Negotiations over, U-Pass program to go to vote

November 6, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

KSA director of external affairs, Matt Todd, is concerned that students will need to wait even longer for a U-Pass. Todd hopes the U-Pass referendum will be held in February. Photo By Jeff Groat

With a few details being ironed out, the U-Pass contract – as it stands now – will go to a referendum.

A week ago, the Kwantlen Student Association postponed a referendum on the U-Pass as negotiations hadn’t reached a conclusion before a target date set by TransLink set. This week, the negotiations were finalized, pending working out details in a couple areas.

The result is a recommendation that students vote in February 2011 to accept or reject a U-Pass.

One area that still needs to be worked out is the wording of the contract to include Adult Basic Education (ABE) students in the U-Pass program. ABE students are mature students who did not graduate from high school but are upgrading some education to continue in university education. Originally, these students were not included in the U-Pass program, since ABE credits do not count as regular full-time credits like most other courses do.

Another, more finicky area, concerns students who withdraw from courses after they receive a U-Pass.

Hypothetically, it may be possible for a student to register for one class, receive a U-Pass, then withdraw from that class. In this case, TransLink would charge Kwantlen an additional $50 to make up the difference between a U-Pass and a regular one-zone buss pass, as this person would no longer be considered a student at Kwantlen.

The problem lies in the fact that Kwantlen does not have the means to collect this fee from the student, and is wrestling with the question of whether a student can be prevented from registering for classes before paying back the institution.

Matt Todd, the Kwantlen Student Administration’s director of external affairs, said, “the university has this dilemma of would we really prevent somebody from furthering their post secondary education because they didn’t pay for their U-Pass?”

At the table, Kwantlen failed to negotiate an increase in the exemption limits from one to five per cent, something that Kwanten believes is a problem unique to the Fraser Valley.

“Because most of those students [in the valley] go to Kwantlen, we feel that this is a problem that is special to Kwantlen,“ Todd said.

The student association expects roughly five per cent of students will want to be exempt from paying for and using their U-Pass, because of a lack of reliable and frequent transit access in some communities of the valley. These students would be forced to pay for a U-Pass that they are likely to not use.

“We don’t think that’s fair to students,” Todd said.

According to Todd, there are two options: “Better service or exempt those students.”

If approved, the U-Pass system will be a two-card system for at least two years or until TransLink implements a smart-card electronic fare system.

This means the KSA will incur the costs of redesigning new student ID cards that include some features required by TransLink, as well as the U-Pass card itself. There are other expenses for implementing the U-Pass, such as hiring staff to deal with the new program, training staff and buying new software. All these costs are paid by participating schools and only an increase in student fees would pay for this.

“They have come to the table, they’ve made a big investment, but I don’t think [the province] realized how much it was going to cost,” Todd said.

Todd is recommending that the referendum be held in the first week of February next year.

Opinion: U-Pass plan bigger than saving bucks

December 16, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

The Kwantlen Student Association’s plan to introduce a U-Pass by September 2010 looks like a win-win for Kwantlen students.

The KSA, in conjunction with the Ministry of Transportation and Translink, hopes to have the green light on a U-Pass plan, which is still being formed, in time for a standalone referendum in April.

“I really do feel that this is possible,” said Derek Robertson, director of external affairs for the KSA.

Transit ridership among Kwantlen students is estimated to be at only about 20 to 25 per cent. That leaves a jaw-dropping majority of students who, at first glance, will be paying for a service that they won’t use. And at an open-for-discussion $20-a-month objective, that’s a lot of money that three-quarters of the student population will be paying so the others can get cheaper transit.

What good is a U-Pass to us, the drivers, bicyclers and students who are dropped off?

I contacted Translink and the Ministry of Transportation to get answers. Sappy answers.

“Some students who said they wouldn’t use it do end up using it,” said Ken Hardie, director of communications at Translink. He also argued the merits of having a pre-paid ride home after drunken parties.

He even said “Translink itself does not have plans to expand the U-Pass program,” because it was not organized in a manner that would allow widespread implementation. Rather, it is taking its cue from the Ministry of Transportation, where government officials are aiming to fulfill a campaign promise of a universal U-Pass by next September.

More parking spaces, lower fuel emissions and less traffic was the best that Linda Gold, spokesperson for the Ministry of Transportation, could come up with.

Luckily, the KSA has their act together.

“We cannot put a U-Pass to the students that benefits some but harms others,” said Robertson. The KSA will spend the next few months compiling results from this fall’s U-Pass consultations and surveys to draft a proposal that will be discussed in meetings with the minister of transportation, Translink, local MPs and local MLAs.

The meetings will focus on “nonnegotiable” requirements for improvement to transit service before tentative agreements will be made. Robertson is planning to ask for improvements to transit service, which may involve requests for an increase in transit frequency and better campus, Skytrain and major urban centre connections.

He’ll also focus on adding extra services, including bike racks on transit, bike lockers on campus and regular on-campus bike clinics. Although there won’t be any opt-out for students, a carpool discount may be introduced with the condition that drivers be added to a registry that other students can use to discover local carpool pals.

Odds are good that Kwantlen will be receiving a U-Pass on the low end of the scale for colleges and universities in the U-Pass program, because the low ridership is subsidized by the greater student population. Currently, Translink charges students at the University of British Columbia $25 a month, the lowest price for any U-Pass in B.C., because of the school’s low ridership at the time the program was initiated. At present, the KSA is leaning towards implementing the U-Pass for both full-time and part-time students, which they hope will help more part-time students to transition to full-time status.

