Monday, July 13, 2009

Grassroots campaign pops up in opposition to age limits for student bus passes

Five days ago, Carleton student Will Samuel was "cursing and swearing" at OC Transpo's policy that prohibits students over 27 years old from acquiring student bus passes. And he wasn't going to let Ottawa's public transit provider get away with it without a fight.

Indeed, the 32-year-old Samuel created a Facebook group five days ago that protests the decision. It took just a matter of hours to attract hundreds of followers and has since surpassed 1,000 members. The group is something of a focal point for like-minded students from various Ottawa campuses.

The policy passed city council as part of a much larger motion during budget deliberations last December, but it has just now mobilized a growing number of students.

Ottawa's Metro has taken the lead on mainstream coverage, running two stories in the past four days. The paper quotes student union presidents at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa. They both oppose the policy and have promised to mobilize their student bodies.

Carleton University Students' Association Erik Halliwell is the only student leader so far to get in touch with Samuel, but others -- including Student Federation of the University of Ottawa vice-president university affairs Ted Horton -- are members of the group.

Samuel told TransitOttawa.ca that he was shocked by the waves made by his initiative, which he expected to top out at about 100. But he had words of warning for council.

"The city is grossly underestimating the ability of students to band together," he said.

The city's pedestrian and transit advisory committee will speak about the issue at its meeting this Thursday. The citizen-led body could pass a motion advising council to repeal the policy, though councillors are in no way bound to honour it.

Committee vice-chair Shawn Menard, who is currently the president of the Centretown Citizens' Community Association, is also a past-president of CUSA. He didn't express an opinion about the discussion in the story, but he did acknowledge the opposition.

"It is becoming an issue, and legitimately so," he said.

Samuel hopes that the discussion at the advisory committee sticks to the age-limit discussion. He is worried that it could be at least partially swallowed up by the debate about a Universal Bus Pass for students, another transit issue that many students have pushed quite strongly over the last couple of years.