UMSU president Jakob Sanderson went before the Winnipeg city council during its Nov. 21 meeting to urge councillors to scrap the expected upcoming $24.50 increase to the U-Pass, calling the impact the pass has made on students and sustainability in the city at large “unambiguously positive.”
The U-Pass program, implemented at the U of M in the fall 2016 term, currently comes at a cost of $136.25 to students per term.
The fee increase would see that cost rise to $160.75.
According to Sanderson, the program has single-handedly removed 5,000 vehicles from routes leading to and from the U of M.
He said that 62 per cent of students said they take transit more often now than prior to fall 2016, and that the U-Pass increased ridership on routes to the U of M by 25 per cent.
“The U-Pass, though, I think is essential and [should] not be seen just as a subsidy for students,” said Sanderson, “but actually as a program that reduces traffic on major thoroughfares, frees up parking spaces, and makes a major impact on the city and sustainability,” he said at the council meeting.
UMSU is required by law to take any fee increases above the rate of inflation to a referendum of the student body.
This leaves the fate of the program in the hands of city council, and if the increase is passed, UMSU members.
The primary reason given by the city for the cost increase is the inclusion of Red River College students in the U-Pass program.
Sanderson related to council fears that students would vote down the prospect of a more expensive U-Pass that would not bring any additional benefit directly to U of M students.
“Increasing costs on our students by $24.50 per term with no additional benefits to U-Pass users is something that is, frankly, a tough sell,” he said.
“Even Winnipeg Transit, in their report, has expressed concern that this recommendation could put the program at risk, which is something I believe strongly the city should not want to do.”
The current contract between the city, Winnipeg Transit and UMSU expires May, 31, 2020, though Sanderson has previously mentioned a clause that would allow for a one-year continuation of the pass’s current terms while negotiations continue and has voiced support for that option.
Construction recently concluded on Stage 2 of the Southwest Transitway, which links downtown to the U of M via dedicated rapid transit lines. According to Winnipeg Transit, the cost of the project is $467.3 million.
UMSU has previously attempted to negotiate a summer U-Pass program with the city and Winnipeg Transit.
In October, the public works committee was mandated to examine an UMSU plan that would justify an increased U-Pass fee by stretching its coverage period through the summer term.
The committee is set to report back within the next two months with a verdict on the plan.
While Sanderson conceded that he can not promise an UMSU endorsement of the fee increase, he said he would be in favour of a continuation of the program regardless of the fee increases in a referendum.
“If this fee increase does go through, at that point it’s up to the students, what they want to do,” Sanderson told council.
“I can tell you that I would vote ‘Yes’ because I’d like to see the U-Pass program continue.”