Students vote to maintain U-Pass enrolment

Summer extension edged out in fee hike referendum

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The sun has set on the summer U-Pass.

While University of Manitoba students recently voted overwhelmingly to maintain membership in the U-Pass transit program, a ranked-ballot referendum saw support for expanding the pass into a year-round service fall short.

More than 9,300 students cast online ballots between Feb. 12 and 14 to maintain the current fall and winter term pass, effectively ending UMSU’s push to extend the program through the summer months.

In the final round, 5,551 votes were cast to continue the program as-is at a cost of $160.75 per term, and 3,696 voted to carry the pass through the summer months at an increased cost in the winter term.

“We’re very happy that the students voted for the U-Pass to remain,” said Mbuli Matshe, UMSU’s vice-president finance and operations.

“It is a very important service to UMSU. It is our most utilized service and so we’re very glad to see at least we’ll have the U-Pass for the fall and the winter and it will remain the same.”

The vote puts a hitch in the plans of the U of M Graduate Students’ Association (UMGSA), which has its own referendum scheduled for March 16 to 17 during its regular executive election.

The grad students had hoped to hold their vote in tandem with UMSU but the undergraduate referendum moved quickly to ballots.

While UMGSA president Carl Neumann had expressed hope the summer extension would remain an option, he said he learned this weekend that the city would no longer be considering an expansion of the program.

“The UMGSA executive and the UMGSA council are both strongly in support of the expansion of the U-Pass program into the summer, and so this is a huge disappointment for all of us,” he said.

“We still plan to gauge graduate student support for the expansion of the program as part of consultations and a survey coming in the next few months [and] the expansion into the summer months also remains part of our UMGSA position statements that are coming to council for approval this week.”

Neumann said the executive will discuss changing the language of its referendum — which closely mirrors the options put to UMSU members that included the summer pass, saying “For many reasons, we don’t feel it would be appropriate to include an option that is not possible for the near future.”

The result is a more positive turn for Red River College students, who will be included in the program in the fall after missing out on the initial year run. Some reports estimate that Red River students are paying nearly twice what university students in Winnipeg are charged for transit.

While the long-term viability of the program was in question if the U of M’s more than 25,000 undergrad students withdrew, Red River College Students’ Association president Joshua Roopchand said he wasn’t too concerned.

“I wouldn’t say we were worried on it,” he said. “It was definitely ‘This could happen and if it does happen, it wouldn’t be the best thing’ but I don’t think we were too worried.”

Roopchand said he hopes the pass will encourage more students to take transit to campus, saying “I think once we get the U-Pass in, a lot of students will choose to start using that rather than driving.”

U of M Students were given three choices on the referendum ballot: to continue enrolment at an increased fee; to expand coverage through the summer months at a cost of $160.75 in the fall and $237.90 for winter, spring and summer or to withdraw from the program outright.

The first ballot saw 1,903 votes cast to eliminate the program — fewer than votes cast in favour of either remain options.

Matshe acknowledge the result is “bitter sweet” given the UMSU board’s push to extend the service through the summer.

“The U-Pass is not just about less money on the transit but it is about sustainability and the sustainability initiative that both UMSU and the City of Winnipeg would like to have seen move forward,” he said.  “Having said that, we are glad that is continuing for the fall and the winter.”

The referendum was triggered after the city increased the cost of the service by $24.50 per term above the current rate of $136.25. The students’ unions’ by-laws required a referendum to increase the fee and president Jakob Sanderson took it as an opportunity to try to extend the service.

This is the fourth year the program has been in effect, after only narrowly passing an earlier referendum with just 53 per cent support off fewer than 5,000 votes cast. According to UMSU, 59 per cent of eligible students have reported using transit daily and 83 per cent of all eligible students have activated their passes.

Matshe said the results — and what he called an unprecedented level of engagement for an UMSU referendum — prove that the pass is a vital student service.

“The U-Pass is an essential asset to all the students — even the ones that don’t use it as regularly,” he said.

“I don’t think we ever feared that it wouldn’t pass and obviously the results are reflective of that.”