The City of Ottawa is one step closer to removing an age limit for student bus passes, a move that student groups have criticized since the policy started in July.
The Ottawa transit committee voted unanimously to recommend city council reverse a policy that prevents students 28 or older from purchasing a student bus pass. Council will revisit the issue on Sept. 9, but a reversal will need the support of 75 per cent of council as it has already been debated once this year.
“It’s going to take some convincing,” says Nick Bergamini, vice president student issues with the Carleton University Students’ Association. “But we’re going to be lobbying really hard in the next few days.
“It’s our top priority.”
The age limit means that students 28 and over will have to pay the $84.75 adult price for monthly bus passes, instead of the $65.25 student price. In an eight-month school year, this would mean an additional cost of $156 per student. Students who normally purchase semester passes will pay an additional $194 over two semesters, while those who purchase a yearly pass will pay an extra $268.60 per year.
The age cap affects thousands of students across the city, including Will Samuel, a 32-year-old anthropology student at Carleton University. He says he is going to have to make sacrifices to pay for his bus pass this year.
“Every year I rely heavily on every penny pinched,” says Samuel, who is in the fourth year of his honours degree. “I can either not afford books, a new winter coat I desperately need or glasses and contacts to replace my four year old glasses that are damaged.”
Many local student groups made presentations to council, including both undergraduate and graduate student associations at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, the Algonquin College Students’ Association and several other smaller universities and colleges.
Over 50 people showed up to the transit committee meeting to support a reversal of the age cap policy, says Bergamini. He says representatives from CUSA will be collecting petitions and meeting with city councillors throughout the week to try and win support, while similar initiatives are underway at other schools.
The age limit on student passes would save OC Transpo, Ottawa’s transit provider, $220,000 per year, according to internal estimates. But students have argued that they are already overburdened with tuition payments and living expenses, and that an age limit is an unfair cash grab.
OC Transpo has been struggling to balance the budget since a 51-day transit strike last winter cost it millions of dollars in revenues. A recent OC Transpo report also revealed that it spent nearly $2 million over budget paying workers overtime to repair and recertify buses after the strike.