Budget 2010: No change to U-Pass
Tuesday, December 22, 20091 Comment
U of G Students will get to keep their Universal Transit Pass as Guelph City Council passed its 2010 Operating Budget without an
U of G Students will get to keep their Universal Transit Pass as Guelph City Council passed its 2010 Operating Budget without any alterations to the program.
Other transit riders weren’t so lucky. They'll see an increase in fares, reduced frequency during the summer and the elimination of service on holidays as council tried to wrestle down a deficit estimated at $8 milliom.
As part of a package of motions on transit at last Tuesday's budget meeting, council approved a 5 per cent increase for adult and senior fares, including monthly passes. Single cash fares were increased by twenty five cents, from $2.50 to $2.75.
Staff estimated these measures would bring in an additional $400,000 in revenue in 2010.
The city resolved to keep subsidized rates for high school students and persons registered with Ontario Works Programs, currently set at $62 per month, while it “investigates further models of providing more affordable transit to this group of riders.”
The U-Pass program, which costs U of G students the equivalent of about $15 per month, was also left unchanged. However, council resolved to work with the Central Student Association “with the goal of developing a revised agreement that fairly reflects the cost of service rendered by Guelph Transit.”
Guelph Transit Manager Michael Anders had told thecannon staff had proposed replacing the U-Pass program with a voluntary, monthly pass rate that would cost the same for all students, and would have been more expensive than the pass price currently enjoyed by U of G students.
That plan was revised following an outrcry by students.
A fourth resolution stated the measures must collectively raise an additional $775,000 in revenues for Guelph Transit in 2010, making it likely that the U-Pass price will increase next year.
Brenda Whiteside, VP Academic Affairs at U of G, said she was happy the city was coming back the negotiating table but declined to comment on the possibility of a rate hike.
"Clearly we are pleased with the decision to try to work with the students on retaining the bus pass," Whiteside wrote in an email. "The discussions about cost will begin in the new year so we can't say anything about that now."
CSA Communications Commissioner Gavin Armstrong said his organization was open to looking at price when adopting a new contract for 2010.
“The CSA understands that the city is facing a budget situation and [we] feel that the U-pass could help the city with this,” he told thecannon via email. “We are willing to sit and negotiate a fair price for all parties.”
Responding to concerns from students in her constituency, Ward 5 Councillor Lean Piper defended staff for bringing forward the idea of a single monthly pass for all students, saying the poor state of the city's finances required the department look at all possible means of generating revenue.
Piper said she continued to support efforts to make transit affordable for all students, as part of "looking at the City of Guelph as a city that supports a community of learners."
Anders and city councillors had stated that changing the U-Pass program was motivated in part by a desire to create "equity" between transit costs for university students and those attending other educational institutions
Piper claimed this idea was "significntly misunderstood" as meaning the city wanted to scrap the bus pass, and requested clarification from staff regarding Guelph Transit’s stance on the issue.
"I would like it stated publicly that the elimination of U-Pass is not being considered."
In response, Ann Pappert, Director of Community Services, made clear that Guelph Transit had "no intenti0n" of cancelling U-Pass.
However, Pappert said the department continued to look at the issue of having two different subsidy rates for students in Guelph.
"Our challenge is to work together to find equity between the two," she explained.
Other cuts to Guelph Transit's level of surface were bound to rattle bus riders. Starting New Years Day, Guelph Transit will no longer operate during civic or statutory holidays.
Two years ago, council had approved limited hours during holidays in an attempt to encourage civic participation and bolster ridership.
However, Anders said operating buses during holidays was attracting only a fraction of riders and cost much more than Guelph Transit paid out for staffing and maintenance.
Throughout June, July and August, buses will also switch from 30-minute frequency on weekdays to 20 minutes.
Ward 3 Councillor Maggie Laidlaw slammed the proposed service cuts and rate hikes, saying they hurt the "financially disadvantaged" during a time of economic hardship.
"We shouldn't being increasing transit fees at a time like this, and we certainly shouldn't be cutting service," she said.
Guelph Transit was also expected to undertake a route efficiency study in 2010, with the goal of trimming $175,000 from its budget by changing or cutting bus routes.