U-Pass negotiations uncover huge funding gap

Student unions asked to solicit financial support through sponsorships

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi supports the idea of the U-Pass, but says the city needs more accurate estimates of potential ridership. Dylan Hewlett

Student groups at the University of Winnipeg and Manitoba are scrounging for sponsorships to help make up a $3.5 million shortfall needed to create a universal bus pass.

On Feb. 26, city council’s public works committee sent the University of Winnipeg Students’ Association and the University of Manitoba Students’ Union back to the drawing board after a Winnipeg Transit report revealed proposed U-Pass fees by the two groups would raise little more than half the revenue required for the $8.5-million program to break even.

In referendums held last November, U of W students voted for a pass that would cost no more than $200 per year. University of Manitoba students supported a pass costing no more than $170 per year.

According to Transit, a U-Pass would have to cost $322 per year for the program to remain revenue neutral.

Zach Fleisher, vice-president advocate for the UWSA and main proponent for the U-Pass, said the groups will be seeking public and private monies to cover the shortfall.

“We’ll be talking to various Crown Corporations and other businesses that are within our ethical guidelines and standards,” Fleisher said.

You won’t be seeing the Marlboro U-Pass.

Zach Fleisher, vice-president advocate, UWSA

“For example, you won’t be seeing the Marlboro U-Pass.”

How much of the gap the groups will need to cover is still undetermined.

The pass will not cost U of W students any more than the $200 maximum agreed to in the referendum, Fleisher said.

City spokeswoman Alissa Clark said Transit is unable to solicit sponsorship for U-Pass funding.

Meanwhile, Transit would also have to spend $3.65-million on eight new buses to meet an expected ridership increase, and would have to add 14 new full-time jobs, from drivers to maintenance staff, according to the report.

Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi said she still supports the idea of the pass, but said the city needs more accurate estimates of potential ridership.

The UWSA and UMSU have been using enrollment data from previous years to estimate U-Pass use, making it difficult to anticipate the number of rural or physically impaired students who will opt out of the program, she said.

Still, the city should be willing to fund the program, Gerbasi said.

“I do think we should commit some funding, but it’s hard without having the numbers in front of us,” she said.

Published in Volume 67, Number 22 of The Uniter (March 6, 2013)

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