U-Pass gets started in Ottawa - Macleans.ca

U-Pass gets started in Ottawa

Students dinged $290 for mandatory program


University students in Ottawa will see their tuition rise by nearly $300 in order to fund a compulsory U-Pass program that begins Wednesday. Both the University of Ottawa and Carleton have been busy handing out bus passes to eligible students, the cost of which is affixed to tuition.

After years of lobbying by the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) and two failed votes at City Council, the U-Pass was approved last February after Carleton was recruited to the plan. Referendums, required for the imposition of new fees, were then handily passed at both universities. Previously, a student bus pass would set students back at least $500 for an academic year. The U-Pass costs $290. “Its about making transit more affordable for students, promoting a ridership culture and making a real dent in some sustainability issues,” Dina Skvirsky, vice-president student issues for the Carleton University Students’ Association says.

So far the University of Ottawa has distributed more than 8,000 passes and Carleton more than 7,000. “From an administrative perspective, its been a success,” says Ryan Flannagan, Carleton’s director of student affairs. Although Carleton University did not explicitly endorse the plan, it will be administering it on behalf of the students’ association.

Alex Cullen, chair of City Council’s transit committee, is thrilled that the plan is underway because it will help the city reach its goal of having 30 per cent of all trips in Ottawa being taken through OC Transpo. “What attracted us to it, is that we’d be able to capture a large number of students who are taking OC Transpo,” he said. However,  there are no immediate plans to make improvements to transit. “Both universities are already on high frequency transit lines,” Cullen said.

Despite providing reduced transit passes for students, not everyone is happy with the new fee. Charlie Taylor, who studies journalism at Carleton, is running for mayor and opposition to the U-Pass forms a central plank in his platform. “By forcing people to buy the product, you no longer have the motivation to provide a good product at a reasonable price,” he said. “They’ve got a captive consumer base now. They can basically do whatever they want.”

Other than exemptions for those with disabilities who already have bus passes provided for them, students from Quebec, and those who will be away studying afield, the U-Pass fee will be universally applied to all full-time students at both universities.

For students who currently cycle or walk to school, Skvirsky says that they can still make use of the U-Pass on evenings and weekends. “Most students do take transit and we do got a mandate from our members,” she said.

As for students who live outside of OC Transpo’s jurisdiction, Ted Horton, vice-president university affairs for the SFUO, says they actually have the most to gain from the plan, through Transpo’s Park n’ Ride program. The program permits drivers to park their cars at transit stations for free, and then ride the bus. A parking pass at the University of Ottawa costs $700 between September and April. “All feedback, both positive and negative, however, has been overshadowed by the vast number of students who have contentedly filed through the University Centre to pick up their U-Pass without complaint,” he says.

Cullen says the U-Pass will help to recoup costs from those who don’t pay taxes in Ottawa but nonetheless make use of city services. “Those folks ought to be using Transpo . . . they drive on our roads which they don’t pay for,” he said.

The pilot program will be reevaluated by city council next year to determine if it succeeded in increasing ridership without becoming too costly. U-Pass programs have been implemented at several universities across Canada, including at Brock University and the University of Alberta. The British Columbia government announced a plan in June to bring a U-Pass to all students attending a public university.

photo by Dick Penn


U-Pass gets started in Ottawa

  1. The u-pass is absolutely ridiculous. First of all students were not told that the u-pass was going to be part of the referendum. Secondly, the wording in the referedum was unclear and many students were mislead into supporting a pass that they believed would be included in what they currenty pay for their tuition, not at an extra cost of 290$. I live litterally across the street from the school and I now have to pay an extra 290$ that I cannot afford. I take the bus MAYBE once a month, which costs me about 4 dollars, that`s 12 dollars a year.

  2. What, so you need some kind of “clarity act” for bus pass referenda now? I’d suggest, Kayla, that you review your math if taking the bus once a month at $4 costs you $12 per year. If the U-Pass is truly so unpopular, then I suggest you advocate for its repeal via referendum. It is hardly the only kind of fee applied to or included in tuition that not all students benefit equally from, so the general principle you are attempting to assert is not valid.

    As for this:
    ‘Despite providing reduced transit passes for students, not everyone is happy with the new fee. Charlie Taylor, who studies journalism at Carleton, is running for mayor and opposition to the U-Pass forms a central plank in his platform. “By forcing people to buy the product, you no longer have the motivation to provide a good product at a reasonable price,” he said. “They’ve got a captive consumer base now. They can basically do whatever they want.” ‘

    I cannot begin to express how ridiculous this argument is. Who will be lacking in motivation? The bus drivers for lacking all their… tips from students? Or something? Is OC-Transpo going to now reduce service to UofO and Carleton? No? What does “whatever they want”?

