U-Pass Could Change Public Transit in St. John’s (But Has Its Flaws)

U PAss
U-Pass could normalize public transit among young people in a city where less than 5% of residents claim public transit as their primary mode of transportation.

“In 1973, the Alma Mater Society identified a growing need for student access to Transit and brought the Bus-It program to all Queen’s students!” Thus began the oldest  Universal Transit Pass (or U-Pass if you don’t have the time) in Canada.

Perhaps the soon-to-be newest U-Pass program will come from our very own Memorial University. MUN is currently in the planning and consultation stages of their own U-Pass Plan. So what does U-Pass entail?

At its core, U-Pass is a campus-wide public transit plan for students. Students pay part of their tuition or fees into the program, and receive discounted transit passes.

The money they provide goes into the provision of better services to and from the campus for them, but all transit users would also feel the benefits. The particular implementation of the plan depends on local factors, but in short, the more riders subscribing to U-Pass, the cheaper it becomes to provide the service.

The benefits of U-Pass would be many: cheaper student passes ($100-$180  per semester, compared to $275 for the current student pass), more money being put into our transit system, no parking hassle, less traffic, more direct routes to campus, and of course, lower carbon emissions.

To be effective, U-Pass would need to be accompanied by broader transit reform.

One possible outcome on the table would be the extension of bus service to CBS, Portugal Cove, and Torbay. U-Pass has the capacity to increase ridership, provide a regular mode of transportation for a group that often can’t afford cars, and normalize public transit among young people in a city where less than 5% of residents claim public transit as their primary mode of transportation.

Plus, bus users tend to walk more, which improves the health of our students.

U-Pass is no magic bullet transit solution, however. The costs would be borne by the student population, and the cheapest agreements come from mandatory costs paid by all students, even those who do not use transit.

The focus is also quite narrow, affecting only students, and in some plans, faculty and staff, at MUN. This is not to mention that if the transit service isn’t already robust, it may not be enough incentive for students to buy in to use a service they don’t find valuable.

This all suggests that, in order to be effective, a U-Pass program would need to be accompanied by broader transit reform. Indeed, as Happy City’s own Dr. David Brake suggested in a recent letter in The Telegram, more frequent service, accessible buses, bus shelters, and a more regional focus for Metrobus could significantly increase that all-important level of ridership.

It could increase it to heights which would reduce household transit expenses, and transit costs in general. This is on top of the reduction in costs for specialized services like GoBus, which would come as a result of a more robust transit system.

U-Pass or not U-Pass? That is the question. Would you ride the bus on the regular for cheaper fares?  If not, what else would need to change to get you on board? Tell MUN your thoughts at https://www.mun.ca/u-pass/, and let’s enjoy a broader discussion around transit in our Happy City.

Article by Tyler Downey

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4 Comments

  • If you think the cost of car ownership come close to reflecting cars’ cost to society I have a bridge to sell you. I’ll leave it there since a conversation that rolls around to “commies” this fast is not one I want to take part in.

  • What parking infrastructure? MUN doesn’t have any, not really. I thought they missed out on a good opportunity to build a student-only parking garage near campus at the old Metrobus depot, but unfortunately that didn’t happen. And motorists pay out the nose for the privilege of owning and operating a motor vehicle. I’m talking about gas taxes, registration/licensing fees, parking fees, sales tax (even on used vehicles, a practice which should be outlawed), etc.

    And what reason do we have to believe that the “U-Pass” would lead to a more efficient, regionalized transit service? Has Metrobus and the City actually committed to this or did MUN and Happy City pull it out their asses?

    At the very least something like this ought to be put to a student vote, but that’s unlikely. There is blood in the water here, MUN has never come across a mandatory fee they didn’t like (I wonder how much of this will go to “administration expenses”), and the commies at MUNSU aren’t about to let a pesky thing like individual choice get in the way of an expensive, collectivist scheme.

  • Yes. they should. Students are already subsidizing automobile use through parking infrastructure, why shouldn’t they subsidize cost-effective alternatives? More students will become interested in public transit when it is available, efficient, and sufficiently cheaper than driving. Those that don’t can afford the added cost. Those that can’t use it can generally opt out. Sounds good to me!

  • Many students have no interest in using public transit. They should not be expected to subsidize transit for other students, let alone the broader community. I really hope that this doesn’t happen.

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