Update: On March 19, Mayor Brian Bowman announced that the U-Pass program will no longer be cancelled.
On Friday, March 6, the City of Winnipeg tabled their 2020 to 2023 budget, which included increases in road-repair spending, decreases in community grants and reductions in library hours.
One major cut is the city’s proposition to cancel the popular U-Pass program, which provided bus passes to university students at a reduced price.
Currently, all full-time students at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) and University of Manitoba (U of M) automatically receive a U-Pass, as the price is integrated into their student fees. More than 50 per cent of students use this pass on a daily basis.
According to City of Winnipeg estimates, eliminating the U-Pass will save $15 million. The city is also encouraging students to apply for a post-secondary pass ($81.65 per month) or a low-income transit pass ($71.44 per month). However, the U-Pass costs $34.06 per month, and it is unclear at this time who will be eligible for the low-income pass.
The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) released a statement in opposition to the City’s proposition, saying it “ignores student voices and decreases transit and post-secondary education accessibility.”
“Eliminating the U-Pass is an attack on all students, especially the most marginalized,” Noelle Sagher, vice-president student affairs, says in the statement.
UWSA president-elect Jibril Hussein agrees.
“At the end of the day, if you take the U-Pass away from students, it’s not going to make things affordable, especially since we’re a downtown campus,” he says, noting that parking rates are skyrocketing downtown.
“In terms of ecological footprint, (this program) really reduced congestion and carbon emissions here in the city,” he says.
Days before the city tabled its budget, students at the U of W and U of M voted in referendums to keep the U-Pass. In the UWSA election, 82.71 per cent of votes were cast in favour of continuing the program. Similarly, in the U of M Students’ Union election, 78.67 per cent of votes were cast in favour of the pass.
“We will do everything in our power to make sure the city listens to thousands of students who just voted to keep (the) U-Pass,” Sagher says.
On March 13, the public works committee voted unanimously to approve the public works and Winnipeg Transit portions of the 2020 budget. The city councillors on this committee are Matt Allard, Jeff Browaty, Vivian Santos and Devi Sharma.
The budget is balanced for the next four years and limits property tax increases to 2.33 per cent annually. The entire city council will vote on the budget later this week.
The city of Winnipeg’s budget can be viewed at winnipeg.ca/interhom/Budget/2020Budget/default.stm.