The Toronto UPass scheme

Mayor Miller and company are taking students to the cleaners


The Toronto Transit Commission is trying to sell students on a $720 a year mandatory U-Pass. The pass will be mandatory for all 150,000 part and full-time university students in Toronto if the TTC gets it’s way. It will be charged at a rate of $60 a month during all terms which a student is registered, including summer.

According to the TTC, 60 per cent of students currently use the TTC. Based on this figure, the UPass should have a monthly expense of about 60 per cent of the current student monthly pass cost to be revenue neutral. The proposed TTC pass is set to 68 per cent of the current cost. This is a nice 8 per cent bonus in revenue for the TTC. Even if they increase surface route service at the “suburban campuses” they are still going to make a killing.

Both Ryerson and UToronto are downtown and serviced primarily by subway or streetcar — there will be no increase in service to either service because of the UPass. (Streetcar service improvements are planned to serve the population of Toronto — not student riders.) There are nearly 90,000 students who will be paying for a UPass without a real increase in service.

If the TTC claims this is revenue neutral, then why are they so interested in having this pass? There has to be a benefit for them.

Both downtown campuses are walking distance for many students, these students will fork out money to subsidize passes for students living away from campus who pay lower rent or live at home. What a great deal!

Let’s be clear here: the TTC is not doing students any favours. This pass will not save students any money — it’s merely shifting the burden of commuter students’ transportation costs onto students who live within walking distance of campus. The idea that this helps the environment is bunk, what truly helps the environment is people living within walking distance of campus; this UPass will discourage that.

In short, this UPass is a rip-off. If the TTC and Mayor Miller were serious about saving students money and helping the environment, they would actually be offering students savings — not creating a system that will result in more revenue for the City and no overall savings for students.

When Toronto comes a little bit closer to the national average of $120 – $140 for a eight month UPass (Toronto’s eight month cost is $480, more than three times the national average), then they can talk about giving students a deal. Until then it’s just an elaborate scheme to fill the coffers of the TTC at the expense of students.

Additional (after lots of feedback, it’s clear this is a popular topic.)

Students in Toronto will be signing themselves to a long term contract that may prove to be damaging in the long term. There is a “turf war” occurring in Toronto between the TTC and the Greater Toronto Area transit authorities. GO Transit and other municipal transit services in the GTA (with the exception of Hamilton) have begun to integrate their services. One needs only look at Durham Region to see the future of transit in the Toronto area. Students at Durham’s post-secondary institutions pay $100 for a eight month UPass valid on both GO Transit and Durham Region transit. This means they can take the 407 Express, the GO Trains, or local buses all for $100. With a few trips to Toronto on the GO train from Oshawa station, they save enough money to pay for the pass.

We are only about five years away from a fully-integrated transit system outside of Toronto proper. Signing this expense deal today makes it very difficult for students to get a good deal when the regional transit pass is finally created.

The best comparison to Toronto in terms of a UPass is Vancouver. Vancouver already has a integrated transit authority. Translink runs everything, including building of roads.

The Translink UPass only costs SFU students $26.09 a month. UBC students pay $22 a month. In exchange, they get unlimited access to all Translink bus, Skytrain, and Seabus service. The savings for students is between 66 to 69 per cent compared to a monthly one zone pass. The Vancouver UPass enjoys corporate sponsorship that assists with the cost of the program and Translink realizes that the program is not revenue neutral — they have to increase service to match the demand.

Now, there have been service concerns expressed by students at both UBC and SFU — both schools are getting larger buses and increased service. Demand for transit has increased by 39 per cent at SFU and 53 per cent at UBC since the program came into effect in 2003. The supply of buses is getting better slowly, but it is still not adequate to meet demand.

Students in Toronto would be wise to hold out for a better offer from the City of Toronto and even wiser to wait until after the next provincial election — it appears very likely that the TTC’s rail services will be transferred to the province soon after 2011. As more and more people get used to integrated transit outside of Toronto, Queen’s Park will find itself facing demands from regional commuters to take over the subways and integrate them into a seamless transit grid.

It is then that Toronto area students will benefit from a discounted transit pass — not just the few that live in the suburbs within the city of Toronto. The pass will likely be an overall discount to students at that time as well, much like students in Vancouver are receiving an overall savings.

At the least, rejecting the city’s proposal now will force Mayor Miller to come back with a better offer. Don’t kid yourself: this is about more revenue and power for the TTC. Miller and company need this UPass more than students. Its up to students to leverage their power against City Hall.

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The Toronto UPass scheme

  1. Joey,
    Your opening paragraph is misleading. the U-Pass is $240/session, and students would only be charged for the U-Pass if they are enrolled in classes that session. A student would only pay $720/year if they took classes the whole year.

