By Kayla Perry
The Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass), which is provided for full-time Laurentian University students to access Greater Sudbury bus services as a part of their tuition, is up for renewal with the City of Greater Sudbury.
The contract is typically re-negotiated every three years, and it was last negotiated in 2011. The U-Pass program began in September 2006 and originally cost $135 annually, funds which were taken from full-time students’ tuition as it is now. Currently, the U-Pass gives unlimited bus access to students during all eight months of the school year, costing $164 per year. The fee is deducted from each student’s tuition.
“It is public knowledge that the mayor of Sudbury has decided to commission a report about the financial sustainability, so to speak, of the transit system as a whole,” said Mark Mancini,Vice President of Student Issues for the SGA. “The U-Pass is a part of that, so I think (the city) will be investigating the profitability and sustainability of the U-Pass as part of the Sudbury transit system. With that knowledge in mind we want to arm ourselves with as much knowledge and research as possible.”
The city report is not expected to be released until the summer months.
Mancini said that the program is a “very good deal” for students, although “the concern for us becomes if the city finds that the U-Pass is not profitable, and decides to increase the price of the U-Pass,” at which point the SGA would re-evaluate what is best for students.
When the U-Pass referendum passed in 2006, it was on the terms that the price of each U-Pass could not raise to be above $200 without the referendum being ratified.
“I don’t want to speculate that is what’s going to happen at all, it’s just one scenario that’s plausible,” said Mancini. “We are looking at different options of what to do, should the scenario arise.”
Mancini said that 20 per cent of current Laurentian University students live on campus, with a growing demographic of off-campus and on-campus students having cars: Mancini said these are demographics the SGA are “keeping in mind.”
At a past SGA board meeting, Mancini said the board had directed the SGA executive to research a number of different transportation pass options, such as making the U-Pass voluntary, or lengthening the pass functionality to twelve months.
“These are all options we want to explore, especially if the prices of the U-Pass are going to increase, in a worst case scenario.”
The Students’ General Association (SGA) must negotiate with the City of Greater Sudbury, as well as the Association of Francophone Students of Laurentian University (AEF) and the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA). Although the SGA and AEF have typically negotiated together, this year the city has asked that the GSA is included in the negotiations, after their similar bus plan referendum passed during elections last year.
Mancini said there is still a lot of work to do in negotiation, although the associations have a presentation for the city. He said the associations are looking at a “whole array of different options, keeping in mind that the city’s relationship with the U-Pass might become a little bit tumultuous.”
The student associations and city officials are meeting again the week of March 3, to inform the city of the student associations’ position, as well as what the SGA would like to research further, and to set a timeline for this contract period.