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U-Pass decision delayed again

Transit committee now set to vote on potential price increase in March, nearly four months since first presented

By Graeme McNaughton/The Oshawa Express

Students will have to continue to wait to find out whether they will have to pay more for their transit pass.

More than two months since it was first introduced, the decision whether the price of the U-Pass – the rate per term that students at the region’s post-secondary institutions pay for transit access – has been delayed once again to its next meeting March 23.

A report first presented in early December detailed a proposed price increase to the program, with students paying $135 for the summer and fall terms in 2017 before being bumped to $150 for the winter and summer terms in 2018. Currently, students pay $103 per term, and will be paying $120 in the fall term later this year.

Oshawa mayor John Henry proposed to delay the vote again, citing two potential sources of funding that could be in the pipeline that would allow the region to keep the U-Pass at its current rate.

“I have this vision that promises made during the last campaign for the last election that there’s going to be a substantial amount of money coming to municipalities for a number of reasons,” Henry said, referring to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s pledge during the federal election to make billions of dollars in funds available for municipal infrastructure projects. “And it’s my hope that some comes to the municipalities for…transit. And if we do get some funding from the federal government or even from the provincial government for transit, that we may be able to look a little bit differently later in the year.”

Henry said that another way to generate additional income for transit would be to implement off-peak hours to transit, with time windows that see lower ridership come with lower fares to entice more people to get on the bus. Similar systems are already in place in Vancouver and New York City.

Regional chair Roger Anderson responded that deferring the U-Pass decision until the summer is unwise, as it remains unclear how much money, exactly, will be coming from the federal government, what it can be spent on and how to get it.

Anderson also said that the matter, which has faced delays since first coming to the committee in early December, needs to be resolved.

“We just keep putting this off and putting it off. If you don’t want to do it, just say you don’t want to do it, but if we’re going to do it, we should be giving the universities and Durham College ample notice because not only can they play with this and do what they have to do, but the student association can do what they have to do, whether it’s a referendum or a vote,” Anderson said.

“I don’t know how they’d go about it, but we should be making a decision on this.”

Councillors, however, disagreed with Anderson’s sentiments and voted to delay the decision until March. Members of the committee also requested that Jim Clapp, the region’s finance commissioner, come up with a report detailing how much ridership would be affected should the U-Pass be canned.

The possibility of the U-Pass being discontinued came up during a delegation from Jesse Cullen, the president of the student association for Durham College and UOIT.

“We know that students are hungry for a transit system and they want to access the transit system, but increasing the U-Pass fee at this time, I believe, is actually a hindrance to achieving that because we know that the U-Pass isn’t used, necessarily, by a majority of students, but students who have a car see the value in a U-Pass because they do have a sense of fairness,” Cullen said during his delegation, likening the concept of all students paying for U-Pass to all Canadians paying into healthcare through taxes.

Cullen says that due to the rate of the increase being put on students, it will have to be put to a student referendum and that the U-Pass may get killed as a result.

“It puts us in jeopardy of losing ridership. It puts us in jeopardy of declining enrolment…and the U-Pass is a very competitive tool to entice students,” he said. “And it also puts us in danger of not having a robust transit system that addresses issues like climate change because the reality is climate change is here, it’s happening and everyone, including local municipalities, need to be on the forefront of addressing those issues.”

The next meeting of the region’s transit executive committee is scheduled for March 23.