“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