Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SFUO takes U-Pass lobby to City

The Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO) is moving one step closer to convincing the City to approve a Universal Bus Pass for all undergraduate students at the school.

Last February, undergrads at the U of O voted overwhelmingly in favour of a $125 bus pass, paid once a semester by virtually all full-time students. Because the current price for a student bus pass for a semester is $232, the SFUO's offer would, if passed, constitute over $100 in savings each semester.

Ted Horton, a member of the SFUO's Board of Administration who has been very involved in the recent resurgence of the U-Pass, told TransitOttawa that the next step will be a presentation to Council's transit committee on Oct. 15 at 1:30 p.m. in City Hall's Champlain Room.

Horton said that the SFUO has met with all of the committee members individually, and they are all generally supportive of the concept. Capital ward councillor Clive Doucet has been particularly cooperative, he added.

But the most difficult lobby won't be at the transit committee. It will be at the City's budget committee, where cost becomes the issue.

According to Horton, OC Transpo number crunchers offered a $198 pass to the SFUO. That number was based on the potential increased ridership and perceived changes to the school's modal split -- the number of people who commute to campus in single-occupancy vehicles versus the number who carpool, take public transit, bike, or walk.

OC Transpo has about 80 per cent of the U of O community taking the bus to campus. Horton challenged those numbers, and suggested that an SFUO study pegged the number of student transit users at closer to 60 per cent.

That means there are more potential users to cover the costs of the program, he said, so the $198 estimate could come down. Horton was unsure how low the City would go, but he was confident of the SFUO's proposition to justify $125.

While OC Transpo doesn't want to eat the costs of the U-Pass and run a deficit, the SFUO will urge the city to underwrite the cost of the program.

Horton said the City stands to benefit from the positive externalities generated by more students on buses: cleaner air, less congested roads, faster movement of people around the city, and better roads that demand less maintenance.

For his part, SFUO President Dean Haldenby said that the students will not budge from their offered price of $125. That is the mandate students gave their union, he said, and it's that or bust.

As the Charlatan article linked above mentions, the SFUO is working closely with the Carleton University Students' Association (CUSA) to lobby the city. CUSA will be at the presentation to the Transit Committee.

Horton noted that both Carleton's students and administration are on board with the idea, and CUSA plans to an awareness campaign and a referendum later this year.

UPDATE: The Charlatan's Heather Wallace writes about what she sees as a number of benefits provided by the U-Pass. She finishes, though, with this appeal to Canadian values:

"Canadians are often noted for their dedication to each other through health care, social insurance programs and government welfare programs, which take the cost of a certain service and spread it amongst Canadians so that is affordable for all.

In my opinion, a universal bus pass for Carleton students would embrace this Canadian philosophy and offer, in the same way health care does, benefits for all."

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