Are you too old for a student bus pass?

Students call age limit on discounted passes ageism, cash grab

As of July 1, student bus passes in Ottawa will only be available to those 27 and younger – and some students are not too happy about it.

Older students must now pay the full adult rate for a monthly pass, $84.75, instead of a $65.25 student monthly pass. They can no longer purchase semester or annual student passes, which offer additional savings.

Student outrage has sparked a Facebook group with nearly 1,500 members as of July 16. Student leaders in Ottawa condemned the new policy, which passed last December.

“If you’re a student, you’re a student,” says Erik Halliwell, president of the Carleton University Students’ Association. “Many people are still in school after the age of 27, and many people are going back to retrain during the recession.”

He says the change affects about 3,300 students at Carleton University, including over 1,000 undergraduate students.

Algonquin College Students’ Association president Mike Hirsch calls the change “a tremendous mistake” that “unfairly disadvantages a very large demographic at Algonquin College” in a letter to the Ottawa Citizen.

Although Hirsch could not be reached for comment, Halliwell says the ACSA is circulating a petition to remove the age limit.

Halliwell says he also intends to petition city councillors, and thinks the issue could become important in the 2010 municipal election. City council cannot revisit the issue until next year unless a special motion passes with support from 75 per cent of city councillors.

Representatives from the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa have also expressed concern, but could not be reached for comment.

Some students are expected to attend tonight’s Pedestrian and Transit Advisory Committee meeting to plead their case, but Halliwell says the student union is preparing to confront council in September.

Several students have posted much harsher criticisms on a Facebook group called “Against the Age-Cut Off for Student Bus Passes.” Complaints range from “discrimination based on age” to “cash grab,” though some students have defended the policy.

The age limit will save Ottawa’s public transit service, OC Transpo, about $220,000 a year, according to the motion passed by council. The limit is based on the amount of time a student would take to achieve a doctorate if they were in school continuously.

OC Transpo’s revenues are down this year after a 51-day strike by employees took buses off the road. Several other changes have been made to increase revenue, including increased prices for bus fares, tickets and passes. Council also rejected a proposal for a universal student transit pass at the University of Ottawa last March.




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Are you too old for a student bus pass?

  1. As I said in one of the (many!) wall posts in that group:

    The whole point of having a discount for full-time students is to acknowledge that their incomes are lower than those who (presumably – a big assumption by the way) work full-time and have enough income coming in to pay the full rate. It is the exact same rationale for having a discount for seniors – after retirement, your income is presumed to drop.

    What OC Transpo and the City of Ottawa are basically saying is this: “Yes, we acknowledge that students incomes are lower, so here is the discounted rate. But those students over 27 must have stopped school and worked for a few years at least and are now going back to school. They *must* be rich enough to pay the full rate for a bus pass.”

    Yeah, not so much. It’s wrong, they know it and we know it. We just have to call them on it.

  2. I am 27 right now and will be heading back to school in the fall – and man – I would be SO mad if I was told I couldn’t have a discounted pass!

    Why is it age 27 and younger? A year later and I’m in no better financial position! In fact, going back to school this fall is killing us more and I’m probably worse off than most students since I can’t get mommy and daddy to cosign on a loan (or ask for any help at all!) and hubby doesn’t make a lot and I didn’t make a lot the last few years (etc etc etc) – so yeah, I find this confusing and stupid.

  3. Every taxpayer is paying for the transit system, including lots of taxpayers who are less well off than lots of students. It’s totally reasonable for council to set an upper limit for how much revenue they can afford to lose through a blanket subsidy policy for all students. Maybe an age cutoff is not the way to go about it, but all this whining is ridiculous. There are lots of wealthy students out there, and lots of working poor who can’t access any sort of bus pass discount at all. I say do away with student discounts entirely and make eligibility to any discount pass reliant on demonstrated need. Otherwise just average out the price of all bus passes and do away with these nonsensical blanket discounts.

  4. This is essentially an ‘age tax’ being imposed by OC Transpo in the name of saving money. A couple of points:

    1) From the original motion, the age of 28 is based on an outdated middle class ideal of a ‘normal progression’ through university where people go straight through school and finish their PHD by 28. The demographics and path through school have changed substantially since most of them went to school. In a city where thousands of people have been laid off and are going to grad school to upgrade their skills, this should be obvious and just stigmatizes them tho they pay the same expenses as younger students. Welcome to the new normal.

    2) If OCT’s rationale is that older students can afford to pay more, isn’t it ironic that salaried working employees of govt and private sector will pay LESS because they get a discounted ecopass? Considering the savings are minimal and the decision was apparently reached behind closed doors, the rationale just seems to take advantage of a vulnerable group because they can.

    3) In 2002, an OHCR report on Human Rights and Public Transit Services in Ontario stated that there is a legal obligation under the Code for equal access to public transit services regardless of age, complying with S.15 of Charter of Rights. OC Transpo contributed to that report.

    On a positive note, the Ottawa Pedestrian and Transit Committee was very empathetic to student presentations on this issue and voted unanimously to have the motion raised by the Council’s Transit Committee, with a recommendation the motion be repealed. All the schools in Ottawa are behind this effort – now its up to the public and the politicians.

  5. There are a lot of adults in their 30s and 40s who currently lost their jobs due to the economy. A lot of them decide to go back to school in order to upgrade their education or start a new career. They more than anyone deserve a Bus pass discount. Students older than 27 are more likely to have kids and financial restrains. It’s not fair to discriminate against them. What difference does it make if you’re 26 or 35 when you’re a student. A student is a student no matter how old they are.

