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Council mulls scrapping U of G bus pass

Thursday, December 3, 2009

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  • A proposal by staff at Guelph Transit would eliminate the U of G buss pass sticker. Instead, there would be a monthly pass price

    A proposal by staff at Guelph Transit would eliminate the U of G buss pass sticker. Instead, there would be a monthly pass price

Written by Greg Beneteau

University and student leaders were left scrambling to respond to a city proposal that would end the Universal Buss Pass enjoyed by U of G students.

The plan was unveiled Monday during a public consultation meeting for the 2010 budget, wedged in with over 100 proposals brought forward by city staff trying to cut costs and generate additional revenue streams.

The City of Guelph is facing an estimated $8 million deficit in 2010. City Council asked departments across the board to help put a dent in an anticipated 9.2 per cent tax increase.

One such proposal, listed under “Reset Student Transit Fare Categories,” would end the bulk rate university students pay for their bus passes.

In its place would be a monthly pass price for all students, including elementary, high school, college, post-secondary and other approved educational institutions, said Michael Anders, Manager of Guelph Transit.

Anders declined to say just how much the new pass price would be, saying the information needed to be presented to council first.

“It will be one pass price. It will not be the current pass price,” he said.

When pressed, he said only that the price would be higher than the current U-Pass price for university students, but less than the monthly price that other students currently pay.

Graduate and undergraduate students at the University of Guelph pay a mandatory $61.13 per semester through their student fees, the equivalent of $15 per month. The rate for high school and other students is currently $62 per month.

Students currently contribute $2.2 million in transit fees out of the $8.8 million in external revenues generated in 2009. City staff estimated the new rate would increase revenues for Guelph Transit by $300,000 annually.

The new pass would also be voluntary, meaning students would have to purchase it on a monthly basis from Guelph Transit retailers.

"This will make certain that students who don’t use the system aren’t paying needlessly," Anders said.

He said the change was necessary because the current U of G rate was “way underpriced” and needed to be adjusted to reflect the costs of running transit.

Complaints by parents of high school parents over a “lack of equality” for bus pass prices was also a consideration.

“They were going ‘Geez, I’m a taxpayer in the City of Guelph and I’m still paying sixty two dollars for a student monthly pass, and students at the university of Guelph who are not permanent residents only have to pay fifteen dollars,’” Anders said.

Ward 5 councillor Lise Burcher said she supported taking a “broader view” of the transit pass in order to encourage ridership among high school students and other learners.

“From my perspective, it’s not necessarily about raising rates for any one group,” Burcher said. “It’s about looking at who are the people who are pursuing educational endeavours in our community and how can we support them through transit subsidies.”

CSA Local Affairs Commission Galen Fick said he was “completely taken by surprise” by the proposal, claiming Monday’s presentation was the first time anyone at the CSA or the University of Guelph was informed that the U-Pass might be cut.

“The fact that we weren’t informed until to budget meeting is extremely problematic,” he said. “We’ve traditionally had very good communication with the city.”

While agreeing other students should be entitled to transit subsidies, he said the purchasing power of university students should entitle them to a discount.

The proposal could have numerous negative consequences for students, including an increase in student debt and a spike in rental costs for properties within walking distance of campus, he warned.

He also took exception with the claim by Anders – who came to the job last month from a post at the Toronto Transit Commission – that students would be better off paying into the system individually than as a group.

“If that’s his position, he really doesn’t understand the culture of the community of Guelph.”

According to a mass email sent by CSA Communications Commissioner Gavin Armstrong, the association was working with the university administration to present a delegation committee at the next budget consultation meeting on December 8.

From his conversations with university administration, Armstrong said there was reason to believe that the proposal had “broad support” from members of council. He encouraged students to write to their elected representatives and the CSA with their concerns.

Budget motions will be voted on by city council on December 15, with an additional meeting set for December 16  to settle any unfinished business.

However, Frick said he feared students wouldn’t be able to give the issue their full attention during exam time.

"It's really important for students to own this issue and have their voices heard," he said.

