Earlier this month, at the very height of mid-term exams, Edmonton Transit was put to the test at the University of Alberta.
The test — a referendum that asked students if they supported the continuation of ETS’ universal transit pass (U-Pass) program — proved to be a cakewalk, with 89 per cent of students voting to continue the program for at least another three years.
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Nick Dehod, the newly elected student union president, is now talking about expanding the program. One goal? To see communities such as Spruce Grove and Leduc step on board. Dehod also wants better late-night service and, in addition, hopes to make participation in the program possible for students enrolled in the spring and summer terms.
That Dehod wants to capitalize on the success of the U-Pass comes as no surprise: Transit service and ridership at the U of A are at an all-time high. What is stunning, however, is that the initiative continues to garner such strong support from students despite steep and steady increases in the cost of participating. When the U-Pass was first implemented in the 2007-08 school year, U of A students paid $75 a term for the program. By the 2012-13, however, students will be paying $116 a term — a staggering 54 per cent increase in just six years.
Over the next couple weeks, the U-Pass will be put through more rounds of exams as Grant MacEwan students vote on whether to continue the program as well, and NAIT students vote for the first time on whether they finally want to join the U-Pass party.
The probable outcome at these two schools, unlike at the U of A, is not so clear. At the U of A, a simple 50-per-cent-plus-one majority was all that was needed to renew the program. At MacEwan, however, 60 per cent of students will need to vote in favour of the program for it to continue; at NAIT, two-thirds will need to vote “Yes.”
Furthermore, the administrations at NAIT and MacEwan have chosen not to subsidize the U-Pass for their students. This means that, relative to their U of A counterparts, students at MacEwan and NAIT schools will be on the hook for roughly $21 more per term.
With tuition costs already rising by hundreds — sometimes thousands — of dollars across the province, and with national student unemployment just now starting to come down from the highest levels ever recorded, perhaps the city is asking too much of its already financially-strained students.