    Granted, for most students that doesn’t actually make much of a difference in their decision, but still – get it right.

  2. Jenna,

    I got it right. I clearly stated that it is $720 a year or $60 a month in the first paragraph.

    As such, it is not misleading – you just prefer to have the smaller instalment amount listed. Much like an infomercial sells you something in “three easy payments of $99” and “if you sign up now, you will save so much money cause the price will go up after the first twenty customers”, selling the UPass in this fashion makes it an easier sell.

    I got it right. I have a deal for you, if you reply to this comment in the next five minutes, it will be free!

  3. Your math is correct Joe but you were misleading. When you say students will be charged $720 per year, most students will be reading that as “per academic year” rather than the 12 months in a “normal person year.”

    How much is a regular monthly TTC pass? How much are the passes at UofT and Ryerson now?

    I would like these numbers so that I can have something to compare this increase too.

    Also, there was no need to be so confrontational in your reply to Jenna.

  4. Blast! The lack of a timestamp means I’ll never be able to cash in! :-P

    The point I’m trying to make is that fees wouldn’t be charged on a “monthly” or “yearly” basis, but per academic session. If you’re not here in a given semester you wouldn’t get charged, and knowing that does make a difference to some students. I work at the front desk of the student union office at Scarborough and have had to answer a *ton* of questions about the damn thing. I talked to a lot of co-op students who were worried about having to pay for it when they were on work term – which they wouldn’t. The “$720 a year including summers” line makes it sound like they would – maybe you just like to have the larger amount listed to dissuade people. I’m definitely not trying to make it sound like a better deal in order to convince people to vote yes – heck, I just voted “no” a few hours ago.

  5. Danny,

    From The Toronto Star: “The pass would cost each student roughly $60 a month, compared with the $87.75 it currently costs to buy a student Metropass.”

    A regular Metropass for an adult varies from $100 on a twelve month plan to $109 on a cash purchase per month.

  6. The unofficial results are out at UTSC.

    Full-Time Student U-Pass Referendum Results:
    NO = 1674
    YES = 622
    Abstain = 17
    Spoiled = 53

    Part-Time Student U-Pass Referendum Results:
    NO = 53
    YES = 16
    Abstain = 2
    Spoiled = 2

    Also, I’d like to comment on what Jenna’s said. It is slightly misleading when Joey states $720 a year but it is $720 for a full year and in his defense he does state the monthly cost.

    In any case, Joey’s been much more transparent with his numbers and facts than what I can say about those that were in charge of the YES-side campaign. The lead representive of the YES-side committee has stated that they felt it was “unnecessary” to inform or stress that the U-Pass was mandatory for all students AND had no opt-out.
    Also, being a student at UTSC, when you did get to see the YES-side posters they lacked ALOT of essential information including the no opt-out. The posters literally just had a huge “VOTE YES” and “$60”. I don’t even recall their posters stating that it was $60 PER MONTH.


  7. I’m glad to see students reject this offer from Miller & Co.

    Now, City Hall will have to come back with a better offer or just up its attempt to sign students onto the old TTC model.

    As public transportation becomes more popular and the provincial government invests in more rapid transit (and hopefully more rail service), the TTC will be forced to integrate into the regional transportation system.

    Once we see the GTA transit pass up on running in the fall of 2009, then it is time for student unions to work, independently of the CFS, CSA, or OUSA for a student opt-in transit discount system.
    The model for this would be something along the lines of the Durham UPass already in effect with sticker add-ons for those who travel over county lines. Right now, I can add Hamilton Transit to my GO Pass for $20/mth. I believe Burlington is $20 as well. I don’t know if Sauga has it yet, but Durham as a similar system. I could see a Hamilton student pass being good for travel to Square One on the 407 or Oakville on the Lakeshore, with Hamilton and Burlington transit included. Maybe I’m too optimistic.

    Long term, I see the new RT lines being intergrated into GO Transit. Since all campuses will be served by some form of RT, the passes could be valid for all RT lines with stickers for surface buses.

    Either way, Mayor Miller just suffered a major setback in his quest control a large portion of the travelling pie.

  8. “The lead representative of the YES-side committee has stated that they felt it was “unnecessary” to inform or stress that the U-Pass was mandatory for all students AND had no opt-out.”

    Ray, what are you talking about. I never once denied that there was a no opt-out. Show me a quote in which I denied this. Obviously, I see it as a disadvantage, do you normally try to show the negatives when your trying to promote something?

    “when you did get to see the YES-side posters they lacked ALOT of essential information including the no opt-out.”

