bus service (bus services mandated by statute) to the University of Washington.

In Vancouver, we had no such problem and the U-Pass has crippled the Broadway route. The real culprit is SkyTrain and RAV, which cost up to 10 times more to build and operate than light rail, so driving up the cost of bus fares.

Poor Girl

Sep 16, 2009 at 11:31am

Eliminate the U-Pass. Stamp a concession label on student cards so that they can buy concession passes. OR... student passes.
When I lived in Ottawa and you wanted reduced fair, you would go to any major OC transpo station with your ID and your student card (high school OR university/college), and they would print out a special Student transit ID card, giving you access to the student bus pass (65 bucks; savings compared to the 95 dollar regular pass) The card holders themselves had two sections, one for your student card, and one for the pass. Most seemed happy with this system.