College students may balk at transit rates

According to UBC associate vice-president Geoff Atkins, TransLink’s proposed U-Pass expansion is “an initiative going nowhere”.

The regional transportation authority has had a deal worked out with SFU and UBC for five years that enables students to pay $22 and $24.50 a month, respectively, for unlimited transit service. U-Pass is designed to entice a greater proportion of students to get out of their cars and onto the bus and SkyTrain.

But so far there has not been consensus on how to expand the service beyond UBC and SFU so that it includes colleges such as Langara, Kwantlen, Douglas, and the Vancouver-based Native Education Centre. Three options presented in the TransLink planning report ?going before the board at the November 17 meeting in Surrey all present a price tag for colleges substantially higher than those enjoyed by UBC and SFU.

“From a public-policy perspective, I don’t think the colleges are going to go for it,” Atkins, a transit advocate, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “I have always said they should peg the rate across the board at UBC’s rate, but this plan won’t have any legs with the colleges. I don’t understand TransLink’s thinking. The leveraged benefit of getting a captive student audience thinking about getting out of their cars is huge.”

Colleges can sign on at $34 a month—still approximately $10 more than SFU and UBC pay. But this option is “strictly conditional on receiving approval from all colleges through student referendums held at the time,” the TransLink report notes. If any colleges balk at $34, they can sign up at $40 a month (option two, excluding Kwantlen) or else multiple price groups (option three) will be offered, where Capilano College pays $31 a month, Langara, Douglas, and Emily Carr $39 a month, and Vancouver Community College $50 a month.

TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight that TransLink has told the colleges the price difference is due to the “revenue-neutral” model TransLink uses. This model ensures colleges “at least all pay their way” with regard to the U-Pass program, he said. Hardie adds that UBC and SFU are large schools and the students who do not use U-Pass are offsetting costs for those who do.

“The benchmark created at SFU and UBC has also created an expectation that we can provide that same price to every college in the region,” Hardie said. “But the fact is the economic conditions of servicing every college in the region are much different. Even $40 a month is still better than $63, which is the current price of a one-zone monthly pass.”

Laura Anderson is the new external affairs chair for the Kwantlen Students Association. She called the cheapest price option of $34 a month “atrocious”.

“We need a common price,” Anderson told the Straight. “Kwantlen does not want to be paying more than SFU and UBC. Our school is a commuter campus with a low ridership already. If more people who don’t take transit are paying more, how is that a good deal for them?”

Anderson told the Straight she plans to attend the November 17 meeting at Surrey City Hall.