University president urges Ottawa to adopt 'U-pass'

The president of the University of Ottawa urged city council Tuesday to approve a universal bus pass that would provide university students with a city-wide transit pass in exchange for a flat fee every semester.
Allan Rock, the president and vice-chancellor of the University of Ottawa, asks council to approve a universal bus pass for students. ((CBC))
The president of the University of Ottawa urged city council Tuesday to approve a universal bus pass that students would have to buy every semester for a flat fee.

Allan Rock, president and vice-chancellor of the university, told council the "U-pass" would do more than help students get to and from classes.

"Today’s student is likely to have a co-op term or a job or a community placement which forms part of their studies," he said. "Very few of these activities take place on the campus. They quite often involve working in businesses and community organizations that are not available just a walk away."

If the universal bus pass is approved, students at both the University of Ottawa and Carleton University would be required to pay an additional fee — expected to be around $145 — to their university each semester in exchange for a transit pass.

Rock said the university would collect the fees, issue the cards and transfer the funds to the transit authority, a move he believes will save the city money.

City council may reject the $3 million plan as it tries to reduce spending by $58 million this year. Rock, however, said refusing to move forward with the U-pass would be a mistake. 

"This is not about conferring a special advantage on students at the University of Ottawa," he said. "This is about knitting the community together from one end to the other of the city so that students can serve their community as part of their studies and as volunteers."

Some students oppose plan

Some students don’t like the proposal. More than 450 people have joined a Facebook group called Citizens of Ottawa Against a Mandatory U Pass. The group argues that it’s unfair to apply the fee to all students — even those that don’t use public transit.

Phil Robinson, a spokesman for the Carleton University Graduate Students' Association, said he thinks all students will benefit from the program.

"For students who live on campus, they still need to buy groceries, they still need to go into town," Robinson said. "This is also a safe way to travel when people are down in the market, hitting the pubs, and we actually feel that it will encourage students to get out into the community more."

Students at the University of Ottawa voted in favour of the universal bus pass in a referendum last year, but Carleton University has yet to hold a vote.

The bus pass is one of the issues being discussed during two days of public hearings about municipal budget issues. Several city programs, including the forestry program, Crime Prevention Ottawa, and some OC Transpo services could face cuts as the city tries to cut spending.

 Councillors will start debating the 2010 budget on Wednesday.