U-Pass referendum may include summer expansion

With or without summer coverage, U-Pass changes include fee increase

A week after a city hall policy committee accepted a Winnipeg Transit report recommending a U-Pass price increase, the process is showing no signs of slowing. There is a chance an increase in cost may come with an expansion of coverage into the summer.

A city hall standing policy committee on infrastructure renewal and public works meeting took place Nov. 4, where members voted to accept a Winnipeg Transit report recommending a U-Pass price increase to alleviate budget constraints and fund an expansion of service to Red River College Students’ Association (RRCSA) members.

The current U-Pass costs students $136.25 per term until May 2020 when the inaugural contract expires. The recommended increase would bring the price of the pass up by $24.50 per term to a total annual cost of $321.50 for the 2020-21 academic year and would index further increases to inflation.

A 2018 amendment to the UMSU Act stipulates that any increase to student fees requires a referendum in its favour.

UMSU presented an alternate plan for funding an expansion of coverage to RRCSA members by increasing the cost of the winter term U-Pass by 50 per cent and stretching its coverage period through to the end of August.

While there has previously been little interest in this plan from Winnipeg Transit, the city has mandated the public works committee to study the plan and report back in 90 days.

UMSU president Jakob Sanderson noted that if no agreement is made or if the committee’s report on UMSU’s proposal is pushed back beyond the three-month period, the U-Pass contract holds a roll-over clause which would allow for an extension of the pass until next year at an inflationary increase.

“We would be more than happy to sign on to that at any time,” said Sanderson.

He lamented that Winnipeg Transit had not studied the proposal earlier.

“We submitted this proposal […] to Transit over a year ago,” he said. “We submitted this to city councillors over six months ago. We’re going to be in a time crunch trying to be able to fit a referendum in if we don’t know exactly what we’re doing a referendum on until the middle of February.”

Sanderson’s hope is to present three options in the eventual referendum: withdraw UMSU from the program, continue with the current coverage period and the increased rate, or, should the UMSU’s proposal be approved, increase the cost of the pass further and expand the pass’s coverage to the summer months.

The 2014 referendum to introduce the U-Pass succeeded with a slim 53 per cent approval of the 4,548 votes cast.

At the UMSU board of directors meeting Nov. 7, the pass’s future and the upcoming referendum were discussed. When asked by a board member about the possibility of adjusting the U-Pass to allow the average student the ability to opt out of the pass, Sanderson was resolute in the necessity to keep the U-Pass universal for students.

“If we ever got to a point where we just gave an opt-out for everyone who didn’t want to use the U-Pass, then there would be no increase in revenue to balance anything out, and then we’d basically just end up with just a mildly-subsidized pass for everybody who wants a bus pass, which is the existing post-secondary pass,” he explained.

“Essentially, that would just make the program redundant.”

“What I would say to anyone that wants to opt out of the program and is unable to hit the opt-out criteria is, frankly, to vote no in the referendum,” added Sanderson.