The inequality of the U-Pass

While the new transit pass is a bargain for many, it does not benefit all students equally.

The TTC is claiming to help students cut costs by reducing the price of the monthly metro pass with its proposed universal pass, or U-Pass. But the price-break is coming at the expense of some.

The plan, unanimously approved last week by the TTC board, will reduce the price of the post-secondary-student metro pass from about $117 to $70 a month. To do this, a lump sum of $280 will be added to each full-time student’s tuition fees per semester, regardless of whether they use public transit. This will leave some full-time students with an extra cost they don’t need.

The U-Pass will be offered to the University of Toronto-St. George, Ryerson University, OCAD University, and George Brown College. It would apply only to full-time students. Part-time students would still pay the regular post-secondary metro-pass rate.

One of the reasons part-time students engage in these studies is to lessen the financial burden of being a full-time student. If the U-Pass becomes reality,  they will be forced to pay much more than their full-time counterparts, and likely for some time.

In its U-Pass Policy Framework, the TTC says it will put forward a new report in 2019 with an analysis of part-time post-secondary students. That means part-time students would miss out on the lower rate for at least a semester.

The offer will also not be available to private career colleges until the TTC does “further analysis.”

The deal doesn’t have a general opt-out option. That will be offered only to individuals whose “personal circumstances or needs related to a protected ground under the Ontario Human Rights Code restrict their ability to utilize transit.”

U of T students will be the first to vote in a referendum to determine if the pass is adopted. The online vote will be held this week. It is not clear when students from the other institutions will vote.

The new incentive is almost guaranteed to go through. Student-union reps from each of the institutions conducted an online survey, which found that 95 per cent of approximately 16,000 respondents would vote in favour of the U-Pass.

The TTC estimates that if the entire full-time population of 110,000 students at the four institutions adopt the U-Pass, $66.4 M will be generated annually. Without the pass, full-time students generate $61.7 million.

The TTC also says the new plan will be “revenue-neutral” and that the extra money will be used to neutralize the cost of the “additional ridership from the U-Pass initiative.”

While the U-Pass could reduce the financial burden for some students, it’s not inclusive to all post-secondary students, and might even increase their financial burden.