U-Pass or U-Fail?

The University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) and the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) recently lobbied for a U-Pass that would give post-secondary students unlimited access to Winnipeg Transit services from September to April, and is intended to reduce spending for students who frequently use Winnipeg Transit.

The dollars and cents don’t lie. Currently, an eight-month student bus pass runs a student up $542. Now with the success of the U-Pass referendum, students will pay only $260. This significant drop in price would surely prove beneficial for many tight-budgeted students. However, not everyone is happy with this plan and this seemingly universally-beneficial idea has its dark side.

The biggest concern with the U-Pass campaign since the beginning, which wasn’t mentioned in many of the campaign’s materials, is obligation (the promotional poster doesn’t state that it is mandatory but it directs voters to a website where the referendum is outlined). The U-Pass will be mandatory for all students, even if they don’t set foot on a bus all year. Not surprisingly, many students aren’t happy about this. Those who live on campus, bike, drive, or walk typically spend less on transit fees. For them, the U-Pass will increase rather than reduce their yearly spending. 

Brittany Nelson, a third-year student in education and Spanish, who occasionally takes the bus, isn’t happy.

“I don’t like being forced to pay for the bus,” she says. “I think it will have a negative financial impact on many students.” 

Azri Ahmad, a second-year student in computer science is also critical of the U-Pass, but points to Winnipeg Transit operating flaws as the main issue. 

“I’m against it,” he says. “I think it’s a good initiative, however, the Winnipeg Transit system lacks the proper infrastructure and resources to accommodate students during rush hour, especially during the winter.”

Malaika Brandt-Murenzi, a second-year physics student who usually walks to school is neutral. 

“I think it’s good the U-Pass is encouraged, but making it mandatory may convey the wrong message.” 

She acknowledges that without it being mandatory to all students, the savings wouldn’t be as generous. But she thinks it’s a little extreme with only two opt-out options (students who live outside the city or have accessibility issues/use Handi-Transit don’t have to use it). 

“Some students will see it as an extra $260, but overall the benefit to a larger number of students justifies it. Though I do think that there should be more leeway with opting out,” she says.

I agree with the position that many students expressed in which the benefit of the U-Pass to the majority outweighs the cost to the minority. 

What I do not agree with, however, is the poster advertising surrounding the referendum. The U-Pass is advertised as great for students, but I find many students who don’t take the bus aren’t fully informed. I discovered many non-transit users didn’t know the U-Pass would be mandatory and that they would also have to pay. It is important for students to care about issues that affect them - they have the right to vote for or against them. But a vote isn’t worth much when you are making an uninformed decision.

Now only time will tell if the U-Pass will be effective, or if the U-Pass will fail.

Elena Spitcyna is a second year Psychology major with a great passion for mathematics.


Editor’s note - The exact wording of the U-Pass referendum question, available at theuwsa.ca, is: 

“Are you in favour of a mandatory universal bus pass that would:

Provide unlimited access to Winnipeg Transit services for students for the months of September to April inclusive;

Cost $260 per student to be adjusted on a yearly basis according to inflation”

This is not included on the promotional posters, which state that the U-Pass “would give eligible students unlimited access to regular Winnipeg Transit services for fall and winter academic terms for a set price” in addition to benefits, prices and voting dates.

Published in Volume 69, Number 10 of The Uniter (November 5, 2014)

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