The anticipated expansion of the U-Pass program to all local publicly funded postsecondary schools starting in January 2011 has hit a snag, according to two student leaders.
UBC’s Jeremy McElroy and Kwantlen Polytechnic University’s Matt Todd are doubtful that schools will be able to hold referendums on the transit program this fall because of unresolved issues in a new contract that will cover 11 institutions.
“All the parties had sort of expected to be done with the contract negotiations at this point and planning a January rollout, but as of this time, we don’t have a final draft of the contract,” McElroy, vice president of external affairs for the UBC Alma Mater Society, told the Georgia Straight in a phone interview. “Until all parties agree to this particular contract, no student union can go to referendum.”
McElroy and Todd, director of external affairs for the Kwantlen Student Association, were not able to provide specific details, each saying the contract under negotiation is confidential. However, Todd noted that student associations are concerned about expenses that may be downloaded onto schools by TransLink and the provincial government.
“Universities have a very tightly controlled budget, and so when they’re asked to absorb new costs the money has to come from somewhere, and something has to be cut to accommodate those costs,” Todd told the Straight by phone. “If there’s additional costs being borne by institutions, we’re worried that they will have some impact on the library or instruction or whatever.”
UBC, SFU, Langara College, and Capilano University are the only Lower Mainland schools that currently have a U-Pass program.
Students from Kwantlen, Douglas College, Emily Carr University, Vancouver Community College, the Justice Institute of B.C., the British Columbia Institute of Technology, and the Burnaby campus of the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology will be entitled to join the expanded U-Pass program.
Tiffany Kalanj, spokesperson for the OnePassNow coalition, had previously indicated to the Straight that Douglas College, Emily Carr, and VCC were preparing for a fall referendum on the U-Pass program.
But Todd maintained, “They can’t go ahead unless everybody can go ahead. There’s only one contract. So if the contract isn’t completed for Kwantlen, it’s not completed for Emily Carr or VCC, either.”
TransLink needs $85.1 million to support the expansion of the U-Pass program from 2011 to 2020. But the regional transportation body acknowledged in an October 7 report to Metro Vancouver mayors that it doesn’t have the money to cover more bus-service hours and infrastructure along routes.
During the last provincial election campaign, Premier Gordon Campbell’s B.C. Liberal party promised to expand the availability of U-Passes.
Speaking in general terms about the difficult issues in the new U-Pass contract being negotiated by student associations, schools, TransLink, and the provincial government, McElroy said, “They pertain more to the rights and responsibilities of TransLink and the institutions, and who does what—and who pays for what.”
Once the program is implemented, students attending publicly funded postsecondary institutions in the Lower Mainland will have a universal transit pass at a cost of $30 per month.
In the case of Kwantlen, which has four campuses, the negotiation for a U-Pass contract has highlighted the lack of adequate public transportation in many parts of the region.
Todd pointed out that many Kwantlen students live in neighbourhoods in Surrey and Langley that aren’t serviced by TransLink. This means that even if they get a U-Pass, it won’t make a difference to their commute.
“The choice for us in Kwantlen at the moment is do we punish Richmond students by not entering the U-Pass program right away?” Todd said. “They use a lot of transit in Richmond; they’re right next to a SkyTrain line. Should they continue paying more? Or should students in Surrey and Langley pay for a U-Pass program that doesn’t serve their needs?”
Laura Dyck, the student awards and financial adviser at the Justice Institute of B.C., says the institute’s students aren’t holding a referendum this fall about the U-Pass. When asked by the Straight when a vote might be held, Dyck replied, “We don’t know.”
The expansion of the U-Pass program is one of many investments TransLink has identified for potential supplemental funding starting in 2011. The regional transportation body has laid out two options for financing new services: higher property taxes or a vehicle levy.