    And, yes, I do have a school-mandated bus pass, which I probably don’t use enough to make up for the cost. Other students do, of course, and I haven’t heard any move to repeal it here.

  3. How is Taylor’s point ridiculous? Alex Cullen comes right out and says in this article that despite forcing people who don’t live on bus routes to buy bus passes, the city has no intention of improving their transit service?

    Why should anybody who isn’t served by OC Transpo be forced to buy their product?

    Why, for that matter, should any student be forced to buy a bus pass? Why can’t students who ride the bus take responsibility for paying the full price of their bus passes just like people who bike to school have to pay the full price of their bicycles?

  4. The problem with the U-Pass is fairly obvious. You’re taking money from some students to subsidize others, but you aren’t doing it in a fair or consistent manner. That is, you’re just as likely to be taking money from a poor student living in residence or otherwise close to campus that walks/bikes everywhere, and giving it to a wealthy person living with their parents in Rockcliffe and takes the bus, as you are to be doing the opposite. Students who live close to campus (or have no service in their neighbourhoods) are disproportionately harmed, whereas students along major arteries receive benefits. Now, yes, a majority of students may well be likely to have a net gain from the pass; that’s why the referendum went through. Then again, if you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul, it’s much easier to get Paul to agree to the idea.

  5. I live outside of OC Transpo’s service area and the park and rides on my way to Carleton fill up every day by 8 am. I would have to pay for a “gold permit” to have reserved parking at the OC Transpo lot, as well as this damn U-PASS and that comes to more than 300% of what I would pay to just park at Carleton… not to mention that I still have to make my car payments, buy insurance and purchase gas. I’m not made of money… I don’t have my degree yet remember so guess what… I already work full time hours while going to school and the minimum wage cheques don’t have a lot of extra breathing room for me to be subsidizing transit for everybody else. And to top it off, the students’ associations just skirt over our concerns and brush us aside. The best part is that if I lived over on the Quebec side, getting an exemption would be no freaking problem. Screwez-vous.

  6. I am a mother of three, that lives an hour and a half from campus. The reason for this is because I cannot afford to live any closer to the city, and the country areas around it don’t have enough daycare to provide spots for my three children. I am now being forced to pay almost $300 for a upass to go to university, a upass that I will never use, because the bus doesn’t even run anywhere close to where I live. So I was told to drive an hour and 15 mins to a park and ride, and ride a bus to campus. Upon asking other students, it could take upwards of an hour on the bus to get to campus. So I would not only lengthen my already long commute by 45 minutes, but I would be stuck waiting for a bus, and a long bus ride to my car to get to my children in the case of an emergency…And any parent with children would tell you that is not an acceptable position to be in.

    So I ask you why is it fair for my who cannot afford to live in the city, pay for a bus pass for people who can?? Why should I pay for a bus pass for a bus that doesn’t run to where I live?? Why should I not have the choice, and why are people who I have to pay fees for making these bad financial choices for me, and I have to live with that??

  7. “Cullen says the U-Pass will help to recoup costs from those who don’t pay taxes in Ottawa but nonetheless make use of city services. “Those folks ought to be using Transpo . . . they drive on our roads which they don’t pay for,” he said.”
    Which city services am I making use of? I am a mature student who drives to Carleton from a rural area that is 115 km from campus. I spend about 3 minutes a drive on city roads, the rest are provincial highways. From time to time I have been known to drop a few dollars at city restaurants and businesses while I’m in the city. Actually, I have always done most of my Christmas shopping in Ottawa. I’m being charged $290 a year for the privilege of being in Ottawa? Are people from away not welcome in Ottawa? I guess I’ll make a point of shopping in Kingston from now on.

  8. Alex Cullen is a moron. I live within the city’s limits and pay taxes to the City of Ottawa and yet I still don’t have bus service. Not only is the above statement a huge slap in the face to people like me but he’s alienating visitors to our city.

  9. I take issue with the idea that I do not pay city taxes. I may not pay them directly but I can safely say that my landlord is passing that cost on to me in my rent.

  10. I think complaining on this article about how the U-Pass screws them out of $290 is great. It will be read by hundreds, if not, a thousand people with very little influence and provides for a great venting mechanism. Mmm hmmm I loves me some complainers.

  11. Wow, and your contribution was just so worthwhile.

    What makes you think these folks aren’t also doing something constructive about the matter?

  12. Cynicism.

  13. I think the U-pass is ridiculous and unfair – I don’t live close to the transitway or near a bus route that will get me between home-work-school-second job-home in time to get everything done in a day most days so I have to take my car… and if I want to park at Baseline station the mornings I am able to do so because my schedule allows, I have to pay an extra $21/month, even though it is advertised on the university website “unlimited access to services”… frustrating and annoying… we should not be forced to buy a bus pass… the city takes money wherever they can…



  16. Well for all you gung ho proponents that think the U-PASS is just awesome, than I suppose you wouldn’t mind another mandatory fee tacked onto your tuition…how about all full time students contribute to a parking pass program for students that drive…IT’S ONLY FAIR.

