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U-Pass deal means transit price hikes for students

Student associations are using graphics like this to encourage students to approve a small increase in U-Pass fees, arguing the alternative are much higher regular TransLink monthly pass prices. - u-passbc2013
Student associations are using graphics like this to encourage students to approve a small increase in U-Pass fees, arguing the alternative are much higher regular TransLink monthly pass prices.
— image credit: u-passbc2013

Post-secondary students across Metro Vancouver will vote early next year in referenda to increase transit U-Pass rates and renew the compulsory pass program for three years.

If approved, the monthly cost of the universal transit passes for students will rise from $30 to $35 next May and climb to $38 by the summer of 2016.

An extra $10 is charged for Kwantlen Polytechnic University students in Richmond, Surrey and Langley to cover an inter-campus shuttle as well as other benefits.

Student associations at UBC, SFU and other institutions are now urging students to approve the change, arguing U-Pass is still a good deal despite the price hike.

"The alternative is to purchase a much more expensive regular adult pass and those fares have increased as well," said Arzo Ansary, a Kwantlen Student Association spokesperson.

She noted regular adult monthly transit passes will cost $91 for one zone as of Jan. 1 ($124 for two zones; $170 for three zones.)

"I think we have a pretty high chance of our referendum passing successfully."

U-Passes are mandatory and the cost is built into fees students pay – even those who drive to classes and don't take transit can't opt out to save money.

A majority vote will rule whether each institution stays in the U-Pass system or drops out.

U-Passes were extended beyond UBC and SFU a few years ago when the provincial government mandated a province-wide U-Pass system extending to other institutions.

Under the renewal agreement, the provincial government will continue to provide TransLink aid for bus service to help meet the demand from U-Pass holders.

But Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said the money from the province has never been enough for TransLink to break even on its U-Pass obligations.

"Other transit users and property owners subsidize the provincial government's announcements that they're providing cheaper transit rates for students," he said.

U-Pass fans say the system has fostered a new generation of transit users, reducing road traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions.

But because not all students use their U-Passes, many end up on the black market and Transit Police spokesperson Anne Drennan said officers continue to battle fraudulent sales and unauthorized use.

"It's an ongoing battle," she said. "As they're taken off a [free classifieds] site, more pop up."

Charges are expected soon against a repeat offender, she said.

TransLink switched to issuing U-Passes monthly, instead of for a whole term, to help curb reselling, but Drennan said that hasn't had a huge effect.

Starting later in 2013, U-Passes will be built into TransLink's new Compass smart card system.

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