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Should students have to pay for a UPass?

Yes, it’s an important campus resource for a number of reasons

By Emilie Medland, September 25 2014 —

Tuition and fees are constantly the topic of conversation on campus. The UPass is a cost that’s hidden in plain sight — you don’t pay for the public transit pass as you use it, but it’s a mandatory cost included in your student fees.

Some argue that the $125 per semester expense is too much, especially for students who don’t use public transit. But it’s a much better deal than the $90 monthly fee that transit-using Calgarians pay for their daily commutes.

But when the cost of buying into this program doesn’t benefit us all, why should we pay? Maybe students should be able to opt out of buying the UPass. We could even eliminate it all together.

However, an optional fee isn’t possible with Calgary Transit. All students must contribute to the UPass program for the University of Calgary to receive the discounted rate. If we don’t have students subsidizing each other, the only option is to eliminate the program.

The UPass benefits every student on campus. The university’s use of public transit reduces our ecological footprint — a big part of the U of C’s agenda — by encouraging students to take transit. All over campus, posters and stickers encourage students to sort their waste, recycle and turn off the lights in classrooms. The university is living up to their rhetoric with programming that’s backed up with consistent funding.

If the UPass pulls one more car off of Crowchild Trail each morning, surely it’s doing more good than harm.

Besides being environmentally beneficial, the pass is genuinely helpful. If you’re stuck somewhere or you’re unable to drive, the UPass lets you travel across the city without paying for a cab. This is important for young adults. Students are young and will inevitably find themselves in risky situations. They should have a way home that’s safe and accessible.

Being part of a campus community means buying into one. If we want students to have a low-cost and accessible way to travel around Calgary, we have to pay for it.

And while some might complain about the extra costs tacked onto student fees, it’s important that these services are provided. Instead of complaining about something that benefits students, we should pay more attention to money that’s wasted on stuff like extravagant executive salaries and luxury office renovations.

Even better, we should spend more time worrying about the budget of the university. Upper-level management is skilled at barrelling ahead with fee hikes and luxury costs. Complaining about a useful service being provided for a rational fee seems irrelevant when compared to market modifiers or President Elizabeth Cannon’s $8-million renovations.

Keeping student fees low is important to everyone, but we shouldn’t sacrifice the benefits of a community.

The UPass provides a useful service to students. That’s something I’m willing to put money towards.


No, it forces students to pay for a service they cannot use

By Jeremy Woo, September 25 2014 —

Sometimes, the free market isn’t the solution. That’s why I don’t mind seeing Canada Pension Plan deductions on my paycheque. I’m happy to chip in some money for Employment Insurance and I’m pleased to pay Students’ Union dues. I may never use these services, but it’s comforting to know that I’d have access to them in a time of need.

The same cannot be said about the UPass, which gives students access to Calgary Transit services. Once enrolled, full-time students are required to pay the mandatory $125 UPass fee each semester.

But some students can’t access public transit. Unlike university tuition or SU dues, students are required to fork over hard-earned cash for access to a transit system that is useless to them.

Students who live in communities like Airdrie and Cochrane have no way of using the UPass. Nine per cent of Calgary’s population doesn’t live within city limits. These students must drive to reach the University of Calgary and anywhere else in the city. We force them to buy into a service that they don’t have the opportunity to use.

Though these students could use Calgary Transit’s Park and Ride service, you still need a vehicle to reach the train station. Being forced to drive combined with the potentially expensive parking defeats the point of the UPass.

At C-Train stations, parking is difficult to find and can be expensive. You might as well drive the extra 20 minutes and park at the university.

Even living within city limits doesn’t mean that you’ll have a way to use your UPass. If there is transit in your neighbourhood, it can be so erratic that the pass is essentially useless.

Communities in the southeast still don’t have transit. If you live in a new suburb, you probably won’t see a bus rolling by this semester. But you’ll still pay for a transit pass that can’t fulfill it’s most basic design — to provide you with transportation.

In some communities, there simply aren’t any buses on evenings and weekends. Improving public transit would go a long way to improve the usability of the UPass. But until then, it’s unfair to make students in communities with highly accessible public transit pay the same fee as students with no access. We shouldn’t be forced to subsidize each other’s transportation on account of postal codes.

If we chose to eliminate the UPass, there are other options for students. Many students would qualify for a low-income monthly transit pass. They cost $44 a month, which is only $14 per month more than the UPass program. There’s also the added benefit of people paying for the services they plan to use. And if students don’t qualify for a low-income transit pass, they probably don’t need one in the first place.

Like many students, I don’t use all of the services I pay for. I probably don’t visit the Student Success Centre as much as I should. I seldom step foot into the law library. I don’t participate in every event put on by the SU or always listen to CJSW.

What’s important about most campus services is that the option to access them is always there. If I want to visit the law library or tune into CJSW, nothing is stopping me. Not using these services is a decision I make.

With the UPass, the decision is already made for us. Personal choice doesn’t make up for the lack of accessibility. Some students are being forced to pay for a service they can’t use.

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