  17. Again, how many of you who are so opposed to the U-Pass voted against it in the referendum? This wasn’t simply imposed from above. My school’s bus pass preceded my starting there, so I never go to vote on it one way or the other. I’m currently during a rotation in another city (and province!) so it’s of no use to me at the moment. Yet I’m not complaining or coming up with ridiculous ideas like a class-action suit. Precisely what kind of tortious injury has been effected?

  18. I’ll say here what I said to everyone at my university who complained about their U-Pass.

    If you don’t like it, get enough signatures to run another referendum! Every students’ union has a democratic framework that includes provisions that force referendums to be held if enough students want one. If ‘the masses’ are opposed to a U-Pass….or all the drivers want a Universal Parking Pass, get a petition, take it to the students in a vote, and run your campaign to convince the apathetic.

  19. Rob and Josh,
    Part of an equitable democracy as that we don’t subject minorities to the tyranny of the majority. That’s why we don’t hold referenda on whether left-handed people should be allowed to buy hockey tickets or whether 20-year-olds with male pattern baldness should be allowed at college dances.

    How do you propose that a minority of students win a referendum that is majority rule?

    How would you like it if I proposed a referendum to decide whether or not the two of you should have to each pay $1000 more dollars on your personal tuition to help buy U-Passes for poor students?

    I could do that, and it would undoubtedly win by a landslide.

    Is that fair?

    U-pass opponents are working to educate their peers in the hope that people MIGHT take vote against the U-pass next time.

    However, no minority should have to defend its basic rights against majority rule.

  20. In typical students union referenda at most schools, 5-20% vote. This is less than the 30-something percent at the municipal level, 40-50 percent at the provincial level, and the 50-60 percent at the federal level. Yet all the other levels of government have the power to levy taxes and make spending decisions, and they do so with great public scrutiny.

    Student unions, for whatever reason, remain very low on the radar screen for most students. Yet there are annual elections, and usually annual referendums. A significant minority, well-organized and persuasive, should always be able to win a referendum that matters to them simply because the voter turnout is incredibly pathetic.

    Provincial policy in Ontario and most other provinces gives student unions the authority to levy charges for activities connected to the enhancement of the pursuit of education (I’m generalizing). I agree that this power is completely necessary and useful in 95% of cases.

    I’m out of school now (returning shortly??) and able to let my biases show. If 25% of students have no need for a U-Pass, they should be able to win a referendum in a landslide because of the apathetic nature of other students. Is that a great thing for democracy? Of course not….but it’s the reality of student politics.

    Likewise, a candidate could become elected with far less of a margin at most schools, and implement their agenda.

    Most Ontario universities have a U-Pass for their students, and while opposition exists, it is extremely limited. I don’t need to spout all the benefits, but I believe in them. At my school (with a U-Pass), I lived in residence for 3 years, taking transit on average twice per week, and it didn’t bother me that I was subsidizing other students.

    I understand why and where the anger comes from, but I truly see this as a benefit for all. Especially when the students’ unions (who are now a major contributor to their municipal transit service – at my school, over 20% of the municipal transit budget came from the U-Pass) flex their control and demand routes and schedule changes which benefit their students.

    There are many services at a university that I pay for indirectly and don’t use. Most opposition to the U-Pass comes because it is directly visible as an external charge, and because it is “new”. If you were to look around at other universities or simply wait 4 years for the current generation of Ottawa/Carleton students to graduate, you will find near-unanimous support for U-Pass and Health Plan-type initiatives.

  21. Rob,
    You paid for a U-pass you didn’t need for three years, and you don’t have a problem with that?

    Are you sure YOU paid for it? Or was it your parents? Or do your parents give you a handsom allowance that makes $300 feel like no big deal? I’m just asking because I don’t know anybody who is responsible for their own budget who is ok with flushing $300 down the toilet every year on an item that is useless to them. You must have a great deal going, whatever it is.0

    Regardless, there is absolutely no justification for asking a minority of students to rally enough support to win a referendum on an issue that is cheating them to begin with.

    How would you like it if I said “We’re passing a referendum to raise Rob’s tuition by $5000 to pay for a new Tim Horton’s in the Student Centre. Sure he doesn’t like it, but the rest of us love the idea! If he’s so opposed, it’s up to him to rally support to win a referendum to overturn the plan”?

    It doesn’t matter that only 5% or so of students vote in elections. Stastically, those 5% are going to reflect the student biases as a whole. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t have the U-Pass in the first place.

