UMSU, the voice of the students, has found another way to make attending the University of Manitoba even more expensive. Though few students are aware of it, we are all going to the polls to vote whether or not we should all be levied nearly $200 a year so that all students, bus users or not, may have a universal bus pass.
UMSU has claimed countless reasons that the U-Pass is a “must have” for university students, citing reduced greenhouse emissions, improved parking, and shorter line ups for bus passes as just a few. Additionally, UMSU believes that being one of the only universities without a universal bus pass leaves us at a competitive disadvantage to other universities. Though I understand where UMSU gets this golden image of a bus friendly campus, I still find myself puzzled by why they feel now is the time to force students into buying a subjectively expensive, universal bus pass.
Most university students are already strapped for cash in more than one way. Many students work full or part-time to make ends meet, and still end up going into debt. Though UMSU believes this is because the University of Manitoba demands too much for tuition (even though Manitoba has some of the lowest tuition rates in the country), UMSU is collecting over $85 from students each semester, more if you choose to take spring or summer classes or if you are forced to opt-in to UMSU Health and Dental. With the addition of the U-Pass, the mandatory UMSU fee would nearly double, to $172.50 per semester.
Now as a student who has chosen to some years take the bus and other years drive, I understand that both have their pros and cons. Taking the bus is cheap, allows you get things done while making your daily commute, and lets you feel good about doing your fair share for the environment. Driving, though more expensive, offers much more flexibility through the day, and allows you to avoid the hustle and bustle of Winnipeg Transit. Regardless of which option you prefer, should a student be forced to pay into either system? No. Students should be allowed to pay their hard earned dollars into whichever system works better for them. If UMSU gets their way students will be unfairly forced to pay into the transit system. I’ve never seen a movement of this type to subsidize car insurance costs, or parking pass prices for those students who chose to drive, and I’m sure I never will.
UMSU swears that the U-Pass will drive students to take the bus, reducing parking demands, and lowering the price of parking passes, making it a benefit for students who drive as well. Firstly, I believe students who drive choose to do so because they choose to spend their disposable income on a car, and its operating costs, and ultimately having a universal bus pass would not limit the use of their car. Secondly, I do not anticipate parking pass prices falling by even close to the $170 fee this bus pass will cost, meaning their overall costs will increase regardless. The only reason these fees will still be levied from them is to subsidize the cost of the U-Pass to other students who are already using the bus.
Though a universal bus pass has worked well for many other cities across the country, a piece of information UMSU is always quick to bring up, Winnipeg unfortunately is unlike many of them.
Winnipeg has a transit system that was put in place over 100 years ago, and though it has gone through many changes in those years, is still one that needs gross amounts of reform before it is ready for a universal bus pass. Busses run at limited times throughout the day and provide routes that are inefficient for many students, taking hours a day to make a simple commute. The price students are being asked to pay to Winnipeg Transit will not provide the funds they need to improve on this system, and will only hurt an already struggling company.
The U-Pass will benefit some students unquestionably, but is it fair that this limited benefit come at a cost to all students, users or not? I truly hope students will realize that this is a bad deal and take a strong “NO” stance to the upcoming referendum.
Foster Lyle is the Business Manager for the Manitoban.