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U-Pass BC 2013 Referendum: Not fair on students who don't drive

Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

There is a referendum underway for the U-Pass BC. The pass expires in March 2013, and all students have to vote to either continue with the pass or to end it.

U-Pass BC is available to all post-secondary students in BC through a partnership between the Province of British Columbia, TransLink and BC Transit. The program is universal for all eligible Metro Vancouver post-secondary students and is mandatory in order to lower the cost per student.

All this sounds fine in theory but there is a serious flaw in reasoning in the whole affair.

To begin with, the fact that the pass is mandatory means students who don't need it because they drive to college are made to pay double. They have to pay for the pass, as well as gas and parking. Of course they'll not be happy about this.

Having a referendum seems like the obvious thing to do. It's the students who stand to benefit from it so they should be able to decide if they want it. But there's a flaw in this.

Students who own cars and drive to college outnumber those who use transit. If these owners of cars vote against the pass, and if the pass is cancelled, the students who do need the pass will have to pay full fare.

This is a matter of rich students who don't want and don't need the pass deciding the fate of students who want and need the pass. We can't blame them for this. The fault lies in the decision to make the pass mandatory. It's mandatory to lower costs, as already mentioned.

But there's a concession fare for all students below college level. Yet it's not mandatory for every student to buy a concession monthly pass. They buy it if they want it, and the rest pay a concession fare when they use transit.

If the concession pass is not mandatory to lower rates, why is the U-Pass mandatory to lower rates? Why can't it just be available to students who really need it?

One more thing. Students who drive to college are increasing pollution and traffic congestion. If indeed the pass is to be mandatory, it should not be put to a vote. The students who drive should consider the mandatory pass a penalty for driving.

But at least the students who either can't afford a car or don't want to drive to college should be able to get their U-Pass. They need it, and they're helping the environment in the process.


Comments

Bacchus
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Joined: Dec 8 2003

Or the students who dont drive should consider paying full fare their contribution to funding good transit?


ryanw
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Joined: May 24 2012

Karim Jessa wrote:

Students who own cars and drive to college outnumber those who use transit. If these owners of cars vote against the pass, and if the pass is cancelled, the students who do need the pass will have to pay full fare.

how did last year's referendum pass if that is true?


Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003
Karim, have you seen any evidence that thee U-pass is in danger of not being renewed? It passed at UBC quite easily, for example. And I don't agree with you that the pass shouldn't be mandatory. Allowing wealthier students to opt out of a socialized program is extremely bad policy.

Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

Bacchus wrote:

Or the students who dont drive should consider paying full fare their contribution to funding good transit?

Sounds very public-spirited. We need good transit. Transit needs money to run. Let's contribute by paying full fare.

The rest of us are already doing that. Transit fares increased in January. There was an increase just last year. Later this year the new fare card will kick in. That will cost more to the frequent users who currently get a break by using the monthly pass.

But, anyway, there's still concession fares. Students below college level, seniors, Handydart. Let's scrap all these. Let them all pay full fare and contribute to funding good transit.


Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

ryanw wrote:

Karim Jessa wrote:

Students who own cars and drive to college outnumber those who use transit. If these owners of cars vote against the pass, and if the pass is cancelled, the students who do need the pass will have to pay full fare.

how did last year's referendum pass if that is true?

The Pass used to be exclusive to UBC. Other colleges had been fighting to get included. It only got expanded to include all colleges as of 2011 after a vote in 2010 in which the students voted overwhelmingly to participate in the Pass (95%).

I'm not sure by what margin it passed in 2012. This year, based on word among students on their social networks, the car-owners are against it. That doesn't mean it's certain to be cancelled. But if there's any risk at all, I felt I should bring it to people's attention. 


Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

Catchfire wrote:
Karim, have you seen any evidence that thee U-pass is in danger of not being renewed? It passed at UBC quite easily, for example. And I don't agree with you that the pass shouldn't be mandatory. Allowing wealthier students to opt out of a socialized program is extremely bad policy.

I'm going by the word on students' social networks. That doesn't mean it's certain to fail, as I mentioned in the reply to the previous coment. However, why take a chance?

And it allows me the opportunity to air the grievance in the way it's handled. I agree with you that it should be mandatory. I believe I did make it clear at the end of my post. I only said it should not be mandatory if it means that car-owners get to decide to scrap it by referendum.

