OneCard negotiations re-open

By Ryan Barlow

For the last few years negotiations to encourage OneCard use by vendors within the MacEwan Student Centre have been ongoing. The latest proposal from the university to expand the program came this summer but was unanimously rejected by vendors. For the last two months, negotiations were at a standstill, but in the last 24 hours the SU and university have re-opened talks.

All students on campus are issued OneCards. These identification cards also function as a type of debit card, which can be used to purchase many items and services.

For residence students, OneCards can be loaded with thousands of dollars for their food purchases. However, they have restricted use because not all vendors on campus currently accept them.

Under the latest proposal, every transaction using OneCards would cost a vendor 7-12 per cent of the price of an item.

“To give comparison for Visa or debit it’s a maximum of three per cent, so it’s a big change,” said Students’ Union vice-president of finance and operations Patrick Straw. “They’ve tried in the past and [the idea has] been around for a while. We looked at a number of options, and we looked at a number of different proposals for how it could work., and it just wasn’t feasible.”

Despite the prospect of increased business from residents’ meal plans, “a lot of the vendors believe students are already spending money in MacHall. Why would they go over to something where they lose 12 per cent when they believe students are already paying in MacHall?”

Straw said the vendors would be in support of it if the plan was restructured.

However, yesterday’s negotiations did see some restructuring of the plan. Straw told the Gauntlet the driving force is coming from the residence students. Discussion with the Residence Students’ Association resulted in the reopening of talks.

“We realized students wouldn’t mind fronting some of the proposed 7-12 per cent cost,” said Straw.

Straw said many students’ parents pay for their OneCard meal plans and therefore were okay with the increase.

Some students have expressed concerns however.

Straw said negotiations are ongoing and there is currently no timeline for their completion.

He talked about the possibility of cost sharing the 7-12 per cent transaction rate between the SU, student and vendor.

Originally, the proposed 7-12 per cent transaction fee is what the vendors wanted to see reconsidered.

The 7-12 per cent rate goes to covering the cost of the program and the rest goes back into the university budget.

“The Students’ Union won’t support a program that would have vendors raising prices for students,” he said.

According to Kari Dodds, owner of Brew & Blendz in the Kinesiology building, “outside of MacHall, [vendors] are subcontracted through Chartwells. That’s why we fall into an area where we are able to accept OneCards.”

Chartwells, owned by Compass Group North America, is the food service that operates on campus. Chartwells also subcontracts special arrangements with some of the chain restaurants on campus like Tim Hortons and Pizza 73, which is why these vendors can accept OneCards. However, Starbucks and Good Earth are not affiliated with Chartwells and they accept OneCards.

Associate vice-provost of residence and ancillary services, Voula Cocolakis, told the Gauntlet that the university is trying to expand the use and acceptance of the OneCard across campus. Up until this year residence students’ dining plans were limited to the dining centre and retailers on campus that were operated through Chartwells.

Cocolakis believes that residence students would “love nothing more than to see OneCards accepted across campus.”

She said the university charges vendors because they are trying to recoup costs associated with the OneCard.

“The vendors in MacHall, it is their choice not to accept it,” she said.

Cocolakis also noted that the majority of vendors who do accept the OneCard are operated under Chartwells.

She could not disclose the rate vendors who currently accept the OneCard are required to pay.

“That is a contract detail that we are not open to discuss at this time.”

She hopes that in the future the OneCard will be accepted off-campus. “Students could use it to pay for pizza off-campus or for a taxi.”

When asked what is going to push businesses to accept OneCards, Cocolakis responded that “the pressure is going to come from the students. It’s going to take a couple of years to get there; I think it will be a good thing for all of our students.”

Residence students tend to be the strongest supporters of the OneCard.

First-year student Brittany Rock, who lives on campus, said, “I don’t understand why OneCards haven’t already been adopted by all vendors. It would be much more practical for the businesses to offer their services and accept payment with the OneCard since all students living in residence have them. She said that it would “help their sales if vendors were more flexible.”

First-year business student Melissa Glass, who commutes to campus, would support a reasonable raise in prices.

“It would be nice if I wouldn’t be affected if the cost was only passed along to OneCard users. At the same time, I don’t think it would be totally fair to burden the people that would be using their cards a lot because often they are students living with a small income.”

Glass supports the idea of off-campus OneCard acceptance. She said that businesses that accept OneCards would see increased interest from students and it might be a good way for businesses to market themselves as student-friendly.

“I really like the idea of the card and I think we need to support it as much as possible. Money is becoming more and more digital and less physical, so this is just one great way for the school to stay caught up with the rest of the world.”

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