U-Pass fees rise

Grand River Transit (GRT) has added services to its Waterloo public transit as a result of increased ridership and rising fuel prices, meaning fees for university students will be going up in Fall 2010.

As a result of the agreement made between the GRT and Laurier, the GRT can increase fees if services are changed or prices fluctuate.

Along with a small increase, the GSA motioned last night for a referendum regarding the implementation of a summer U-Pass and a 5 per cent increase in the GRT fee come Sept. 2010.

“A fuel price increase put pressure and compounded the costs associated with the additional service,” said associate director of transit planning for Waterloo Region John Circuttin.

“We have the U-Pass program and with the WLU undergrads the current price is $50.42 a semester. With our agreement it will be increasing to $52.94 in September of 2010,” explained Circuttin.

Along with a small undergraduate increase comes heated debate from the Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) regarding the potential increase on their end.

For the same reasons for the undergraduate increase, the GSA has had their own increase from $42.32 to $43.29. Their contract with GRT was signed in July of 2007 and will expire Aug. 31 of 2011.

If the referendum results in the acceptance of a summer bus pass for Laurier’s graduate students, their fee will jump by 16 per cent.

In a GRT powerpoint presentation given to GSA students, it was explained that usage of transit was 20 per cent higher than anticipated. Even though the GRT increased service, by adding 25 extra trips on some routes and 4,000 extra annual hours of transit service, delays in service were experienced as a result of high passenger loads.

There are also ongoing GRT negotiations to increase the University of Waterloo’s undergraduate fee to match Laurier’s, although UW graduate students are currently not members of the U-Pass program.

“Because of the ridership … we’ve had to add more service than was agreed to and budgeted for,” explained Circuttin.

“At this point it’s still just a proposal,” said Laurier’s GSA president Melany Banks. “We’ve been in negotiations with GRT for three years regarding this … And what they’re proposing for us is a five per cent increase before the contract expires in order to make up for usage.”

However, there have been some questions regarding the ridership increase on the GRT, especially concerning grad student usage.

Laurier MBA student Mary Smith questions the increase, as she believes the GRT ridership numbers to be unreliable.

“All I want to see from the GRT, and from the GSA for the matter, or from the undergraduate students association is, how many people pay and how many people use [the bus],” said Smith.

To make the most of their bus pass, undergraduate students would have to ride the bus 20 times each semester to make the fee they pay economical. Graduate students would have to ride about 17 times to produce the same result.

Circuttin explains that ridership numbers separated by schools is admittedly unreliable, as bus drivers must punch a certain button for each school, and a large margin for human error is evident in the process.

“Particularly when it’s busy, for them to keep up to get the right count and also to get the right separation between the two [is difficult] so that’s why we like to talk to them together,” explains Circuttin.

Although the undergraduate fee will surely rise come the fall semester of 2010, the GSA must now decide whether they are willing to take a five per cent increase in their fee for the summer and winter terms, or if they will go ahead with a referendum, a decision that will hopefully be made this week.

The GSA will be discussing whether they would like to amend their contract with GRT to include the five per cent increase, or perhaps go through a referendum to have the contract changed drastically.

However, some, like Smith, feel that they should be able to opt-out of the U-Pass program.

“Somebody already made the decision on my behalf that I have to pay this fee,” she said.

This is a concern that is also echoed by Banks.

“For grad students, a lot of [them] don’t live in the KW region … and they can’t opt out of the bus fee. And we’ve tried that with GRT and they can’t move on that at all. There’s no opt-out procedure for grad students,” she said.

Banks said that there has been some frustration amongst the GSA board in trying to figure out what is in the best interest of the graduate students.

“We don’t know how many grad students are using [the bus]; we’re trying to find out as quickly as possible but it’s costly and it’s difficult to find out. It would be helpful if GRT took that on but it seems to be falling on us,” said Banks.

GRT numbers

$50.42
current undergraduate fee
$52.94
undergraduate fee in fall 2010
$43.29
GSA bus fee per semester
4,000
hours added to annual transit service

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