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U-Pass agreement suspended for fall

By Courtney Bachar/The Oshawa Express/LJI Reporter

College and university students who take transit to school will have to pay their own way this semester as the U-Pass program has been suspended.

Upon request from Durham College (DC) and Ontario Tech University, the Durham Region Transit Executive Committee voted in favour recently to suspend the U-Pass agreement between the region and post-secondary institutions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Forecasting that the pandemic will continue, [Durham] College will move to a mainly online course offering for the fall 2020 term,” reads a letter submitted by DC to the committee, noting the college expects a maximum of 15 to 20 per cent of students to attend on-campus instruction.

Richard Seres, executive director of communications and marketing at Ontario Tech, says the university is following suit with online study due to the pandemic and expects a similar trend in on-site attendance.

“Due to these very low numbers of students on campus during the fall and the low expected usage of DRT services, we requested a pause in our agreement with the region,” says Seres.

“During this pause, students wishing to use DRT services will be required to pay fares as set by DRT and will not be paying for the UPASS program as part of their Ontario Tech student fees,” he adds.

According to the committee report, DRT entered into the current U-Pass agreement with the college and universities in May 2017, with two consecutive extensions, through Aug. 31, 2021.

At the time of finalizing the report for the committee, Trent University had continued to express support for the U-Pass program through the upcoming school year.

At a May 2020 Durham Regional Council meeting, DRT forecasted a $6.8 million year-end impact for 2020 due to the pandemic, which has resulted in a 70 per cent reduction in ridership since March.

DC’s share of fall 2020 U-Pass revenues is approximately $1.8 million, while Ontario Tech’s share is estimated at $1.3 million, which DRT estimates will result in a $400,000 offset from fare payments by students using transit this semester, according to the report.

Furthermore, as no students were on campus at DC and Ontario Tech during the summer, and the U-Pass program isn’t offered at Trent for the summer semester, no fees were collected, which resulted in a loss of budgeted U-Pass revenues for the summer 2020 semester of approximately $600,000.

Overall, the net impact of suspending the U-Pass program during the summer and fall semesters will result in a $3.3 million loss in revenue in 2020, and increase DRT’s forecasted year-end 2020 deficit to $9.8 million.

Seres says the resumption of the U-Pass program for winter 2021 will be re-evaluated in October.

“We hope we will be able to resume participation and have requested to hold off on a final decision on participating in the U-Pass program for winter 2021 until October 2020.”