It may just be the beginning of spring, but I suspect it’s already feeling like summer for some Edmonton Transit officials.

Last week, nearly 80 per cent of Grant MacEwan students voted in favour of staying onboard ETS’ Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) program for at least another three years. The cherry on the cake came a few days later, though, when the NAIT Student Association (NAITSA) announced that — as a result of a referendum — it would also be jumping on the U-Pass bandwagon for the first time.

Hold the floats and fireworks, though, because I’m going to rain on ETS’ parade for just a second and point out that the announcement from NAITSA almost didn’t happen.

For the referendum at NAIT to pass, a 66.7 per cent “Yes” majority was needed. It was a squeaker in every sense of the term: A little more than 2,000 NAIT students cast ballots on the issue, with 68 per cent voting in favour of the U-Pass program.

A victory is a victory, yes; however, having passed by just a 1.3 per cent margin, the vote at NAIT speaks very strongly to the fact that ETS still has some work to do.

During an interview with outgoing NAIT Student Association president Geoffrey Tate earlier this month, Tate noted that transit service to all of NAIT campuses isn’t exactly phenomenal. A ratification of the referendum, he went on to say, should therefore be viewed more as “a gesture of good faith towards ETS” than anything else.

It’s easy to see what Tate means: At present, NAIT is without a real transit station. Furthermore, outside of peak hours, ETS service to NAIT’s various campuses is nothing short of abysmal. For such a large and important institution — one with thousands of staff and tens of thousands of students coming and going at all hours of the day — these are things that need to change and soon.

Having NAIT join the U-Pass program this year is, without doubt, great news. The program dramatically reduces the cost of taking transit for those NAIT students who already do, and encourages those who don’t take transit to try it out. Lack of parking space is a major issue at NAIT, and, while it will not solve this problem, the U-Pass will certainly help.

If ETS officials want to see the U-Pass continue at NAIT beyond 2012, though, they have a lot of work ahead of them. Increasing off-peak service and finally giving NAIT its own transit station would be just a few steps in the right direction.

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