    Since I was the lead representative on the ‘Yes’ side & funding decisions were up to me, I will decide what I want to put on the ‘Yes’ side posters. However, the posters did have the Referendum date on them, just the same as yours. Moreover, the information that we wanted to get out was clearly posted on our flyer’s, unlike the ones you illegally put on peoples car windshields. Also, considering that all the ‘No’ poster had was information about the no opt-out & non-transferable, I wouldn’t be saying anything if I were you.

  9. You know, I was always kind of neutral on the value of this offer, but I can’t agree that City Hall is going to view this as some kind of immediate signal to come back with a better offer or otherwise work harder to sell students on the TTC. The most essential fact is that transit in Toronto is pathetically under-funded, on a per capita basis, for the number of riders it serves. The TTC loses more money as ridership increases, not the other way around. I know that seems counter-intuitive, and students justifiably see the U-Pass proposal as an attempted cash grab, but the problem isn’t within the TTC or even (to a degree) within the City of Toronto. When you say, Joey, that “as […] the provincial government invests more in rapid transit” I’m forced to wonder what signals you’re following. Mostly, what I hear from provincial and federal governments is that they don’t view Toronto transit as their issue.

    I would love to see a cheaper U-Pass model. I’d love to see a better VIP plan. Hell, I’d love to see university students simply count as “students” according to the TTC. But I’m 100% convinced the U-Pass plan, as presented, wasn’t a cash grab. It also wasn’t much of a concession either. It was a cost redistribution model, whereby the students who don’t use transit would end up footing some of the bill for the students who do. And maybe, over time, this would contribute to a change in culture and behaviour. The goal is admirable. The method questionable, I suppose. The price tag is a consequence of brutal underfunding. Neither the TTC nor the City of Toronto have the wherewithal in their budgets to actually subsidize the U-Pass to a degree that it becomes palatable. Until other levels of government become involved, this is going to be a non-starter.

  10. Hey Jeff,

    The MoveOntario 2020 plan is getting funds from the provincial government. The York Subway is underway. (A long with the wasteful “Subway to nowhere” component.) There will be new Light-Rail lines built in Toronto. In terms of the overall GTA, a lot of campuses will be better served. Many will have, at least, Bus-Rapid Transit. UTSC seems to be forgotten in all of this – why the government did not think about connecting the Scarbourough RT to Rouge Hill GO with a RT link serving the UTSC campus in between is beyond me. (Probably the fact that the people in charge of deciding public transit priorities rarely use public transit themselves)

    In terms of the TTC funding issue, you get no dispute from me – public transit is underfunded in Can

  11. Oh believe me, Joey, I don’t deny that the Province is (occasionally) willing to spend money on TTC infrastructure – such as building a subway line for example. But that doesn’t go to the cost of ridership. It’s like building a great big home for a pensioner living on a limited income. Seems like a nice thing to do, until you realize the pensioner has got to pay for the upkeep and property taxes and there’s no continuing support to do that. I can only repeat, that the TTC loses money as ridership increases. On a per-ride basis, the cost to ride the TTC is shouldered to an unbelievable degree (as compared to other transit services) by the cost of a ticket or a monthly pass.

    This won’t change simply because the province invests in infrastructure. It’s a problem that’s shot through bureaucratic thinking. I see the same thing in post-secondary spending all the time. The government may be willing to kick-in on a one-time basis to fund some big shiny project that’s going to look good in the news (new subway line, new building, new program, what have you) but there’s no money for day-to-day operating expenses. Hence, there’s never any stability. And public authorities are left to budget in the same way a teenager with no allowance is going to budget, when cash comes in irregular intervals whenever mom or dad happens to hand over a couple of bills. Obviously that’s no way to learn or practice any kind of fiscal responsibility.

    There’s even a technical term for this kind of funding. It’s called OTO, or one-time-only. It’s the bane of responsible institutional planning, and as much as it’s always nice when there’s a new bit of cash, the way it’s doled out is idiotic and short-sighted.

  12. Hey Jeff,

    Got cut off for some reason last time.

    Yes, OTO funding is an issue. Yes, the TTC costs are shouldered heavily by riders.

    I personally like to see the TTC invest in the technologies which decrease costs. It is possible to have automated subways.

    They could go to a Proof-of-Payment system similar to OC Transpo in Ottawa.

    You are correct that higher levels of government need to help out more. I would love to see the province take over the rail operations of the TTC while leaving the TTC with its current funding grants to improve surface connections to the rail lines.

    The rail operations are the future of Toronto’s economy and critical to the national interest because of that. This is why they need to be managed and funded by a higher level of government.