Earlier this year, the KSA declined participation in OnePassNow talks, which pushed for a $25 U-Pass for all Metro Vancouver students, because the transit-improvement needs for Kwantlen students were greater than the needs of the student unions represented. Robertson feared that Emily Carr and Vancouver Community College would not act on Kwantlen’s behalf to request transit improvements, and said that Kwantlen students would be paying for lower service than other participating colleges would receive.

“They have arguably the best transit in the province,” he said. “They are not seeking transit upgrades.”

Robertson also explained that the age-old offer of a $19 U-Pass for Kwantlen students was turned down because there would not have been any transit upgrades, which rendered it useless to the better half of the student population.

The KSA wants the province introduce a U-Pass levied at different rates according to school ridership to make it revenue-neutral for Translink, as is currently done, but with a universal provincial subsidy to keep the price down.

The requirement for transit improvements is a good one. I’d gladly pay an extra $80 or so each semester for a shorter ride to campus. But there’s a lot of work to be done before transit service south of the Fraser River is worth a dime or two. The KSA doesn’t have much time to move that mountain before its plan for a U-Pass vote by April passes Kwantlen students by — again.

KSA collecting students’ thoughts on U-Pass

October 29, 2009 by · 5 Comments 

This week a series of U-Pass consultations wrapped up on the Richmond campus. The KSA will return to Richmond next week for another round, eventually concluding in Cloverdale and Langley. (Kyle Vinoy photo)

This week a series of U-Pass consultations wrapped up on the Richmond campus. The KSA will return to Richmond next week for another round, eventually concluding in Cloverdale and Langley. (Kyle Vinoy photo)

The Kwantlen Student Association has been touring Kwantlen campuses hosting U-Pass consultations designed to give the KSA a better idea of improvements students would like to see made to transit in order to ease their commute, and to gauge the level of support for a U-Pass.

“We want to make sure that commuting between campuses isn’t the reason students don’t take a course,” said Derek Robertson, director of external affairs.

This week’s series wrapped up yesterday at the Richmond campus, with a return scheduled for next Tuesday afternoon at 2:15 pm in room 1420. Consultations has concluded at the Surrey and Langley campuses, with consultations at Cloverdale scheduled for next week.

At each sessions students are given an 11-page survey which explores their current transit use and improvements they’d like to see Translink make to its service. Robertson said that improving the current level of transit availability and frequency for the Cloverdale and Langley campuses is crucial to the KSA accepting any form of the U-Pass. He also wants to see more recognition payed to Kwantlen by renaming the Landsdowe station on the Canada Line to include the school’s name.

Robertson does not support a $25 U-Pass being pushed by OnePassNow as he feels supporting it would mean Kwantlen students would subsidize students at other colleges, such as Emily Carr and VCC-Clark. He said that those two schools combined have roughly 10,000 students and Kwantlen has 15,000 and that difference would equal an unfair price tag for Kwantlen students. He said that Kwantlen students could hope for a pass costing between $25 to $30 without partnering with other universities.

After all the data from the consultations is complied, Robertson plans to meet with Translink and the provincial government and come to an agreement. He will be in Ottawa next month to present the data and hopes to arrange a meeting with federal transport minister John Baird.

Robertson’s goal is to hold a referendum on the U-Pass in the KSA general election this spring.

Kwantlen U-Pass by 2009?

October 17, 2008 by · 2 Comments 

Kwantlen students are one step closer to getting U-Passes.

The Kwantlen Student Association has reached a tentative agreement with Translink for a $19-a-month pass. The KSA now wants to collaborate with other universities in Greater Vancouver to present Translink with a more unified plan, after which they hope to put it to a referendum for students in the spring. If successful, the U-Pass should be implemented by next fall.

“What we’re doing right now is talking to the institutions, trying to come up with a unified plan because all the U-Passes that have happened in the past have come about because of students from the university collaborating and coming as one application for a U-Pass,” said Derek Robertson, Director of External Affairs for the KSA.

A U-Pass is a transit pass valid for unlimited bus and Skytrain travel for one semester, as well as a $2 discount on West Coast Express tickets. The U-Pass has been available to students at UBC and Simon Fraser University since 2003, and Langara students since May 2008, according to the Translink website. Translink is currently negotiating with the student associations of seven other institutions, including Kwantlen.

The KSA has been involved in off-and-on negotiations with Translink since 2003. The KSA began by collaborating with other student unions but soon left the table because Kwantlen was expected to subsidize the U-Pass for smaller schools.

“We’re not elected to pretty much shaft the students of Kwantlen because students at the VCC or Emily Carr or schools like that get a cheaper U-Pass,” Robertson said. “So we said no, and then there was the period when RAF (Reduce All Fees) was in power, which they didn’t do anything for the U-Pass, and then it started up again in the last year. So, it had hurdles, and that’s why it took so long.”

Kwantlen also has a relatively low transit ridership rate, currently an average of 18% of students attending the four campuses. Translink operates under a revenue-neutral model, according to Robertson, which means it will lose money as more students take advantage of the heavily-subsidized transit services provided by a U-Pass.

“If they take $19 a month from Kwantlen and only 18 per cent of students use it, they’re still making money off it, but what they don’t see is that if you implement a U-Pass then ridership goes up,” he said, adding that when SFU implemented the U-Pass, transit ridership doubled within two years.

A Translink representative was not available for comment.