After getting support from students, a universal bus pass for those who attend the University of Regina is now getting the nod from the city.
The executive committee — which is made up entirely of city council — voted 10 to one to approve the U-Pass.
“That’s beneficial to students because right now on campus, parking sucks,” University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) President Devon Peters said bluntly.
The U-Pass is estimated to cost between $70 and $90 each semester for students. The only ones who can opt out of the initiative are those who live within one kilometre of the university or those who live outside of city limits.
This past March, URSU held a referendum where 54 per cent of students voted in favour of having a U-Pass. Just 24 per cent of eligible students voted.
The program still has to be formally approved by city council and the URSU Board of Governors.
“I think that city council has seen that there’s a lot of benefit to this program and so I don’t want to be overly optimistic but I think it’s close to a done deal,” Peters insisted.
“By getting the U-Pass, improving the level of service that we have and hopefully starting in motion a change in culture, that will lead to more transit use in this city. We’re really opening the door to a brighter future.”
As part of the new program, the city would be required to spend $2.75 million for five new buses. The operational costs to run the buses each year, pegged at $1.6 million, would be paid through URSU. That means the city would see a 100 per cent cost recovery.
As well, the new buses would not only mean enhanced service for some existing routes but also an entirely new route would be created in the southeast part of the city.
Ward 2 Councillor Bob Hawkins was the only one who voted against the proposal.
“We are asking students to effectively subsidize our bus service,” he indicated.
He explained how even the students who don’t want nor need a bus pass will still be subject to the U-Pass fee. Hawkins called the recent referendum a generally-worded question on negotiation. Now, he said, we know the specifics. He added the only way he could have supported it was if another referendum was held and the majority of affected students voted in favour.
Mayor Michael Fougere said he was going to “reluctantly” support the program. He stated he was bothered by the process and methodology that led to the vote of exclusions, referring to how certain individuals can opt out but others can’t. In the end, Fougere said the city will benefit greatly from having the U-Pass, not only enhancing service but also helping to grow the city’s ridership.
Ward 1 Councillor Barbara Young was a little more cemented in her decision.
“I’m comfortable with this. There’s always a risk in anything that’s new and any kind of a cultural change,” she said.
If ultimately approved, the program would be implemented in the fall of 2016.