The UMSU board of directors passed a motion at its Dec. 5 meeting scheduling a referendum of the student body to decide the fate of the U-Pass program.
While the U-Pass currently comes at a cost of $136.25 per term, Winnipeg city council recently approved an increase of $24.50 per term, a hike above the rate of inflation and enough to trigger a referendum.
Following a 2018 amendment to the UMSU Act, the board is required to take any fee increases above inflationary rates to a binding vote of the student body.
The referendum will ask students to approve a fee increase for no significant changes to their own service, though the increase will help fund the program’s expansion to Red River Students’ Association members.
The first U-Pass referendum in 2014 passed with just 53 per cent support of the 4,548 votes cast.
In a statement, UMSU president Jakob Sanderson acknowledged the possibly detrimental effect to students who do not use Winnipeg Transit, causing an overall “No” vote for the continuation of the U-Pass program.
“There are a lot of students that don’t use transit who pay the U-Pass fee because of the universality of the program, and I don’t imagine that a $50 increase in their contribution each year will be welcomed,” read the statement.
“This could have very damaging effects on those who do bus as well if this causes a referendum to fail. Even with this increase, students will be paying upwards of $250 more each year for transit if the U-Pass is removed.”
According to the motion, the UMSU board of directors plans to “make a decision on any stance it may take and approve the official wording of the referendum question” at the next board meeting, taking place Jan. 16. Sanderson noted that any decision the board makes as a collective as it pertains to endorsing or opposing the increase will be upheld by the UMSU executive.
“The decision of whether or not to support the U-Pass in a referendum is ultimately a decision for the board to make on Jan. 16,” Sanderson wrote.
“We’ve thus far committed ourselves to having a referendum on the U-Pass with the fee increase so [the U-Pass program] will not be dropped unless that’s the wish of the student body.”
“At the executive level, we’ve been preparing campaign materials to ensure the student body is well informed during the referendum, and we will put in our full effort to carry out the decision our board makes with regards to any endorsement if it makes one,” he said.
“We invite any and all students to attend that meeting and let us know where you stand.”
The board meeting will take place Jan. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the UMSU council chambers. The referendum is scheduled to take place from Feb. 10 to 12.