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Student transit program extended beyond 2016 with $5 hike per semester

Photo: Marta Kierkus

U-Pass fees will go up in September as the City of Ottawa approved the continuation of the universal transit program for the 2015–16 academic year and beyond.

Students will pay $192.70 a semester starting in the fall, as opposed to the $188 they paid this year.

“While the U-Pass is a high value program, the SFUO continues to question its revenue neutrality. We recognize that we have one of the most expensive passes in the country,” said Chris Hynes, vice-president of university affairs of the Student Federation of the University of Ottawa (SFUO).

Hynes, who has promised for the past two years that he would negotiate a summer U-Pass, said he hasn’t met with OC Transpo as much as he’d like this year, after an audit of the contract renewal delayed talks until the fall. Because of this, they haven’t been able to discuss the possibility of a summer U-Pass, he said.

His goals for his term include setting a firm contract by the July deadline.

“It might take longer. That doesn’t mean if no contract is reached by then the program is inoperable, but I hope negotiations would have reached that point,” he said.

For February, one of the points on the agenda is combining the U-Pass with smartcard technology like the existing Presto Card. This would allow OC Transpo to track users and see how students use their services.

“We’re not opposed to smartcards,” said Hynes. “But the reality is the student information system at the U of O, which determines everyone’s fees, does not support pro-rate refunds. So if a student becomes ineligible halfway through a semester and has to return a smartcard, we either deny them a refund or refund the whole session, which OC Transpo wouldn’t allow.”

Current U-Pass cards must be returned upon ineligibility, and students get refunded the semester they didn’t use, if applicable.

Mathieu Fleury, councillor for the Rideau-Vanier ward in which the university resides, said he’s a proponent of the U-Pass.

“I know the importance of having access to affordable transit. City-wide, we struggle because there’s no new money in transit,” he said.

Fleury noted that other transit systems, specifically in Quebec, have more provincial subsidies. Ottawa receives subsidies from the provincial government through the gas tax, but it isn’t enough, he said.

“It costs $500 million to operate OC Transpo. Where funds come from is an important conversation to have, but the money has to come from somewhere.”

Hynes emphasized that the U-Pass should be continued only if students are still receiving the “best deal.”