    Finally, while you’re right that student unions can levy students for services related to education, I suspect that the U-Pass will not pass muster if the matter ends up in court. Transit has absolutely no connection to education–especially not for students who aren’t even served by it.

  22. Mature Student, if that is indeed your online name, your comments certainly don’t reflect a level of maturity when you make assumptions about my financial background.

    I am quite positive that I paid for my U-Pass. In fact, I’m quite positive that I paid for my entire tuition, ancillary fees, rent and living expenses for my entire university career all by myself. I used all my part-time job savings since I was 12-years old, worked part-time while in school each year, full-time each summer, and after my 3rd year had to leave my “desired” summer job for a better-paying factory summer job in order to make enough money, but I finished university debt-free, paying for everything 100% by myself, disqualified from the public loan system because my parents made too much money.

    And no, I did not have a problem paying for a U-pass that I did not use much, because I do not see the U-pass as fundamentally different from the other fees that student unions tend to levy on students – memberships in lobby organizations, various justice and equity centres, campus newspapers and radio stations, health and dental plans, walk-safe and emergency response teams, or mandatory orientation fees (each at various schools). Granted, my U-Pass did cost a bit less than $300/year, and of course I wish the price could be cheaper.

    However, I mentioned in my last comment the various services I rarely used, and I’ll expand on that. I never needed to use services for students with disabilities. I never needed to use career services. I never needed to use academic discipline services. I never used learning skills services. And as mentioned before, the Financial Aid department was useless to me because I didn’t qualify. I never needed to use some of the student-union run services such as the walk-safe programs or the emergency response program. And I know 100% that my residence fees turned a profit for the university and were directed to other areas.

    Does this disappoint me? Nope, not one bit, because I see these services as essential for a university. And I believe the ability for a student to get to and from their campus (in some universities, multiple campuses) from anywhere in their city, at virtually any time of day, is necessary.

    A program being instituted initially hurts some people differently. I’ll make up numbers for argument’s sake – perhaps someone chose to live 100m from campus and walk, but rent costs them $100/month more than elsewhere in the city. Because that person is locked into a lease for this school year, they are taking a larger financial hit this year. However, following the successful referendum last year, that financially conscious student had the opportunity to give 2 month’s notice and move into a cheaper suburb. Within 2 years (enough time for any student to finish their current lease term), a U-Pass makes the OVERALL cost of living away from home cheaper, as a student can now use their U-Pass to afford living further away from campus, whereas they would have previously had to purchase an unsubsidized monthly pass.

    There are 3 groups of students who this hurts after the above-mentioned situation is rectified with one more year of time:
    1. Students who live with their parents, previously walked or received a free ride to school, and had no intention of house-hunting in Ottawa for a different apartment. Unfortunately, this group has no recourse, however they now have a bus pass to use on any trip they wish to take in the Ottawa area, where they happen to live year-round.
    2. Students who live in an area serviced by OC Transpo but who previously drove. These students now have the option to take the bus and save on gas, or possibly give up their car and save on insurance and maintenance as well. There will ALWAYS be a few outliers who require a car for their employment and other responsibilities. Without trivializing those requirements, jobs are more interchangeable than universities. If a situation doesn’t work for one person, alternatives can be found. Plus, said person also now has a bus pass to use for short trips for other purposes, and simple supply-and-demand would likely lead to slightly-lower-or-frozen parking fees around the university.
    3. People who live outside the OC Transpo catchment area and drive. These people need and deserve an exemption from the bus pass in my opinion, and a follow-up referendum should be held which can provide an exemption for these people (if they can, using various standards of proof, show that they live outside an OC Transpo area AND purchase a parking pass for their car each year).

    The reason my argument has traction and yours doesn’t, is that this affects everybody and doesn’t single out any particular group of students. Again, I’ll liken this to other forms of government and taxes. The government of Canada cannot pass a bill to tax “John Smith”, but they can tax segments of the population. Or the whole population. And if voters don’t like it, they reverse the decision. This isn’t tryanny of the majority, because nobody’s rights are being infringed. The fees are published (or should be) before you enroll or register for classes, and it is your choice to enroll in an Ottawa-based university.

    Your argument that statistically 5% of the population will always reflect student biases is only partially accurate. At my school, we have a radio station fee levied that barely 5% of students even know about, much less support. Listenership isn’t tracked, and nobody knows anyone who has ever listened to it. But we still pay for it. How did that pass? Because interested students “got out the vote” and pushed something past the apathetic masses. I’ll say again, if all the car-drivers got together (which is a fairly large minority I would assume, not just a small minority) they should be easily able to win a referendum question.

    And the Ontario MTCU policy does not reference education, I said I was generalizing. It references ancillary fees. Campus walksafe is not connected to education either, yet few people complain about that fee. Walksafe and U-Pass are both ancillary fees, same with the oft-compared Health and Dental plans.

