By Jesse McLean
The Ryerson Students’ Union must decide soon if it will hold a referendum on mandatory transit passes or risk paying more for the same deal, the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission warns.
Adam Giambrone is coming to Ryerson along with Mayor David Miller on Jan. 17 to see if students are interested in a cheaper pass. The TTC is offering a universal transit pass, or U-Pass, which would grant students unlimited travel on all regular TTC services across the city.
Students can currently buy discounted Metropasses from the RSU each month for $96. But with the proposed U-Pass, every full-time student would have to pay a mandatory annual ancillary fee of $480, or $60 a month.
“It won’t get better than $60 a month, so now’s the time to get it,” Giambrone said from his office in City Hall. “You’ve just got to bite the bullet and go for it. And once it passes, you’re good to go,” he said.
Giambrone added that service initiatives and diesel prices will break the current price freeze — potentially raising the cost to about $66 a month.
He said that the RSU must have some form of commitment by October to holding a referendum to avoid the six-dollar hike. But RSU President Nora Loreto said that the school’s deal with the TTC requires fine tuning before the option of the U-Pass is offered in a student referendum.
“There’s a lot of details that need to be worked out. We need all the plans on paper,” she said.
As well, Loreto said she wants to know if students are interested in the agreement before bringing it to a vote.
“The forum is to see if students are interested in the U-Pass, not to see if we’ll have a referendum,” she said. “There’s still parts of the deal that aren’t perfect, including the price.”
Loreto and representatives from Toronto’s eight other post-secondary institutions are pressuring the federal government to subsidize students’ transit costs. Meanwhile, Chris Drew, RSU’s VP finance and services sent a proposal to Ryerson senior adminastrator Linda Grayson in December, asking the administration to help students pay for their monthly Metropasses.
Although Giambrone understands students who live within walking distance of the school might be hesitant to pay $60 a month for a service they won’t use, he said the current offer is a revenue neutralizer, and won’t be reduced.
The University of Victoria was the first Canadian university to implement a U-Pass in 1999. Today, more than 60 Canadian colleges and universities use similar transit programs, including Simon Fraser University in Vancouver.
“Originally, the U-Pass was pretty contentious, but we’ve seen an increase in bus ridership,” said Amanda van Baarsen, university relations officer at SFU’s student union.
None of Toronto’s universities currently have the U-Pass, although George Brown College has been in close communication, Giambrone said. Ryerson students have similar transit habits as those at George Brown, where the average student pays about $80 a month for the TTC and more than 70 per cent of the students use the system.
If Toronto universities adopt the U-Pass, Giambrone expects of TTC riders to jump by 10 per cent. “And we’ll need all the money we can to service that demand,” he said.