By Justin Chandler
TTC staff will present the commission’s board with a proposal for a discount transit pass Toronto student unions, including Ryerson’s, have advocated for.
The TTC board voted unanimously at a Dec. 11 meeting to direct staff to adopt a policy framework, consult with stakeholders and report back to the board with a final proposal for the discount pass (called U-Pass) in the first quarter of 2018.
The U-Pass would be administered on Presto fare cards. All students at participating schools would buy in and be eligible to use the discount, since the pass would be included in their tuition as a levy. There would not be an option to opt out so students would pay for the pass whether they use it or not.
The cost depends on the TTC, said Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) vice president education Daniel Lis. Since May, he’s worked with members of the UofT, George Brown and OCAD student unions to advocate for a U-Pass.
Lis previously said a U-Pass would cost students between $70 and $100 per month. Now, he says the TTC is likely aiming at something over $80. That would still be less than the $116.75 university students currently pay for monthly student passes.
“I just want to get as far from the current [cost] as possible. Ultimately, it might be a number I don’t particularly like, but if I think there’s a chance other students might, I owe it to students to pose it to them in a referendum,” he said.
City councillor Joe Mihevc told the TTC board an $80-to-$100 price range seemed more likely to him. Any price point would have to keep the pass revenue neutral for the TTC.
Staff at the TTC board meeting said so long as either UofT, Ryerson or OCAD supports the project, it will be cost-effective.
The TTC board has also committed to explore the possibility of expanding the U-Pass beyond the TTC to include York Regional Transit and Brampton Transit—a TTC report on the U-Pass plan said 15 per cent of trips taken by Toronto post-secondary students use another form of municipal transit.
Also noted in that report is how past efforts to establish the program failed in Toronto, despite succeeding in other Ontario municipalities like Ottawa, Waterloo and Hamilton.
While the post-secondary metropass was approved in 2009, a seven-year long effort to create a tuition-subsidized U-Pass failed in-part because students didn’t want to pay for transit if they didn’t plan on using it.
Like health care, the U-Pass “is essentially a socialized program,” said Lis. “There will be people who pay a bit more into U-Pass and get less out of it, but that’s just kind of the nature of the beast.”
Although the U-Commute survey—conducted on behalf the RSU and the other unions working toward a U-Pass—found about 82 per cent of students use transit to get to campus. Lis said two-thirds of student trips are made for purposes other than getting to campus like nights out, shopping and getting to work.
“Transportation accounts for 10% of the student’s budget. Reducing this cost will help the more than 60% of the post-secondary students that use the TTC,” reads the TTC U-Pass report.
The full U-Commute survey results are not publicly available, but the group said about 95 per cent of respondents said they would vote in favor of a U-Pass in a referendum.
It’s not yet clear when Ryerson students would actually be able to do that.
Before a vote could occur, a referendum proposal would have to be pitched to Ryerson’s Board of Governors. If the TTC board has a proposal by January, Lis can submit that to the Board at their next meeting, he said. Then a referendum could be held in the winter semester.
If the TTC hasn’t prepared its proposal by January, the next opportunity to present a referendum question to the Board of Governors will be in March, leaving too little time for a referendum before exams, pushing the process to at least Fall 2018, Lis said.