  6. @ Prasad.

    Age tax? Aren’t older students being denied a discount? An age tax would imply they have to pay more because they are older. But older students will pay the same price as other adults who are not students. And, how does this, as per your third point, deny equitable access to transit?

    It might be unfair, but calling it an age tax and suggesting it is a Charter issue is a bit over the top.

  7. Glad to see this story made it up :) Mature students need a break more than most!

  8. @ mary Hawkins

    Just a couple of points I would like to point out to you. Student discounts are usually taken advantage of my the needier student. The wealthier students tend to have cars and use them so to assume that the discount is unfairly benefiting wealthier students is very possible but tends to be an even smaller issue than those being hurt be the removal of this discount. Furthermore, not only are older students part of a disadvantaged group but they, by seeking higher education, have proven that they are worth the investment by the city since they are more likely to achieve higher salaries and contribute more to society after post secondary than before especially since the majority of older students are in law, medicine, and education. Contributions that eventually far transcend the immediate financial benefits/ (To those who might want to take offense to that comment, I would like to point out that it is a statistical that higher levels of education fetch higher wages especially in government and since Ottawa has more than a few govt workers, I think this is a very valid point.) Lastly, OCT offer Ecopasses to government workers, wouldn’t it be more logical to up the fare of those who are actually working rather than those who are in school attempting to acquire the tools they need in order to gain full-time meaningful employment and eventually pay considerably more in taxes that help fund the transit system?

    @ Carson

    I will go one further than Mr. Prasad and not only say that it is a Canadian Charter of rights issue but also that it violates the Canadian Human Rights Act partI section 5(b) to differentiate adversely in relation to any individual, on a prohibited ground of discrimination. [1976-77, c.33, s.5.]
    Prohibited grounds here would be age. however, the CHR act makes exceptions under the law:
    Age Guidelines (SI/78-165)
    3. Where adverse differentiation in relation to any individual in the provision of goods, services, facilities or accommodation customarily available to the general public is based only on a reduction or absence of rates, fares or charges with respect to children, youths or senior citizens, such adverse differentiation is reasonable and is not, in the opinion of the Commission, a discriminatory practice within the meaning of section 5 of the Act.

    As you can see, there is nothing that makes exception for the age of 27. Two further points I will like to highlight is the fact that OCT issuing student fares have recognized the special need that students have. Offering seperate fares for students and students only is not defined by, or one of the disallowed grounds of discrimination under the CHR Act. That being said, the fact that OCT has aknoledged the need of students, implemented a post secondary student discount, and then cap that discount based on age and not other criteria (like level of education or social status or any other criteria not protected under the CHR Act) would clearly make this an age issue/discrimination diallowed under the CHR Act.

  9. I don’t think the status of “student” is considered an immutable (or close to immutable) characteristic. It’s a matter of choice, people of all ages are affected by the recession, and there are various measures like welfare, bus pass subsidies and tax breaks to help lower-income people with the cost of transit passes. In short, you can’t mount a successful Human Rights Act or Charter case on the basis that you’re being discriminated against because you’re a student, and there are measures to help you if you’re poor.

    But what about age?

    OC Transpo is federally regulated, so the Canadian Human Rights Act applies to it, not the Ontario Code.

    Under the federal Act, age is a prohibited ground of discrimination, and the fare rules do SEEM to adversely differentiate between, say, 26-year-olds and 46-year-olds. The fare difference is not based on being a “child or youth” so it would not appear to be saved by the Guidelines that J Montminy cited.

    So the question seems to be whether s. 15(g) of the Canadian Human Rights Act permits this adverse differentiation because there is a good-faith justification for it. The justification would seem to be that it is part of a system of incentives designed to help those most likely to be economically badly off and that that these types of incentives etc. are like many other economic incentives in our tax legislation, EI legislation, etc., which you can’t start litigating like crazy because they are part of the give-and-take of social and economic policy.

    Moreover, in terms of getting bus passes, a person over 26 who is really badly off (i.e. receiving social assistance) should be able to get discounts or assistance from the province or city, and I think there are programs for that. And there is even a federal transit pass tax break. So to paraphrase a role played by Anthony Hopkins in Howard’s End, “students aged 27+ are students aged 27+, one feels sorry for them, and there it is.”

  10. Alexia’s comments above were largely overlooked but constitute a valid reson to condemn especially the timing of this move. The economic recovery requires more skilled workers, so why would the city create a disincentive now for mature students going back to college, for example? Why target only these people to raise the transit society’s income?

    The stupid thing about these sorts of move is that public agencies in financial crisis turn around to bill other people who are also in financial crisis. This is not a plan, this is shortsighted.

  11. This issue about the importance of studies is a long-term issue and we have more pressing short-term problems that require solutions that pay off quickly. Shovel-ready projects that help people and create spinoffs right away are really best, and we need to save resources to prepare for a potentially worse flu pandemic. It is not short-sighted to seek to resolve pressing short-term problems during an economic crisis. It’s a necessity.

    Most issues regarding job/study incentivization are longer-term issues which our mounting deficits can’t afford.

    Look. When the old economy has recovered enough and we get through our health care problems, we will have extra revenue to incentivize studies and green industries like mad. We can’t afford to right now, because most of these incentives will take too long to pay off and there are other more pressing priorities.

    You know what else we have to incentivize? A lower standard of living, especially for the rich. Like smaller homes and cars. Do you know how much energy big homes use, just to heat and cool? Did you know that hybrid SUVs still get rather low gas mileage?

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