Well, the U-Pass was nice while it lasted. I suppose it was inevitable in a way: an ETS program that managed to double ridership with relatively low fares predictably tied to inflation … it just had to be too good to be true.
It’s not dead yet, but city administration just recommended nearly doubling the price, and that will not sit well with the university students that have to approve it by referendum.
Edmonton’s U-Pass program is already on the expensive side at $97 per semester.
Picture yourself as a student advocate. Do you gamble the entire program railing against the increase, or do you just hand your money over to the city? Would your answer change if I told you I thought the city was bluffing? Here’s why: the city auditor claims that the program “cost” them $6.6 million in 2008.
To get that number, they took the $6.5 million University of Alberta and MacEwan University students paid and subtracted $2.6 million for increased service and an “opportunity cost” of $10.5 million.
An opportunity cost is the second choice you give up to get your first choice. But the city auditor’s use of “opportunity cost” includes fares ETS would have charged U-Pass holders to ride as much as they did in 2008. That’s nonsense: the opportunity cost needs to be calculated on ridership without the U-Pass.
The whole point was to increase ridership by reducing up-front costs, and it did. Not only is the city claiming imaginary revenues on about 6.6 million trips, it’s ignoring more physical savings, like $3.4 million in road maintenance and sustained fare revenue.
Someone could probably use the same numbers to argue the program saves money, and with budget proceedings coming up this just comes across as a contrived cash-grab. Rather than increasing service to counter overcrowding and then sending students the bill, they’re skipping right to the bill.
So, students, what’s it going to be? Call or fold? The future of the U-Pass is on the line.