    I’ll finish by saying students are smart. That is, in fact, how they got to university in the first place. Students are capable of hearing competing arguments, and coming to a rational decision on the outcome, weighing costs and benefits. Students do not always think about self-serving interests first. In fact, most campuses are much more left-wing in their ideology than society at large. It comes as absolutely no shock to me that one of life’s biggest expenses – transportation – has been socialized through a U-Pass set up at most schools. You are upset because you are on the losing side, but please do not think that many thousands of students have not weighed and debated this concept from coast to coast in Canada over the past few decades, coming to the conclusion that a U-Pass is a good which serves the student body. I would be shocked to learn of many U-Pass programs that have failed (though Kwantlen in BC has a challenge coming up this year due to their campus structure and locations). Cars are a luxury. Living close to campus is a limited luxury. Transportation in general is a student right, as determined my multiple referenda.

    Good luck with your court challenge. If you win, I will personally find the funds to create a transit bursary for the hard-luck students who so unfortunate as to own cars.

  23. Rob, I’m sorry you don’t consider it mature to argue that everyone should have to take responsibility for the price of their own bus pass. Typically, taking responsibility for one’s own expenses is a halmark of being mature.

    As to your points, first of all, as I have said previously, the government tax system is not at all comparable to the U-Pass. If you want to set up the U-Pass the way the tax system is set up, then levy $1000 on students with household incomes over $50,000, and make the U-pass free for everyone. That’s how the tax system works. The wealthy pay a lot of tax, and the poor pay none. The U-pass, on the other hand, costs the same for everybody. That means a single mother on OSAP is subsidizing a U-pass for a rich kid whose parents are paying his tuition.

    Do you consider this fair?

    Secondly, I find it absurd that you would propose that people pack up and move in order to save on U-Pass expenses. Even leaving aside the enormous hassle of moving, the fact is that the expenses for most people will negate at least a year of U-Pass fees. It now costs over $40 just to file a change of address form with the post office, to say nothing of renting a truck and taking time off work. Not all students are 18 year olds with no kids, you know?

    I should add that I hope the environmentalists who advocate the U-pass are reading your post. I’m sure they will be delighted to see you encouraging people who currently walk to school to move to the suburbs and take this bus.

    Finally, all of the other student services you mention as being the beneficiaries of student fees are just that: student services. They are run by the student body for the students. Transit is not.

    Students may be smart but they are, apparently, also selfish. If they weren’t they would not be desperately trying to defend a regime that takes food out of some student’s (and their children’s) mouths in order to help buy a bus pass they should be responsible for buying for themselves.

  24. Mature Student,

    As I mentioned, I was disqualified from student loans because my parents made too much money, yet didn’t share any with me for the costs of my education. If we were to “tier” bus passes to family incomes, I would be in a worse position because of a circumstance beyond my control. Not to mention that there is no way a students’ union should have, or get, access to personal financial data. Also, I assume you haven’t heard that Alberta has a single flat income tax rate provincially, not every type of tax is a progressive tax. Finally, since you yourself admitted that the U-pass costs the same for everyone, no single mother on OSAP is subsidizing anyone; everyone is paying equal value, unless the parent is providing a rebate to their child of some sort.

    And yes, while you read that I proposed people back up and move, I suppose that could have been worded slightly differently. As the theme of my post was “it will sort out with time”, consider my true point. Next year’s student coming to Ottawa for the first time: Looks at an apartment in Area A for $900/month. Looks at an apartment in area B for $800/month. Pays $300/year for a U-Pass, chooses area B to live in, and saves money because of it. I already admitted it disproportionately affects current students; perhaps a phase-in MAY have been a better option, but not the lack of a U-pass overall.

    You would have to be kidding me to believe that if a few students chose not to live right around the school (U of O, I’ve never been out to Carleton, don’t know what neighbourhoods are nearby) that the housing void wouldn’t immediately be filled with other tenants. Even other students. Or….*gasp*….the rental rates would become cheaper if market forces had them priced too high!

    If an individual student body had the numbers to warrant actually physically operating their own transit system, rather than contract it out to the municipality, I’m sure they would. UBC may be on a verge with such a large student population. Brock U actually contracts specific routes to and from Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne and Fort Erie. If it’s student run, does that automatically make it acceptable in your eyes? You do realize that the student unions don’t actually handle the health and dental plans, are those OK?

    I think you may fail to consider that there are thousands of students who used to buy adult-fare bus passes, and more people are saving money as a result of the U-Pass than people in your situation who are apparently losing money.

    Please keep in mind, OSAP provides a dollar value per month in their cost of living for transit. A quick search online showed me the dollar value was $66/month in 2006, I don’t know if this has risen or not. I don’t want to turn this debate into the one over the merits of OSAP, because I believe that there are multiple things wrong with OSAP calculations. However, in a simplistic sense, the U-Pass costs LESS per month than a student receives from OSAP for their transit needs. In theory, most students who need financial assistance receive OSAP. Therefore, the U-Pass actually saves students money.

