A Winnipeg city councillor who is considering a run for the mayor's job says the city should be spending more money on fixing roads rather than subsidizing post-secondary students' bus passes.
St. James-Brooklands Coun. Scott Fielding says he will urge fellow councillors to vote down what he calls a "bigger subsidy" for students taking transit under the Universal Post-Secondary Transit Pass (U-Pass) proposal.
On Wednesday, council will look at the proposal to endorse the creation of a U-Pass program in the city by September 2016.
But Fielding said the U-Pass plan could cost the city more than $15 million over five years — money that he said should be dedicated to much-needed infrastructure repairs.
"This is a perfect example of why the city is broken. We can't afford to do everything. We need to prioritize spending on fixing roads before we look at further subsidizing certain groups in our city," Fielding stated in a news release Monday.
Some of the money from the U-Pass program could also go toward student placement training and co-op programs with the City of Winnipeg, he added.
Investing in all demographics: advocate
If the U-Pass proposal is approved, all students at the University of Manitoba and University of Winnipeg would pay for a discounted transit pass with their tuition fees.
Fielding argued that college and university students already get a break on bus pass prices, as Winnipeg Transit offers post-secondary passes that are 20 per cent cheaper than adult passes.
But Rorie McLeod Arnould, vice-president of advocacy with the University of Winnipeg Students' Association, called Fielding's plan short-sighted, arguing that the U-Pass plan is a better long-term investment because it would provide students an alternative to driving.
"It's not simply an investment in one demographic," McLeod Arnould said Monday.
"It's an investment in all demographics and our city's ability to transport everybody around in a sustainable fashion at the lowest possible price."
Post-secondary students currently pay $67.75 a month for a reduced-fare transit pass, which is about 20 per cent less than what Winnipeg Transit charges for an adult bus pass.
If the U-Pass is created, students would pay $260 per academic year, which breaks down to $32.50 per month for eight months.
McLeod Arnould, who has been lobbying the city since 2012 to introduce the U-Pass, said other universities across Canada have U-Pass programs in place, including Brandon University in western Manitoba.
"I would love to pay a rate that's, you know, more commensurate with my income," he said.
Leaders 'must make tough choices,' says Fielding
But Fielding said instead of funding U-Pass, the city could spend $9 million over five years to fix up to 90 existing roads, and dedicate $1 million during that same period for City of Winnipeg job training and co-op programs.
"As a potential candidate for mayor, it would the easiest thing in the world to stand up and support this, but city leaders must make tough choices to help Winnipeg address the crisis with roads in our community first," he stated in the release.
McLeod Arnould said students and others believe the U-Pass is best for the whole city.
"I think Winnipeggers are more intelligent than to simply take what Coun. Fielding says at face value," he said.
"We've been encouraged by public response to this program, and I think Coun. Fielding is playing a game with this."
According to Fielding, transit officials estimate that the U-Pass program would cost $2.2 million per year, or about $11 million over five years.
He added that the city would have to spend $4.06 million to buy eight new buses, bringing the total estimated cost over five years to $15.06 million.
If college students also signed up for the U-Pass program, that would add upwards of another 25,000 students, he said.