Opting out of some university fee choices could put U-Pass, transit service at risk

Students pay fees for student associations, recreation facilities and, at most Ontario colleges and universities, a public transit pass.

'Students were really starting to embrace the program'

Wrapped into a 10 per cent tuition reduction announcement was the potential for allowing post secondary students a choice in the ancillary fees they pay. 

Students pay fees for student associations, recreation facilities and — at most Ontario colleges and universities — a public transit pass. 

In Windsor, City officials are not sure what making that fee optional would mean.

Students pay $132 for a U-Pass for the eight-month school year, regardless of whether they use Transit Windsor or not. The fee essentially subsidizes the cost for those who use the bus service, reducing the price dramatically from what other students in the city pay. University students can only opt out of paying the fee if they live where Transit Windsor doesn't provide service.

According to Transit Windsor's Pat Delmore, students were starting to "embrace" the u-Pass program. (Peter Duck/CBC)

When Transit Windsor executive Pat Delmore heard the ancillary fees announcement by the provincial government, he was concerned.

"I immediately picked up the phone and started making calls," said Delmore. "We reached out to ask some questions to see if transit was one of those ancillary fees."

According to Delmore, government officials asked public transit providers what the impact of losing student funding would be — but the government didn't ask until after it had made the announcement. 

"I'm just not sure they realize the impact."

Jeremiah Bowers is the president of the University of Windsor Student Association. (Katerina Georgieva/CBC)

Jeremiah Bowers, president of the University of Windsor Student Association said students haven't received clarification on if the transit pass will be considered an essential service.

"Our understanding is it won't," said Bowers.

Narrowly approved, referendum coming

The U-Pass was voted in by Windsor students by a slim margin Spring 2016. Just 56 per cent voted yes in a two-day referendum in March of that year for undergraduates.

Only a three-year pilot was on the table at the time. That comes up for discussion against this spring, and all three student unions plan to hold another referendum. The plan has been that, if it passes this time, the fee would be a permanent addition.

While Transit Windsor has seen increased ridership they attribute to student use, some students have expressed concern with the pass because of Transit Windsor routes.

Service enhancements paid for by students

This week, Transit Windsor announced increased service on some of their main routes, like 10-minute weekday service on the Transway 1C. 

"The 1C enhancement is paid for specifically from the U-Pass dollars," said Delmore. "We've reinvested into a number of projects over the years."

According to Delmore, students have been starting to "embrace" the program. 

"It's done exactly what we hoped for," said Delmore. "We've made some real strong improvements funded by the U-Pass."

Delmore said if the U-Pass were to be cancelled, city council would have to decide to fund those improvements — or they would have to be removed. 

"The whole community is benefiting from this."

With files from Tony Doucette


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