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UPass program wastes student money

By Keean Bexte, January 21, 2016 —

Have you picked up your $130 transit sticker yet? If you are part of the 47 per cent of students who don’t use public transit as their preferred method of transportation, you might not know what I’m talking about. This is because the intention of Calgary Transit’s UPass program isn’t to help students. It’s to gouge students at universities with low transit ridership — one of which is the University of Calgary.

In a document shared with Students’ Legislative Council in the summer of 2014, Calgary Transit director Doug Morgan revealed that the UPass is not offered to schools with less than 1,000 students or high transit use. Why? Because the UPass plan plan was not designed to help students with the high costs of transportation. If it was, they would offer it to all students. Instead, this plan forces student bodies into using Calgary Transit, and takes their money from them whether they use it or not.

Over 13,000 students at the U of C don’t need or use this $130 sticker. That is the equivalent of every full-time student in the faculties of science, engineering, veterinary medicine, nursing, business and medicine combined. The sheer volume of students that Calgary Transit takes money from at the U of C subsidizes eight per cent of their total city-wide revenue, effectively making it cheaper for rich men in suits to take the train downtown.

Instead of this transit sticker, I could purchase the $10 beer and burger combo at the Den every Monday for the entire semester and then again the next semester — money that would be going to the Students’ Union. Heck, for the few days each semester I actually go to class, I could even pay for the ludicrous parking costs.

But it’s not like I have a choice — the city requires that all students purchase a UPass for a school to be eligible. And this lets Calgary Transit charge an inflated price for a service most students can already afford.

There are currently about 28,000 full-time students on campus. This year U of C students will pay Calgary Transit around $7.5 million, neglecting spring and summer semester fees.

But Calgary Transit offers a low income pass for $44 a month, or $176 a semester. According to the Students’ Union, almost every student makes less than their qualifying threshold of a $23,861 annual salary. Not only is the extra $41 a completely reasonable amount to ask transit-using students to pay each semester, it would net the student body an overall $2 million. At a usage rate of 53 per cent, paying their own $176 a semester, students would end up paying $5.2 million altogether — neglecting the few tickets you buy when you drunkenly meander from residence to Cowboys one Friday each semester.

This is a difference of around $2.3 million a year, which is money that could be spent far better on food, gas and textbooks. The cost of the UPass shot up over 100 per cent in the past decade because Calgary Transit knows that students are complacent when it comes to a few fees here and there.

But we don’t have to be. Contact your SU representatives and demand a change. You might just get a few more beers out of it.

Keean Bexte is a third-year natural sciences student. He writes a monthly column about Students’ Union politics called Committee of the Whole

This column originally identified the per-semester price of the UPass as $135. The correct price is $130. The Gauntlet apologizes to our readers for this error.

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