By Liam Dynes
Originally published on Aug. 29, 2003, in The Brock Press
Firmly marking the start of one of the most controversial issues in recent Brock history, the highly debated U-pass, a universal bus pass for all students taking one and a half or more credits, takes effect Sept. 1.
The pass, voted into effect by a two-thirds majority in a referendum held last March, costs each eligible student a mandatory $120 fee, with no opportunity for an opt-out, despite requests for such an option by many students.
A group of concerned students have been circulating a flyer critical of the referendum process and containing assertions which question its legitimacy. Highlights of the flyer include assertions that students are being pressured into taking the bus due to inadequate parking services at Brock University and that funds generated by the fee are being used to unfairly subsidize improvements to the various regional – primarily St. Catharines – transit systems. The group also notes that of the more than 12,000 students attending Brock at the time of the referendum, more than half drive to school, and posited that the results would not have turned out as they did if “more students were fully informed about the referendum and had the opportunity to vote.”
Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) director of communications Anya Spethmann would say otherwise however, stating that the terms of the referendum were widely distributed across campus, published in two page spreads in the Brock Press, posted on boards and available on the internet.
“We hope that all students vote, and we hope that students vote fully informed, but if students choose to vote without availing themselves of information that’s readily available, that’s their decision,” said Spethmann.
BUSU president Brandon Larry also refutes the claims made by the students who distributed the flyer.
“I have been reading through it, and there is a great deal of misinformation, and no one has approached us. It is very misleading, there are a lot of numbers that are wrong, it really portrays that the student union has taken this on and said ‘the students are going to have a u-pass’ and that wasn’t the case. A group of students [owners of a Web site called Brockbuspass.com] came to BUSU and said ‘we want this bus pass, we have 1200 signatures, you will run a referendum.’ And that’s what happened.”
St. Catharines Transit also denies the allegations presented in the leaflet that they are reaping a windfall from this new arrangement. Transit official Dave Stuart says that the total revenues taken from Brock in this arrangement will nearly equal revenues from any other ordinary year.
“We do not make money on this,” Stuart said. “Transit only on average makes back 60 per cent of its expenditures, so we will have a very similar amount of revenue, and with our increases in service, everything comes out about the same.”
The distributors of the leaflet could not be reached for comment, and it would seem that a number of school departments would like to sit down and have a word with them.
“I would absolutely disagree with anything on this flyer that says that students were misled, and I invite whoever this is to come in and have a talk with an executive, or go and talk to Brockbuspass.com, and instead of just putting this out, do something proactive,” said Larry.
Parking services also take issue with what is said on the flyer, defending its policies against claims of “inadequate parking services at Brock University.” Sam Cusick of parking services says that services are being enhanced this year, and that the institution of the U-pass can only go towards helping further.
“If people become frustrated with parking, they should take initiative and ride the bus if they can to help alleviate congestion,” said Cusick.
One of the biggest complaints surrounding the U-pass is from out-of-town students who cannot possibly utilize the bus system from their homes. Larry and BUSU acknowledge that this is an unfortunate part of the issue, but reaffirm that at this time there can be no opt-out option to the plan in order to abide by the terms of the contract with the transit commissions.
“Currently there is no opt-out for the bus pass at all,” said Larry. “We may look into something in the future, but at present there is nothing. The only people that are not included are those that are not here for eight months, like business co-op students, but they are not included in the first place, not opted out.”
Disabled students not able to utilize public transit are also not included in the pass.
Spethmann clarified further on the issue of opting out.
“Sometimes if you want to progress at all, you need to just leap forward, and this is what students chose to do last year when they voted for the bus pass, but certainly there are elements that are not ideal for all students, and this is something we would like to remedy. One way that we would like to do that is we are going to look into the feasibility of opting out in the future for those who cannot take the bus because they geographically cannot take the bus. Financially this is not something that will be feasible anytime soon, certainly not this year, but we will have a subcommittee of BUSAC’s transit committee looking at that this year,” said Spethmann.
A major point in the leaflet is that the opposition group plans to lobby for a referendum to repeal the U-pass. Larry says he sees this as problematic.
“In my view, holding a referendum isn’t going to do anything,” said Larry. “[Getting out of the bus pass] would need 1200 signatures just to start with, and probably a big legal battle to get out of the contract we’ve signed with the transit commissions. It’d be tough for them to try and get out of it, and in my opinion, this could just go back and forth. Someone would hold their referendum to get out of the bus pass, and even if it succeeds, there’s another one six months later to get it back, and it just keeps going.
“I personally believe that it is not a valuable use of time because students have spoken, it was a democratic process, we provided information for both sides, yes and no, we did not support one or the other, it was a student decision. It’s unfortunate that whether [the distributors of the leaflet] voted or not, they did not have enough people voting with them.”
More information on the U-pass will be available during O-week, and activation stickers can be obtained from the transit booth in the main BUSU information area.