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  1. Posted by: on Dec 4, 2009 @ 1:11pm

    I would like to respond to the reports that this was a miss communication. Michael Anders is the Transit Manager for the city, and he proposed that their be an equal bus pass for all students in Guelph, not just University students. Some councilors saw this as an increase to our pass, as it was presented along w...ith the budget, but I can assure you the result in this "equal system" is a monthly pass. Anders is quoted stating
    “It will be one pass price. It will not be the current pass price, the price would be higher than the
    current U-Pass price for university students, but less than the monthly
    price that other students currently pay"

    Brenda Whiteside, VP student affairs for the University, contacted those councilors who responded to students telling them not to worry. They are now on the same page, that they misunderstood Anders proposal, not the CSA.

    Please stay engaged, we will provide updates when available.

  2. Posted by: rgermain on Dec 6, 2009 @ 11:48am

    I do not think that lumping highschool students and University students would be an equal system. Highschool students still live at home, still have minimal expenses, don't have to pay for rent or tuition or other basic living costs. I am a University student, I have two jobs and OSAP and take classes full time and live a frugal lifestyle, but I still have trouble keeping my bank account where I would like it to be (forget about savings!). If it were between paying more to take the bus or walking for free, I would walk. Not because I want to or because I have the time, but because I can't afford the added expense of riding a bus.

    Soon we'll need to a monthly pass to use the sidewalks.

  3. Posted by: mbastien on Dec 6, 2009 @ 9:29pm

    I agree that this decision will significantly increase student's fees and everyone already knows that tuition fees are already far too high, however we have been incredibly privileged with the price of our bus pass. But fingers are pointed to the wrong people, the fact that students are in debt is not city of Guelph's fault but rather the fault of the lack of government support. Public Transit is an incredibly expensive operation to run and always seems to be in debt.

    A raise in fee will echo but not entirely for the worst. The city of Guelph economy is very dependent on students and in making the public transit more accessible to everyone in the community will increase the revenue and allow Guelph transit to become more independent -- ever noticed that 90% of the users on the bus are university students. Transit is already strongly orientated to cater to students needs, but to have us pay $15 a month and everyone else more than $60 is a huge discrepancy.

  4. Posted by: blackcloud on Dec 7, 2009 @ 9:19pm

    @mbastien

    Having us pay $15 while everyone else pays $60+ superficially seems like a big discrepancy, but you're comparing apples to oranges.

    The fact that it only costs roughly $15 a month for UofG students is because EVERY single student is required to pay that as part of their fees. There's no opt-out option; no exceptions. And we all know that a good portion of the thousands upon thousands of university students in Guelph never use the bus. Ridership numbers are important here, but given that the $15/month figure is not some arbitrary number and was likely derived from previous research/analysis, it's safe to assume that the money made from the countless students who pay the fee but DON'T take the bus counteracts much of the apparent discrepancy.

  5. Posted by: jfel on Dec 8, 2009 @ 8:55am

    The city might have an 8 million dollar deficit but they also have a shiny waste of space new city hall (that cost how many millions?) that serves a tiny percentage of the city. Who made THAT call? Maybe they should rent out that monstrosity of wasted space to make some of that wasted money back and put it into things that actually benefit the PEOPLE of guelph. Like public transportation.

  6. Posted by: on Dec 8, 2009 @ 11:31pm

    I don't know how many others out there are with me, but If this does go through (as it looks like it will), i for one will be opting to walk rather than buying in to this nonsense.

  7. Posted by: on Dec 9, 2009 @ 2:24pm

    This is also nonsense:

    "Geez, I’m a taxpayer in the City of Guelph and I’m still paying sixty two dollars for a student monthly pass, and students at the university of Guelph who are not permanent residents only have to pay fifteen dollars,’” Anders said.

    Students pay landlords rent which include city taxes. Don't let them tell you otherwise.

