Hamilton

Councillors vote to temporarily suspend student transit deals

The decision represents a large financial loss for public transit, but students won't be back in class in fall, so won't be looking to use the bus.

Mohawk has asked for student prices for those who still need to take the bus

Hamilton's public works committee has voted in favour of temporarily suspending a program that gave students unlimited HSR use at a discounted rate. (File)

Hamilton councillors have voted to suspend transit agreements with post-secondary institutions in the city, at least for the fall semester.

It's a decision that represents a large financial loss for public transit. A report prepared for the public works committee estimated losing the revenue from University/College Transit Pass Agreements (UCTP) with Mohawk College, McMaster University and Redeemer University would total $3,704,950 for the fall semester.

But students won't be in class because of COVID-19, so the committee didn't have much of a choice, explained Ward 8 councillor and chair John-Paul Danko following its meeting and vote Wednesday.

"It's not fair to them to charge them for something they couldn't possibly use," he said, adding many students won't even be in Hamilton as their courses will be delivered online due to the pandemic.

The committee's decision follows requests by both McMaster and Mohawk to halt the agreements which granted full-time students unlimited access to the HSR at a discounted rate.

"It's not being cancelled," noted Danko. "It's just a temporary hold."

That's an important distinction because UCTP fees are considered ancillary, a type of student fee the Conservatives made optional in 2019. If the UCTP agreements were cancelled, any future agreements would be subjected to a choice from students of whether to opt-in or out.

The suspension means the agreements can be revived once post-secondary studies and transit are allowed to return to normal.

The city only just started charging HSR riders fares again at the beginning of the month and ridership is still limited because of the virus. Now it faces an uphill battle to rebuild ridership and the question of whether or not people will be willing to take the bus again because of fears from the virus. 

"[Student riders are] such a huge part of HSR's overall funding. It doesn't help with all the uncertainties there," said Danko.

However, there may be some hope.

A letter from the Mohawk Students' Association outlines that some students will still need to come to campus for limited in-person classes or labs.

The student representatives have asked that those who still need to be able to use transit be able to access it at a student rate, rather than paying the price most adults would.

The committee directed the city's transit officials to speak with post-secondary institutions to work out a possible pricing structure for students.

"That's a revenue source we haven't counted on at all," said Danko.

"It's not going to be huge compared to the passes, but it's something. We want to get people back on transit. We don't want to abandon our customers."

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