Negotiations are underway for the fall in an attempt to take into account the needs of all students
Bridget Stringer-Holden // Associate News Editor
The circumstances surrounding COVID-19 have created uncertainty about what that means for the U-Pass this fall. April refunds were processed for students who hadn’t used their U-Passes and the program was suspended during the summer. It was set to return in the fall, however, there are students who need the U-Pass to get to school or work, while others are staying home and have no use for it. So far, the $42.50 monthly fee for the U-Pass will be included in part of CapU’s fee collection as it is easier to process refunds than charge students after the fact. “Translink is understanding of the situation that students are in but they are also very aware that there is no consensus from the student population as to what folks want right now. We’ve got plenty of students who want it and plenty who don’t,” said Grace Dupasquier, Vice-President External for the Capilano Students’ Union (CSU).
While some Capilano University (CapU) students will be returning to in-person classes next fall, the majority of classes remain online. Graduate and practicum students have expressed that they need access to an affordable transit pass to get to campus to do their research. The $42.50 3-Zone U-Pass costs $177 when purchased normally, which means that some students will need access to this pass to save money to get to school or work. On the other hand, many students are facing financial hardship and are self-isolating at home, so they don’t want to be paying for a pass they won’t use. “As someone who’s at that negotiating table, I 100 percent see both sides. If I can save somebody money while they’re struggling then I absolutely want to. But at the same time, I have to consider other students who also need to save money and who are paying $177 for a transit pass because they don’t have access to U-Pass,” said Dupasquier.
Dupasquier sits on the U-Pass Advisory Committee, which has representatives from all the Metro Vancouver post-secondary institutions (and the corresponding student unions) who use the U-Pass. Although an agreement to extend the U-Pass program until April 2025 was reached earlier this year on Jan.1, that had to be re-evaluated in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The Modified Agreement was created on May 4 to stop charging students during the summer since transit was free. However, the day that agreement was signed by TransLink also happened to be the day that fares were reinstated.
“We’re hearing a lot of different things from students, which is actually making our negotiations a little more complicated,” said Dupasquier. For the fall, many options are being explored. A potential solution is that certain groups will be able to opt-out, such as exemptions for students who wouldn’t be able to ride transit at all due to health concerns or students who would normally live in the Metro Vancouver area but due to the pandemic have moved home or are studying from outside the Metro Vancouver area.
With a BC state of emergency declared Mar. 18, TransLink temporarily made transit free, implementing rear door boarding to protect drivers. A refund on the April U-Pass was given to students who had not requested the pass or who had requested but not used it. Although TransLink provided CapU with a list of students who were eligible for a refund, universities found the manual process strenuous—double-checking eligibility by cross referencing each student on the list.
“I am very aware that whatever agreement will be reached will not be perfect,” said Dupasquier. “It’s not going to meet everybody’s needs, but our focus more than ever is on helping students who need help the most and we’re doing our best to bring that to the table and to ensure that whatever agreement comes into place is fair and balanced and was reached with student voices in the room actively contributing.”
*UPDATE: On Aug. 24, the CSU confirmed that the U-Pass BC program will resume at CapU for the Fall 2020 semester.