U-Pass moves forward

Project gets green light from city, province

After a Winnipeg City Council meeting on January 29, the wheels are finally in motion for the Universal Bus Pass project to become a reality.

With help from members of the Renewal and Public Works Committee, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and University of Manitoba Students’ Union have secured the necessary funding from the municipal and provincial governments to establish the U-Pass program.

“We’ve been fortunate enough to have a couple of counsellors break the mold and be receptive to our program,” says Rorie Mcleod Arnould, Vice President Advocate at the UWSA.

“We’ve seen pretty solid statistics that came out of the referendum question and some surveys we did last year, showing that people who choose not to ride the bus, do so because of cost,” Arnould continues.

“If we can drop the price 50%, that’s going to make a huge difference in people’s willingness to use public transit as their main mode of transportation.”

One of the main players in City Council helping this project across the finish line has been Councillor Jenny Gerbasi (Fort Rouge - East Fort Garry), who sits on the Renewal and Public works committee. A budget amendment was called for in December 2013 when the U-Pass wasn’t included in the draft budget.

“It makes sense to subsidize this program. It makes our city healthier, it’s good for our young people, our culture, and our infrastructure,” Gerbasi says. “It’s something that has been hoped for by a lot of students for a long time, and we finally really have a chance of achieving it.”

The original amount that was to be charged to University of Winnipeg students for the U-Pass was $200 from September to April, as decided by a majority referendum vote in the Fall 2012 by-elections.

“This is a great idea for students, especially considering the amount of people that take transit on this campus,” says Christian Massaroni, a fourth year Rhetoric and Communications student.

After negotiations, the municipal and provincial governments agreed to just under $2 million to fund the project, which is far below the $3.7 million required to bridge the funding gap. As a result, students will have to re-vote on a referendum question asking if they are willing pay $260 for the U-Pass.

“Money is a very sensitive topic with students,” Massaroni points out. “If students don’t like the way this turns out, it might encourage them to go out and vote for things.”

According to Gerbasi, these numbers are “more doable for the city, but still very reasonable for the students.”

The future of this project is now in the students’ hands, and its fate relies on the results of the new referendum vote. If all goes well, the U-Pass will begin in September 2016.

“The students that benefit from this program will go on to contribute to the tax pool that will then benefit students coming after them,” Arnould explains. “It’s part of the cyclical nature of public services.”

Published in Volume 68, Number 19 of The Uniter (February 5, 2014)

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