The main thing is, the Pass is needed and must stay. If the combination of mandatory/referendum is to jeopardise the pass, either it should not be mandatory but available to those who need it or it should be mandatory without referendum.


NorthReport
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Joined: Jul 6 2008

This referendum is typical rich people's elitist nonsense.

Where are the elected politicians in all of this? Oh right I keep forgetting, trans-link is an unelected body where many are earning over 100,000 a year. These trans-link folks are the true "Untouchables" in our society.


Sven
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Joined: Jul 22 2005
NorthReport wrote:

trans-link is an unelected body where many are earning over 100,000 a year.

Good gracious, those rich sons-of-guns!

Catchfire
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Joined: Apr 16 2003

Sven, a salary of $100 000 per year is three times the Canadian average. By what criteria is that not rich?

Karim, thanks for raising this issue here. I agree that we need to look further than just UBC in terms of solidifying the U-Pass in Greater Vancouver. That means not just using the mandatory pass as a cash cow without serving students' needs, like building a streetcar or SkyTrain line down Broadway, or the gondala up Burnaby mountain. It's a big issue in BC -- we need to stop building shitty, expensive commuter bridges and investing in longterm transit solutions. The U-Pass is a key part of that project.


Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

NorthReport wrote:

This referendum is typical rich people's elitist nonsense.

Where are the elected politicians in all of this? Oh right I keep forgetting, trans-link is an unelected body where many are earning over 100,000 a year. These trans-link folks are the true "Untouchables" in our society.

I support referendums in principle. After all, they're the way for citizens in general to make their voice heard, as, for instance, the referendum on the HST in BC that got overturned thanks to a referendum.

In this instance, however, the referendum works not for but against the students' interests. If the Pass is rejected the transit system will simply make more money because those who need to use public transit will use it no matter what. And if the Pass stays the transit system still makes money because all students will have to buy one. A perfect win-win situation for the system.


Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

Catchfire wrote:

Sven, a salary of $100 000 per year is three times the Canadian average. By what criteria is that not rich?

Karim, thanks for raising this issue here. I agree that we need to look further than just UBC in terms of solidifying the U-Pass in Greater Vancouver. That means not just using the mandatory pass as a cash cow without serving students' needs, like building a streetcar or SkyTrain line down Broadway, or the gondala up Burnaby mountain. It's a big issue in BC -- we need to stop building shitty, expensive commuter bridges and investing in longterm transit solutions. The U-Pass is a key part of that project.

Agreed. As you mention in your post about a SkyTrain link to UBC, those 99 B-LIne buses are unable to cope with the volume of transit users.


theleftyinvestor
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Joined: Jun 6 2008

The viability of a U-Pass really depends on circumstances. UBC and SFU are perfect examples of campuses where a transit pass is a win for just about everyone, because both campuses are in remote locations, UBC separated by a large park from the rest of civilization at a 100 m elevation, and SFU on a mountain. Hence, off-campus commuters need transit to get to campus, and on-campus residents need transit to get away, and the fraction of students who do neither is not that large due to availability of transit and the cost of parking.

But it doesn't work for everyone... Toronto is a prime example of where a mandatory U-Pass referendum failed, and not just because students didn't get enough of a discount. Ryerson and U of T's downtown campus are both situated downtown. Students living on or near campus can easily access all the amenities they want within walking or biking distance, and only take transit when going further afield. Students at a moderate distance do take transit regularly, but students coming from far-flung suburbs are poorly served by transit and will drive.

Vancouver has no full-fledged downtown universities (although there are UBC and SFU programs that take place mostly on their downtown satellite campuses). But colleges dot the landscape all over the place, often in relatively walkable and bikeable neighbourhoods. So the people who don't want a mandatory UPass may well be not just the car commuters but also the people who don't drive and *still* don't take enough transit to warrant the pass.

And then there are the suburban campuses... frankly, the transit system is just not designed to take passengers between two arbitrary points in two different suburbs. So while on one hand I'd like to see as many as possible pitching into the transit system, it doesn't seem right to make someone pay when they will never be well-served enough to benefit from their contribution. But part of that is TransLink failing to get sufficiently funded to set priorities in accordance with the goals of the UPass program.


