Universal bus passes proposed by student union

By Liam Dynes
Originally published on Feb. 4, 2003, in The Brock Press

With parking already a large problem on campus, and with the expected increase in demand with the coming double cohort, Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) has put together a comprehensive report on transit to be presented to the city at the end of February.

The proposal contains a blueprint for instituting a universal bus pass with the transit commissions of St. Catharines, Welland, and Niagara Falls, that will be automatically received by every student as an ancillary fee included in their tuition.

BUSU Vice-President University Affairs Brett Bergie is one of the authors of the report, and believes that it will be a contentious one among the student body, but is one that must be addressed.

“My sense is … that students who already take the bus will favour our proposal,” said Bergie, “as it saves them a substantial amount over the course of a year. But a fair chunk of students who drive we feel will be opposed because they would be subsidizing for the benefit of others.”

BUSU is following the successful example of a number of other schools in this endeavour, such as Simon Fraser and McMaster, but if the past is any indication, this will not be an easy issue.

Similar referenda have been attempted in the past, but all have failed, such as in 1994 when the motion was defeated by a vote of 55 per cent against to 45 per cent in favour. That particular vote was to institute a flat ancillary fee of $48 per semester for unlimited access to St. Catharines transit.

“We’re in a predicament right now in terms of parking,” said Bergie, “and it’s not in anyone’s best interests to just keep ploughing down green space to put up parking lots. We felt we needed an alternate method of getting students and faculty to campus. We thought if we arm students with a universal bus pass, even students who drive would consider taking transit sometimes, and it could alleviate at least some of our parking problem.”

Bergie is also sure to warn students of possible restructuring in the parking system at Brock, and both the report and Bergie himself compare our situation to other universities in the country.

Brock’s free parking lot is something of an anomaly, as it is the only one cited to exist in the BUSU report, and as well, the $13 a month parking fee Brock students enjoy is also the lowest to be found. But all of this could change with the restructuring that is in order for the double cohort.

“Access to a parking pass will not be as easy to come by,” said Bergie, “and people will have to face the high likelihood that free parking will simply not exist next year.”

On the transit commission’s end, officials with St. Catharines transit are receptive to the idea, as studies show this type of system will likely maintain profit margins. St. Catharines transit general manager Eric Gillespie confirms that in the past the city has been amenable to this possibility, and would continue to be should the program go forward.

“At the time of the last attempt, the city was supportive of the idea,” said Gillespie. “It is difficult to tell what peoples’ reactions will be. Last time this was tried, the referendum failed by a slim margin.”

But if the plan is instituted, Gillespie assures us that the transit program would be able to handle the expected increases in ridership.

“We’ve made allowances for the increases this would create,” said Gillespie, “and we know that especially at times such as mid-afternoon, 3:30 or so, where we’re already near capacity, those would be the specific times that we would need to increase the most. Our best bet would be to look at similar universal services around the country to get a model to work from.”

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