  8. Posted by: on Dec 12, 2009 @ 12:25pm

    It doesn't matter what the miss communication is. This proposal is going to make thing more expensive for University students. High school students have their bus passes paid for by their parents. They don't care how much they cost. Just another thing that university students have to pay more for now. Wouldn't want to put more money in the pockets of students or anything eh, that would be too nice? This isnt even an option thing either, if and once they do approve of this I will be forced to pay more for my bus pass, the bus pass I so desperately need as a non-driving student. Thanks for helping out Guelph

  9. Posted by: Pete Richardson on Dec 12, 2009 @ 3:31pm

    Student parking passes are about $300; a cost that would be greatly reduced if ALL students pitched in (even if they don't need to park a car on campus). But that wouldn't be fair, right? no one should have to pay for a service they do not use. Students who drive or use human energy (run, walk, bicycle, unicycle, etc) to school and NEVER use the Guelph transit are being robbed by the universal bus pass system. How did such a system get implemented anyway? ...oh wait, the CSA, right? oh well, the world will be out of oil soon anyway and we won't have to worry about this kind of stuff...we will have ACTUAL problems to deal with.

    DOWN WITH THE GOVERNMENT !!!

  10. Posted by: Jeffrey Ryan Martineau on Dec 14, 2009 @ 12:35pm

    Im just curious....
    Why don't these high school students take... the SCHOOL BUS to school??
    I don't feel sorry for kids that have to spend $60 a month because they are too cool to ride the banana bus.

    If they want to jack up the price of public transit, maybe they could also increase the quality of service?? The current $15 a month is reasonable enough for bus drivers that leave without you, and service that stops at 5pm on sundays, but If they want to quadruple the price, maybe they could improve on these areas??

  11. Posted by: Ovi on Dec 15, 2009 @ 12:09pm

    Hi,

    I have been paying for a parking permit and the bus pass sticker for 4 years so far and I have taken the bus about 8 times in total. I am also sure that there are many more students like myself that for example do not even know any bus routes.

    It sounds like this system where high school students and university students should be equal is something Guelph high school students' parents dreamed up for lack of anything better to do. Most of them already have a transport system at their disposal for Free.

    It also looks like the city is looking to supplement its budget with UofG student money as we will not put up a fervent fight and most students will just fall in line, sometimes out of necessity. I we need to boycott the system and find alternatives (carpool service, walking, etc), to show they can't do whatever they fathom.

    After all the university is getting away with charging more and more(ie. 5-6 dollars for a sandwich, copious amount of money for tuition, etc.) , why shouldn't the city ?

  12. Posted by: Norrie on Dec 17, 2009 @ 3:34pm

    This is a bad idea and I don't think that the transit system is going to make any more money from this. It seems likely that student ridership would drop significantly, offsetting the gains made by raising the price.

    25% of transit revenue is a big amount to risk and we can't be sure that this experiment will work. Maybe students will purchase bus tickets at the rates project by the city, maybe it will be lower or maybe higher. We can't really know until this is implemented.

    This is a bad idea. It will anger students and it's not guaranteed that revenues for the transit system will be higher. So what if you do get $300,000 more in revenue? Where will the other $7.7 million come from?

    Also, this will lead to other problems. Students who can afford cars will drive them to school instead of riding the bus. Students who can't afford the $60/month for a bus pass will walk, taking time away from their studies and part-time jobs.

    In conclussion:
    City council bad.
    Students good.

  13. Posted by: Peter119 on Dec 24, 2009 @ 7:03pm

    From quickly reading this article, with some experience as an accountant, it seems Michael Anders has no idea what he's doing. $15 currently paid for each student, half don't use the system at all, so that's $30 for each rider, then Anders says 25% (I would guess more) won't buy passes. And the pass that will include high school students, will be less than the $62 paid now. Get out a calculator Mr. Anders, there's no increased revenue. Only decreased service by the city.

    Parents of high school students complaining their kids pay more than university students. Well, last time I checked high school was 100% subsidized by the ministry of education. High school students don't pay $500 for a class, $100 or more for a text book, or any fees to the high school. Tax payers, including university students pay for all of it.

    I think this manager should look to increases service on the buses to increase riders. This will increase revenue. For example, why do drivers take a smoke break after every trip and leave the riders to wait outside? Seems like they should let people on the buses and help riders instead of 10 smoke breaks a day. If the transit was better run more people would use it.

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