Karim Jessa
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Joined: Feb 14 2013

theleftyinvestor wrote:

But it doesn't work for everyone... Toronto is a prime example of where a mandatory U-Pass referendum failed, and not just because students didn't get enough of a discount. Ryerson and U of T's downtown campus are both situated downtown. Students living on or near campus can easily access all the amenities they want within walking or biking distance, and only take transit when going further afield. Students at a moderate distance do take transit regularly, but students coming from far-flung suburbs are poorly served by transit and will drive.

...So the people who don't want a mandatory UPass may well be not just the car commuters but also the people who don't drive and *still* don't take enough transit to warrant the pass.

And then there are the suburban campuses... frankly, the transit system is just not designed to take passengers between two arbitrary points in two different suburbs. So while on one hand I'd like to see as many as possible pitching into the transit system, it doesn't seem right to make someone pay when they will never be well-served enough to benefit from their contribution. But part of that is TransLink failing to get sufficiently funded to set priorities in accordance with the goals of the UPass program.

If students in Toronto do not have a U-Pass because a referendum failed, it only brings me back to my point that a referendum on a U-Pass anywhere is unfair on students who don't drive. I should add simply, students who don't drive and do need to use transit.

The point is, no student who needs to use transit should have to pay full rate because the majority either don't want to or don't need to use transit.

It's like saying no elderly, handicapped, or needy person should have to pay full rate because the majority don't need to don't want to use transit.

In the matter of students, if you don't want to penalise those who walk or bike to college, then in that case, and only in that case, don't make the U-Pass mandatory. If even one student needs to use the transit, that student should be able to get a concession rate.


Bacchus
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Joined: Dec 8 2003

theleftyinvestor wrote:

And then there are the suburban campuses... frankly, the transit system is just not designed to take passengers between two arbitrary points in two different suburbs. So while on one hand I'd like to see as many as possible pitching into the transit system, it doesn't seem right to make someone pay when they will never be well-served enough to benefit from their contribution. But part of that is TransLink failing to get sufficiently funded to set priorities in accordance with the goals of the UPass program.

 

That is an excellent description of Toronto's transit system. Designed for moving people around downtown or to and from downtown.

 

Not from one suburban point in Toronto to another


theleftyinvestor
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Joined: Jun 6 2008

Bacchus wrote:

theleftyinvestor wrote:

And then there are the suburban campuses... frankly, the transit system is just not designed to take passengers between two arbitrary points in two different suburbs. So while on one hand I'd like to see as many as possible pitching into the transit system, it doesn't seem right to make someone pay when they will never be well-served enough to benefit from their contribution. But part of that is TransLink failing to get sufficiently funded to set priorities in accordance with the goals of the UPass program.

 

That is an excellent description of Toronto's transit system. Designed for moving people around downtown or to and from downtown.

 

Not from one suburban point in Toronto to another

I meant it for the GVRD but you are correct. Burnaby is a bit of a structural mess despite a long-running pro-transit, pro-bike city council. The roads, let alone the buses and trains, are not designed to get you efficiently along any north-south axis without detouring to the east or west (although, granted, this is in part because of the topography). But it means that there's sort of this "transit Burnaby" woven through the city where people who don't own cars tend to live, and they don't go anywhere else in Burnaby that isn't along a narrow transit corridor, and everything else they do is in Vancouver. And then there is "car Burnaby".

Karim Jessa wrote:

In the matter of students, if you don't want to penalise those who walk or bike to college, then in that case, and only in that case, don't make the U-Pass mandatory. If even one student needs to use the transit, that student should be able to get a concession rate.

And this is where competing interests often come into play. For U of T Scarborough, foot/bike commuters were not a major factor. For U of T downtown and Ryerson, foot/bike commuters are a very significant fraction of the population. 

Generally people who walk and bike everywhere are of a political mindset to support better transit. But they also do not want to be forced to buy transit they are not going to use. However, it's usually the transit authority which demands that it be a mandatory program in order to get the deep discount. Hence, if the only choices are mandatory or no U-Pass at all, that puts foot/bike commuters in a bind.

UBC and SFU, as I mentioned, are model examples where just about everyone benefits from transit, which gives you a referendum result like 96.4% (UBC 2013). 


