The U-Pass is back at the University of Winnipeg (U of W) after a pandemic-induced hiatus. This universal transit pass is available to full-time students at the U of W and University of Manitoba.
The student-led initiative began in 2014, when 81.7 per cent of U of W students voted to establish a U-Pass. According to a Winnipeg Transit review in 2017 and 2018, about 6,000 passes were activated at the U of W.
During that time period, about 90 per cent of students used a U-Pass, and 53 per cent of these students relied on theirs every day. With rising gas prices and limited parking spaces near the U of W campus, these percentages may increase.
Emmanuel Iwuoha, the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association (UWSA) corporate account manager, says the association saw high demand for the U-Pass at the beginning of this fall term.
“The U-Pass program was welcomed with open arms by students this year. I can sense the excitement to be back on campus,” Iwuoha says.
The U-Pass program was suspended for the 2021-22 school year, but students kicked off this fall term by once again lining up outside the UWSA Info Booth for their passes.
Allana Entrada, a full-time student at the U of W, feels relieved. Entrada doesn’t have a car, and their bus commute from Transcona to downtown takes anywhere from 50 minutes to an hour every day.
Last year, Entrada had to pay for bus passes out of pocket to attend in-person classes. She struggled to justify paying for something they believe the U of W should always include in tuition fees. A monthly bus pass from Winnipeg Transit costs $84.80 at the student rate. That’s a total of $678.40 for the academic year, which runs from September to April. A U-Pass covering that same period of time costs $424.
Entrada had to look critically at their daily life and decide which trips were worth the bus fare to travel downtown.
“The university has become my community over the years that I’ve been here, (and the U-Pass allows me) to attend events without having to worry about how much is left on my Peggo card,” she says.
For Entrada, the U-Pass is more than simply access to transit. The subsidy program allows them to connect with the people in their life.
“It’s nice to be able to not worry about how I can stay connected to my community (or) stay connected to my workplace and my community there,” she says.
With the City of Winnipeg proposing to cancel the U-Pass just two years ago, the future of the transit program is uncertain. In 2020, Mayor Brian Bowman referred to the current U-Pass subsidy as inequitable.
“There is something inherently wrong when you are saying to all students: All students, regardless of their financial means, that they should have a deeper discount than someone living in low income, including students, non-students,”
Two years ago the WINNpass was launched, a low-income program offering eligible adults a 30 per cent discount, which has now been adjusted to a 50 per cent discount. While students would still have the option to pursue other discounted passes, these options aren’t as incentivized or accessible. But for now, the U-Pass and all it entails are safe.
For more information about the U-Pass program, visit theuwsa.ca/u-pass.
Published in Volume 77, Number 03 of The Uniter (September 22, 2022)