Toronto students score transit pass discount

TORONTO (CUP) – Toronto post-secondary students have been extended the same public transit discount as their high school counterparts.

The Toronto Transit Commission, which operates the third-largest public transit system on the continent, passed a motion to extend its student monthly pass to include full- and part-time college and university students at its Nov. 17 meeting.

“By extending the high school student discount, the TTC [took] a bold, but important step in the right direction . . . to make our city more accessible,” said Toby Whitfield, vice-president finance and services for the Ryerson Students’ Union.

The $99 monthly pass will be available to students beginning in Sept. 2010, and student representatives from across the city are celebrating the lobbying win.

Ryerson University student Alexandra Fox said the decision will allow her to save some money by moving further away from campus next year.

“I want to live further away next year, so I’ll definitely be getting a pass then. Living close is more expensive,” said Fox.

But the discount only applies to the monthly pass, not individual fares, and Fox believes the TTC could have done more for the students who don’t use transit enough to warrant the monthly pass.

“Having a university student discount for each ride would help out those of us that don’t need to use it every day, but do use it often,” she said.

“The monthly pass is only worth it if you use the TTC at least 10 or 12 times a week.”

Toronto students’ unions and the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario (CFS-O) launched a “Fair Student Fares” campaign immediately following the proposed fare increase announcement on Nov. 4. Student organizers collected more than 5,000 petition signatures and co-ordinated just under 1,000 emails that were sent to members of the commission.

“Students are a unique demographic within the transit system [and] our students responded with great concern,” said Liana Salvador, vice-president education of the Ryerson Students’ Union.

“On top of high transit fares, we are subjected to the highest tuition fees in the country and the worst per-student funding.”

Representatives from students’ unions across the city as well as the CFS-O made presentations to the transit commission outlining the concerns of students across the city.

“What we want to do here is create a culture of ridership, where students and members of the community are interested in sustainability and they [are] interested in supporting our public transit. And the way to start that is through students,” York Federation of Students president Krisna Saravanamuttu told the commission.

But not all students are pleased with the meeting’s outcome.

“Next fall . . . won’t help me. It’s my last year. What they should have done, and what I thought was done when I found out about the change, was reduce the [regular] fare for university and college students to high school fares. TTC is a joke,” wrote one student on the Fair Student Fairs Facebook page.

Adam Awad, vice-president of university affairs for the University of Toronto students’ union, agrees.

“I am disappointed that the commission decided not to extend the discount to single fares, tokens or tickets. Students continue to be some of the poorest people in the city, especially with this past year’s record high youth unemployment rate and increasing costs of education,” he said.

Much praise was given to TTC chair and city councilor Adam Giambrone for spearheading the motion, the first of its kind for post-secondary students in the transit system’s history.
Giambrone announced on Nov. 13 that he would be putting forth the motion at the Tuesday meeting.

“I praise you for your leadership on this; you’ve really gone a long way to appease the different groups – especially the students,” TTC board member Maria Augimeri told Giambrone. “I’ve been supporting a U-Pass system since the ‘80s and it’s been extremely frustrating over the decades to see that it never got off the ground.”

But, she didn’t withhold criticism.

“Unfortunately, your great victory today is overshadowed by the cloud of the fare hike.”

The meeting saw the commission pass a motion to raise single-ride fares as well as the monthly passes by as much as 13 per cent in some cases. The decision was made to combat a $100-million budget deficit for 2010. The fare increase will go into effect on Jan. 3, 2010 and is expected to bring in an extra $45 million. Monthly passes will rise from $109 to $121, and regular fares and tokens will raise in price by a quarter.

Augimeri blames the lack of support from senior levels of government – municipal, provincial and federal – for the necessity of raising fares.

“The money that comes through the fare box is the only way we keep afloat. No other senior level government would allow their cities to be run down so low, and they ought to be ashamed of themselves,” she said.

This is the first fare hike for the TTC in over two years.