  13. To Tiffany G., Lead Representative of the YES-side,

    Tiffany, your conduct in this campaign has been just repulsive. You’re still spreading and passing it off as truth what could at best be called malicious assumptions about me and those that opposed the U-Pass. I’ve asked you time after time to provide proof and everytime you have failed to do so. You have even threatened us that you would check the school surveillance videos. But when we later asked you about the results you said it would be a waste of your time to check and prove your assumptions.

    I cannot stand having someone like you to bully me in public behind my back in such a way. Your endless accusation that the NO-side campaign were handing out flyers on cars WITHOUT PROOF or EVIDENCE must cease. By your own admission, we all know that TTC has personally provided you with all the campaigning materials (buttons, posters, 2 giant banners). Even TTC chair Giambrone has been witnessed by members of the Election Committee and students of UTSC to be campaigning for the U-Pass at the Scarborough Town Centre TTC bus stop. Whereas with the flyers on the windshield, there were no witnesses to testify that any members of the official No-campaign including myself were distributing them.

    “Obviously, I see it as a disadvantage, do you normally try to show the negatives when your trying to promote something?”

    Tiffany, by your own words you admitted to hiding the negative aspect of the U-Pass in your attempted promotion of it. This is actually lying, in fact is is called lies by witholding the truth, or lies of omission.

    Please feel free to verify any of this with Dawn Cattapan or the Elections Committee (E-mail: scsuelections@gmail.com).


    Thanks for a thoughtful article with some well-supported statements.

  14. Tiffany,

    I said:
    “The lead representative of the YES-side committee has stated that they felt it was “unnecessary” to inform or stress that the U-Pass was mandatory for all students AND had no opt-out.”

    Tiffany replied:
    “Ray, what are you talking about. I never once denied that there was a no opt-out. Show me a quote in which I denied this. Obviously, I see it as a disadvantage, do you normally try to show the negatives when your trying to promote something?”

    Please show me in my own quote please when did I state you denied there was no opt-out. What I did state, however, was that you have been quoted as saying it was “unnecessary” to inform or stress that the U-Pass was mandatory for all students AND had no opt-out.

    And it’s a little odd and a little late now for you to admit that the no opt-out is a disadvantage when throughout this campaign you’ve been stressing that it didn’t matter. Here’s the quote I was originally referring to:

    Tiffany Gerris wrote
    at 10:54pm on March 14th, 2008
    “But as my colleagues and I have stated repeatedly, the no opt-out does not matter because ALL students at UTSC can choose to benefit from the U-Pass.

    The End.”

    Just because something is disadvantageous to selling your product it does not mean it’s ethical or even legal in some cases to not mention it. For instance if you were trying to promote a new drug your company developed for treating cancer but one of the common side effects is that it could cause complete blindness then you would be for sure expected to inform people of the disadvantageous no matter how beneficial you felt the drug was for others. It’s the same thing with you. I just can’t believe anyone would ever be stupid enough to actually admit to witholding important information to sell their product like you just did…

    “Since I was the lead representative on the ‘Yes’ side & funding decisions were up to me, I will decide what I want to put on the ‘Yes’ side posters.” – Tiffany

    Are you sure the TTC didn’t have a hand in that too? Afterall, the TTC did help the YES-side design and manufacture the buttons, the posters, and the 2 giant banners. Seems more like your job was just to deliver the TTC’s advertisement bills to our school. But anyways, my point was that the VOTE YES for U-Pass posters had an incredible lack of information (literally “Vote Yes” and “$60”) but if you want to take credit for that then by all means.

    “Moreover, the information that we wanted to get out was clearly posted on our flyer’s, unlike the ones you illegally put on peoples car windshields.” – Tiffany

    I’m getting really sick of this, Tiffany. Either you provide evidence of the official NO-campaign people posting those car flyers or you can shut up with your malicious slander. Those car flyers don’t even bear any resemblance to the official posters that Vikky designed herself for the NO-campaign. However, the illegal YES-side handbills that were confiscated were exact copies of the official YES-campaign handbills. Also, TTC chair Giambrone was caught soliciting for the U-Pass by the Elections Committee at Scarborough Town Centre.

    “Also, considering that all the ‘No’ poster had was information about the no opt-out & non-transferable, I wouldn’t be saying anything if I were you.” – Tiffany

    Do you really want to compare which side had information to hide? I mean, seriously.. after your own admission in this very same post that you avoided mentioning major disadvantages such as the lack of an opt-out in order to promote the U-Pass. Also, others and I are still waiting for you to answer our questions in your U-Pass Facebook event and group. Even after you’ve banned and censored me I’d still appreciate some answers. And please.. please.. pleeease don’t avoid the questions by saying you’ve answered them alraedy when everyone can clearly see you haven’t.


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