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

theleftyinvestor wrote:

I meant it for the GVRD but you are correct. Burnaby is a bit of a structural mess despite a long-running pro-transit, pro-bike city council. The roads, let alone the buses and trains, are not designed to get you efficiently along any north-south axis without detouring to the east or west (although, granted, this is in part because of the topography). But it means that there's sort of this "transit Burnaby" woven through the city where people who don't own cars tend to live, and they don't go anywhere else in Burnaby that isn't along a narrow transit corridor, and everything else they do is in Vancouver. And then there is "car Burnaby".

The problem Burnaby has is the "car river" running through it going east west.  The freeway from Surrey to Vancouver that bisects the city is the reason you can't go north south except along the few corridors that have overpasses over the freeway. 

Burnaby was originally built up along the lines of the old Interurban Railway from Vancouver to New West and the rail line that ran out Hastings street. In keeping with that tradition the city has decided that any density should be built within walking distance of Skytrain stations.


theleftyinvestor
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Joined: Jun 6 2008

kropotkin1951 wrote:

The problem Burnaby has is the "car river" running through it going east west.  The freeway from Surrey to Vancouver that bisects the city is the reason you can't go north south except along the few corridors that have overpasses over the freeway. 

Burnaby was originally built up along the lines of the old Interurban Railway from Vancouver to New West and the rail line that ran out Hastings street. In keeping with that tradition the city has decided that any density should be built within walking distance of Skytrain stations.

Well that's a factor too. But I work in Burnaby south of Marine Drive and what I see there is a totally different story. Big long industrial park with (depending on where) infrequent or competely absent transit. Clearly Burnaby didn't give much thought to the same walkability and density concerns in terms of industrial policy because you simply cannot commute to work by transit where I work. And then you have the Market Crossing plaza, whose only transit customers appear to be the workers in the businesses themselves. Giant parking lot serving industrial employees with cars and suburbanites who are definitely not taking the bus there to shop.

And from the industrial area by the river, any north-south travel to other points in Burnaby is nightmarish no matter what route or type of vehicle you take. I was once looking for a walk-in clinic in Burnaby that would be open before work, and the only one I could find with early enough hours was on Hastings. I ran the numbers and realized that it would actually be faster to go west from East Van to Cambie/Broadway and visit a walk-in clinic there, then drive to work in Burnaby, than to go east north to Hastings in Burnaby and then try to get all the way to south of Marine.

Anyway we're getting off track from the U-Pass but I'm just trying to express that Metro Vancouver has a variety of different transport-challenged neighbourhoods, and I can see how some suburban colleges might be likely to reject the U-Pass on the grounds that it doesn't give them enough value for what they'll end up getting (and some urban ones for the opposite reason, that they get around fine with neither cars nor transit).


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

Indeed the Market Square area and the North Fraser Way industrial park have little to no transit and are geared to the car.  My wife works on North Fraser Way so I DRIVE down there often. 

As for other colleges I know my son when he went to Douglas College wanted the U-Pass extended to his school put it did not happen before he transferred to UBC.  He is very happy to be involved in the U-Pass program because he doesn't own a vehicle.  Given he works in Burnaby and goes to UBC he now lives around Main and 12th so he gets about a 45 minute commute to either work or school.

We need more programs like the U-Pass. Personally I would have rather seen them build new transit capacity rather than tolled bridges. I would also agree with lowered transit fees and driver charges based on kilometers driven.


theleftyinvestor
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Joined: Jun 6 2008

Absolutely, they need to get their priorities straight. Imagine if all the funds that had been spent on the big wide bridge that tries to kill you in the winter had gone into transit.

Perhaps your wife and I work only blocks away from one another. There was a forum on transit in the N Fraser Way parks recently but I missed it due to work obligations.


kropotkin1951
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Joined: Jun 6 2002

She is at 5000.  You may even work at the same place, you never know.


theleftyinvestor
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Joined: Jun 6 2008

kropotkin1951 wrote:

She is at 5000.  You may even work at the same place, you never know.

Nope I'm east of there but I pass by every day. 

I only have four co-workers. Two are female, of which one is not married, and the other has never had her husband drop by ever, most likely because she commutes a fair distance and he works near home. So it did not seem likely that it was the same office ;-)


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