By Joel McNally
The 2002 Students’ Union general elections may include the controversial question of a new student fee for a universal transit pass.
Contingent on approval by the Students’ Legislative Council, the "U-Pass" fee will be brought to referendum in March. Though final amounts are undetermined, the mandatory fee would provide University of Calgary students unlimited transit access with a valid campus ID card.
"[Calgary] Transit has more number crunching to do," said SU Vice-President Operations and Finance Natasha Dhillon. "They will be returning to campus for more counts but at last look, it appeared that $50 per semester would be fair."
A number of post-secondary institutions have adopted the U-Pass in recent years including the University of Victoria, the University of Western Ontario and many in the United States. Last year, Calgary Transit approached U of C, SAIT, and Mount Royal College about implementing such a scheme.
"They were asking way too much," said Dhillon. "Matt Lauzon, then VP Op-Fi, went on a cross-country trek to find out more about the passes to be able to make a solid recommendation."
SAIT, motivated by a parking crunch sparked by recent expansion, implemented a U-Pass program on Aug. 27, 2001. SAIT students pay $35 per semester, a lower price than anticipated at U of C due to subsidies through SAIT Parking and Food Services.
"Students are showing approval by riding," said SAIT spokesman Larry Lalonde. "We had a two year wait for parking passes and now, six months later, there is no wait."
The U-Pass is meant to address current and future parking problems on campus and encourage environmentally responsible commuting.
"The ongoing construction near Engineering has temporarily wiped out almost parking spaces," explained Director of Ancillary Services Peter Fraser. "If we had those spaces this year we’d be in pretty good shape. But the bottom line is, virtually all parking lots are future building sites."
The U-Pass, at $50 per semester, could save regular buyers of the $50 per month transit pass about $150 per semester. For those unable or unwilling to use transit, there is no option to not pay the fee.
"The reason Transit is thinking about a U-Pass is to increase their ridership," Dhillon stated. "If they agree to opt-outs then they will lose money. Offering an opt-out would mean that the price will skyrocket which then defeats the purpose of having a U-Pass."
Calgary Transit is not currently offering to expand or extend routes or hours of operation in order to serve students who cannot presently make use of transit services.
"We always review routes," said Calgary Transit spokesman Ron Collins. "If we need to add service to a route because people are being left behind then we do."
Despite these issues, proponents of the U-Pass claim that more people riding transit will also benefit those who still drive to the University.
"If more people use transit then less people are driving," Dhillon said."This will free up parking all over campus."
In the event that the U-Pass proposal is defeated by the SLC or in referendum, there are other, less appealing ways for the university to relieve on-campus parking pressure.
"We can solve parking problems by raising the rates until we don’t have a parking problem anymore," suggested Fraser.
In comparison, parking at the University of Alberta costs $7 per day at all parking lots. Meter rates are also in effect 24 hours per day, seven days a week.
For updates and discussion on the U-Pass, visit www.su.ucalgary.ca/forums.