    I still can’t fathom how you believe democracy at the campus level is any different than democracy at any other governmental level. It sucks to be on the losing side, but once in awhile, everybody is.

  25. Rob, several things starting at the bottom of your post and going backward:

    1. Democracy at campus is working differently than democracy at other levels. If it’s such a great idea to reduce the price of bus passes by forcing people who don’t use transit to buy them, then why do you suppose there hasn’t been a city-wide referendum on the matter yet?

    2. OSAP is paying for U-Passes for students who don’t use them? In that case, the U-Pass isn’t just wasting the money of students who don’t use it, it is also wasting government (ie: taxpayer) money.

    3. I am aware that many students are saving money because of the U-Pass. The reason they are saving money is because many people who do not benefit from transit are being forced to flush $300 a year down the toilet on a useless bus pass in order to subsidize theirs. That is immoral. I’m at a loss to understand how you can advocate this.

    4. Yes. If a university operated it’s own transit system, I’d be fine with students paying for it. Of course, we all know that’s not going to happen.

    5. I’m not sure what your point is in these paragraphs.

    6. I said household income not family income. And yes, a single mother who cannot use transit is subsidizing a wealthy person who can. This is the whole point of the U-pass scheme. The 30% of people who don’t use transit subsidize the 70% who do. That’s why the lucky 70% get such a bargain. Too bad nobody seems to care who’s paying for that deep discount they’re getting.

  26. 1. Why haven’t municipalities run referendums to force people onto transit? You very well know the answer, and it doesn’t agree with your argument. At a (campus-based, not online) university, there is a central hub to shuttle people to and from on a daily basis for classes. Students are expected to physically be present on the campus to attend to their responsibilities as a student. Students also tend to live cheaply (within their means, if you will) in rental housing, and as a transient population that likely will not be in the same housing location at age 20 than they will at age 35. In a city, people are not coming and going from a centralized location for a common purpose. Where someone lives at 35 is quite likely to be the same location they live at age 55, and thus they tend to accumulate wealth and property including cars, in that location, to allow them to meet their diverse needs. This wealth tends to shun people away from wanting public transit. Students, however, for the most part want and rely on efficient public transit to move them around the city.

    2. OSAP assesses a students’ need in a variety of categories when they determine how much loan to award. It’s not just tuition, it includes rent, food, transportation, and personal necessities. If you get OSAP, you are assessed that need regardless of what city you live in, or whether you drive, walk, or take the bus. Again, I don’t want to argue the merits of how good and bad OSAP is at determining these calculations, but when they assess somebody’s need at $66/month for transit, a U-Pass at every Ontario school outside of Toronto fits under that dollar value. Whether you are a single 35-year old mom with a car, or a 23-year old declared “independent” on a second degree, if you receive OSAP, the money allotted to you for your transit needs is $66/month.

    3. I understand your argument, and all I can do is compare it to personal taxes being used on the healthcare system. I haven’t needed the emergency room or a hospital bed in 4 years, can I demand the health portion of my taxes back? I will also counter that you keep referring to ‘flushing $300 down the toilet’, without noting why you cannot take advantage of some portion of the U-Pass yourself. If you paid the money and were not given the opportunity to use the bus, I would be complaining louder than you are. But for the duration of your school term, you are able to use that bus service to transport you around the city if you desire to save you time (walkers) or save you gas money (drivers). (You haven’t mentioned whether you’re a pissed off walker, pissed off biker, or pissed off driver).

    4. So anything the university operates is acceptable to charge an ancillary fee for? But if the student union purchases a contract with an external third party for use of services on behalf of students, this is not acceptable? Please tell me the difference, because I don’t want to see 19-year old university students driving the buses as a part-time job.

    I mentioned Brock University specifically contracts their bus routes with Niagara Falls, Welland, Port Colborne and Fort Erie. Are you OK with that U-Pass? Or do the students need to own and maintain the buses themselves?

    5. My point is that with a U-Pass, the most budget-conscious students now have more options (focusing any student entering the university 2010 or later). Previously, they had to make a choice between paying higher rent and walking to campus, or lower rent for some place that was not walking distance. Assuming they sign a 12-month lease (because you are outraged at the thought of moving costs each year), the current U-Pass cost at $25/month over 12 months allows students much greater flexibility in their housing costs. And if you are so concerned that this might create too many vacancies in the areas surrounding the university, simple supply and demand economics would alleviate your concern by lowering prices closer to campus, benefitting students even more.

