It’s not just about convenience

The long-lasting impacts of the U-Pass suspension

With the U-Pass cancelled for the second year in a row, University of Winnipeg students have to juggle layers of bureaucracy to access affordable transit.

Callie Lugosi

On Aug. 27, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) announced on their website that the transit U-Pass will, once again, not be available to students for the 2021-22 school year.

The UWSA “recognizes that some students need to access transit,” and post-secondary transit passes are still available for $283 per semester.

The university acknowledged that not all students can afford this steep fee and created a bursary program to help. However, James Wilt, author of Do Androids Dream of Electric Cars? Public Transit in the Age of Google, Uber, and Elon Musk, says, “a lot of people aren’t going to go through those steps ... it adds an additional layer of bureaucracy, which may deter some people.”

For students like Yasmin Yanovski, the U-Pass suspension has brought about academic concerns.

“I still rely on the U-Pass for transportation to the campus, as parking is extremely expensive and limited,” Yanovski says. “Having to pay even more for (transit) out of pocket will negatively affect many, as picking up more hours at work can negatively affect one’s education.”

When asked about the bursary program, Yanovski says she “did not know it was available.”

Many students have been left questioning the position of the UWSA on the U-Pass issue, as, just over one year ago, the UWSA released a statement fighting against the City of Winnipeg’s attempt to eliminate the U-Pass program.

At the time, then-UWSA vice-president Noelle Sagher said “eliminating the U-Pass is an attack on all students, especially the most marginalized. Students need the U-Pass to access an institution that is already inaccessible.”

Many students are left wondering what’s changed. Why is the U-Pass not accessible to students now, with more than 40 per cent of classes being delivered on campus in the fall 2021 term?

“The fact that the decision (about the U-Pass suspension) has been made for several years without real opportunity for democratic participation is really frustrating,” Wilt says.

The suspension of the U-Pass program has consequences that extend far beyond students strictly getting to and from campus. Kyle Owens, the president of Functional Transit Winnipeg, says “the whole city will see the effects of (the U-Pass suspension),” as more students will be travelling downtown by car.

“By getting people into buses, we see one of the fastest and most effective ways of reducing carbon emissions,” Owens says. The reduction of carbon emissions is crucial to the well-being of Earth.

In March of 2019, the Yale Environmental Review, written by Vivian Sorab, stated that, by 2035, the global climate crisis will reach “The Point of No Return.” In agreement with this, Owens says “everyone should be thinking about ways that we can quickly mitigate the effects of climate change – transit being one of them.”

The continued suspension of the U-Pass program has added yet another barrier for students amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and concerns are buzzing through the city for all, as this negatively impacts the economy, convenience and public safety.

Published in Volume 76, Number 2 of The Uniter (September 16, 2021)

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