    6. I will agree with you that anyone not using the U-Pass is subsidizing those that do. By the same token, a wealthy student driving a BMW is subsidizing the poor student on OSAP living in the cheapest housing across town. That’s the crux of this entire argument we are having. But the concept of the U-Pass allows everyone the opportunity to use the U-Pass.

    You do not want the opportunity offered to you, but you have not described why. I have mentioned that I believe people living outside the OC Transpo catchment area who must own a vehicle should be exempt. I mentioned that a phase-in would be a better strategy. And then I have given a number of examples about how everybody else could take advantage of the discounted rates if they want, including the poorest of the poor students (my one exception was a student living at home with their parents who pays no rent, and either walks everywhere, or is given a ride to school every day which never requires any more gas than the car was already going to use). Beyond that one situation, everybody has the opportunity to utilize a U-Pass to save them money.

    You can keep refusing to use it, bemoan democracy and try to undermine a students’ union which enacted an idea brought forth on behalf of students, which benefits a (dare I say it) supermajority of students. (Moreso than than any given party at other governmental levels with a majority government who only commanded 40% of the popular vote due to our FPTP system.) But I don’t see the point in that when the U-Pass serves the public good.

  27. 1. Rob, you’re backing me up here. You’re right. City council would never force bus passes on people because it knows that older people with established lives have lots of reasons not to take transit (what does having a central destination have to do with anything?). There is no legal reason that city hall CAN’T force everyone to buy a bus pass (at least not to my knowledge). City council would just never dream of imposing that. Student councils, on the other hand, seem to have no scrupples about it. Thus, my point that student councils are not acting like other levels of government.

    3. You’re not paying for the health care system with your taxes. …unless you’ve gotten rich suddenly. Until you’re on the upper end of the tax bracket, your health care is being subsidized by people wealthier than you. Moreover, health care is an insurance scheme, meaning that you are constantly using it. If you’re not currently receiving treatment, then you are accumulating dollars that will cover you when you eventually do need it …and you will.

    Also, the fact that someone can (maybe) use a bus pass to make some unnecessary trips around town does not mean they are not flushing $300 down the toilet. I could make your argument about anything. How would you feel if your bank removed $300 from your account and told you you should be happy because they bought you a year’s supply of Fruit Loops with it?

    4. I’m being cynical. You and I both know that no school is going to start a transit system. (No idea what the deal is with Brock. I can’t comment)

    5. I’m still not sure what your point is, and I have no idea how you got the idea that I was concered about vacancies around campus.
    My original point was that, by encouraging people who walk to school to move and take transit you are increasing pollution.

    6. How does that address the problem? What do you say to a single woman with kids who drives to school because she needs to transport her children around and for whome the $300 she’s paying for a useless U-Pass has left her unable to afford enough healthy food for her family? Are you seriously ok with this?

  28. I’m going to be very quick because I have to run for the rest of the weekend, and it’s fairly obvious we could continue this forever.

    The student councils imposed nothing. They brought a question to the students, and the students decided. If any student wants to decide to make a modification (opt-out for anybody with a child, opt-out for people who live in Kingston, etc), that can happen under democratic structures. Just like any level of government can take away social services for poor people, or impose taxes or licenses on income or thousands of products, and all citizens have the right to run in those elections.

    You ignored my OSAP point. Someone who receives OSAP (ie. the students who need the most assistance) are receiving more from their government for transit than the U-Pass costs.

    I mentioned I’m out of school. My tuition tax credits have been used up, and yes, I do pay a substantial amount of taxes. And because I haven’t used a homeless shelter or hospital, doesn’t give me the right to demand a rebate.

    I truly think that some of your (and everyone’s) necessary trips could be done by bus. Maybe not 100%, but some. If a level of government forced me to pay $300 per year for Fruit Loops, I’d run for that level of government to repeal the law. But if it was $300 for cereal of any kind, I’d definitely make sure I found a way to utilize my allotment of cereal in the healthiest way possible, whenever I could, and maybe pay for something else a little less, once in awhile.

    You haven’t provided validation why one level of government can’t sign a legitimate contract-for-service with another level of government or private sector entity, and must run all operations themselves to be legitimate. Why are the student unions the only level of government subject to this in your eyes?

    The same number of people who walk to school will always walk to school. My point was that the most cost-conscious students how have options to find cheaper homes in other areas of the city. You’re kidding me if you don’t think other people will swoop into the properties close to campus.

    Unless somebody with a child is transporting that child on every single one – 100% – of all car trips she takes, some of the trips can be made on the bus and save gas money. And pending the age of the child, most transit systems allow children under a certain age to ride for free.

    I admit that for your situation this seems to be far from ideal. But forcing people to pay a fee or tax-like object for transportation service is simply not akin to denying anyone a human right or dignity as would come to mind when someone invokes the words ‘tyranny of the majority’. Forcing everyone to pay for a bus and then denying Asian-Canadians the right to use the bus would be a tyranny. Forcing people with cars to pay a vehicle registration fee and then taking all people with blue eyes off the road would be a tyranny. Outlawing certain people from doing something is a tyranny. But charging a universal fee providing a benefit which is theoretically able to be used by all without discrimination, brought about by a democratic framework (and I’m not sure what margin of victory this passed by, the article mentions it is substantial) is not a tryanny. It is an associated cost of going to a university in Ottawa, that you could not escape if you went to university in most other cities in Ontario, and you and all U-Pass opponents can use the same democratic channels without discrimination to remove the fee if you wish (and I’ve already mentioned how that might come about).

    Thank you for a good debate.

  29. Rob, I thought you said you were going to be quick.

    Anyway, if I understand you correctly, you acknowledge that the U-Pass screws students who aren’t well-served by transit routes, and you acknowledge that some people will face serious financial hardship as a result of having to pay $300 a year for it… but you’re ok with all that.

    I think that pretty well speaks for itself.

  30. I’ll be quick because I have to run for the weekend, and because this debate will not be resolved.

    1. Students are at school for the purpose of education. To obtain said education, they must get to a physical location on a regular basis (exception: distance education). Because they have a set destination and schedule, it makes sense for their government to provide a subsidized way for them to get there. City hall imposes taxes on me for fire services and public parks. My home has never been on fire, and I haven’t used a public park in a few years. Do I get a rebate? No. I also rarely attended athletic games, but my tuition included a “free” season’s pass for the varsity sports.

    2. You forgot this one. The government gives what they consider the students in need, $66/month for transit costs. A U-Pass costs less.

    3. I mentioned I am out of school, in full time employment. I have used up my tuition tax credits and do indeed pay taxes. And the Ontario ‘Health Premium’ tax is tacked on to the END of your refunds, so yes, I have paid taxes for health care for the last few years.

    4. You are cynical. Why can’t one level of government (Student) contract a service from other levels of government, or from a private sector? Why is it legitimate in your eyes for every other level of government to contract out a service for their population, but not student government?

    5. My point is that the neediest students can use the U-Pass to lower their housing costs, lowering their overall costs of attending school. And to think that people won’t move into the higher priced neighbourhoods around a university is ridiculous, those properties will always be full.

    6. I say that however financially desperate that single mother is, she is lucky that she can afford a car, car insurance, and gas. The state provides methods to bring children to school if a parent does not own a car. You’re also trying to tell me that EVERY trip the parent makes, the children are in the car? And in most jurisdictions, children under a certain age can ride the bus for free. I admit, you do not present an ideal situation, and I already provided an example of the type of student who will not benefit (the student who lives at home with their parent(s) paying no rent, and who can already walk to school). However a car is a luxury. Perhaps that single mother can find a free OC Transpo lot to park at, use the U-Pass, and not have to pay for parking. Or use the bus on weekends for other errands. It’s not like it’s un-useable.

    To sum, you used the implication of tyranny of the majority. I don’t know how much the referendums passed by, the article indicates that it is substantial. But imposing a tax is not a tyranny. A tyranny denies rights to a certain subset of the populaton, like not letting Chinese-Canadians on a bus, or not letting red-haired people drive. A bus pass for all denies nobody any rights. It was instituted by a democratic framework that you had and still have the right to participate in. You can bring forward your ideas for change and present them for a referendum or run for student government. Or, if you absolutely hate the democratic will of the majority that is not denying anybody any rights, you can move to a different jurisdiction (university), to complete your education. You have that right. People are not forced to live in the same city, province, or country for their entire life. But unless you move to Toronto where the bus passes cost more, and there is a vehicle registration tax, you will likely find yourself in a university that has a U-Pass system. Because, time and time again, students keep voting that this is a necessary service for the good of the student body.

    Thanks for a good debate.


  31. (I had one last glance at the computer, and it appeared my comment had not posted, so I fired off a near-duplicate. No decision in the history of the world has ever benefitted 100% of the population. Nor does this one. I’ve been on the losing end of many government and student decisions. But do I think democracy is still the best framework for accomplishing the needs of the many, with safeguards for the most vulnerable? Yes I do. And since you cannot show me that anybody’s rights are being trampled here, and since the U-Pass votes win overwhelmingly on every Ontario campus, this must be a good example of democratic will in action. I have even shown you how the vast majority of the most vulnerable BENEFIT from the U-Pass. The majority of students who DO NOT benefit are the rich ones who drive daddy’s car and will pay for a parking pass anyway.)

  32. Well if you don’t think you’re trampling on someone by robbing them of $300 that, in some cases, they desperately need to put food on the table, then carry on on your merry way. If the problem with that isn’t obvious to you, then there’s clearly nothing I can say to change your mind.