Students returning to the University of Guelph in a couple of weeks will notice several changes, and one of them will be access to their universal student bus pass, better known as a UPass. To put this bluntly, there will be no UPass this fall because the contract to provide one through Guelph Transit expired earlier this year, which added another logistical difficult for the U of G’s student government as they get ready to welcome their peers back to campus.
“We had to wait until the contract expired before we could renegotiate a new one, and then we can only reinstate the UPass through a referendum,” explained Shilik Hamad, the VP External of the Central Student Association. “We’ve been working with Guelph Transit to negotiate a new contract, and we’ve been really happy working with them. Conversations have been productive and very hopeful.”
The contract expired on April 30, 2021 even though the CSA took the step to stop collecting the fees for the student pass when the COVID-19 pandemic broke out in March 2020. Without a new agreement, and without a new referendum to approve it, the UPass must stay in a temporary limbo when in-person classes resume in September.
But U of G students are not the only ones missing the UPass because it represents millions of dollars in revenue for Guelph Transit, and the City of Guelph would really like to have that revenue back.
“That university student revenue is an integral part of the business case for transit, and I would say that it is as equally important to us as a transit priority as it is to the university,” said Deputy CAO Colleen Clack-Bush last month in an episode of the Guelph Politicast.
“It’s in the university’s best interest, as well for their students’, to be able to have a reliable mode of transit to get to and from classes when they’re here in the city,” Clack-Bush added. “I would say there’s a shared commitment on both sides, between the City and the University leadership, as well as the Students’ Associations, to work towards re-instating of the UPass.”
The UPass, has been a mainstay of student life at the University of Guelph since 1995. Negotiated between Guelph Transit, the CSA, and the Graduate Students Association, the UPass offers students a bus pass that lasts the entire semester, but at a substantially reduced fee. When the UPass was last used in the Winter 2020 semester it cost each undergrad student $150, which was collected as part of their tuition fees.
Hamad couldn’t say if there will be an increase in the cost of the UPass when the CSA and Guelph Transit finalize a new contract, but it’s very likely that it will be cheaper than the City’s interim option.
For students returning to Guelph, or arriving in Guelph for the first time, the City of Guelph is making a post-secondary student pass available, a semester’s worth of bus rides from August 23 to December 31 for $272, the equivalent price of about three-and-a-half adult bus passes. This pass is being administered by Guelph Transit, and not the CSA.
“That pass has actually been available throughout this past year, but for students returning back to campus it’s essential for them to have that available transit and for us to have that revenue, because students comprises almost 50 per cent of our annual transit revenue,” Clack-Bush added. “Without the university students, our transit system would look different.”
Another option for students with limited means is one that’s already used by the City of Guelph, the affordable bus pass. “It is a bit of a lengthier application process, you have to prove your income and give some other information about yourself, but that is also an option to our low income students if they can’t afford the $272,” she said.
The City’s own post-secondary bus pass is only expected to be a temporary measure until January, the earliest that the new UPass contract might go into effect. Hamad said that the hands of the CSA were tied because they needed a firm date for when students would return to campus before bringing a forward new contract, and they need to make sure that they had the attention of undergrad students to order to get approval for the deal.
“We must reach quorum in order for a referendum to pass,” Hamad explained. “If a referendum fails that means we can’t hold another referendum about that topic, or about that issue, for another year, and that would mean students wouldn’t be able to have the opportunity to get a UPass for another whole year.”
Hamad advises U of G students to keep an eye on their email for information about the referendum vote for the first week of October. The new UPass contract with Guelph Transit needs to be ratified by 20 per cent of the undergrad population of the university, or about 4,000 students, in order to go into effect.
“Since the University announced that we’re going back to in-person classes in the fall semester, we thought this was the perfect opportunity to run a referendum where we think could meet quorum,” Hamad added. “If the referendum goes through, and we reach quorum, that means the UPass can be reinstated for January 2022.”
When the UPass does get re-instated, the CSA won’t be using stickers anymore, but a tap card similar to the OnYourWay card already in use by Guelph Transit. Hamad also said that she hopes the new contract will be more open ended then the five-year term previously negotiated, so that students would only need to vote if changes are made to the contract.
But the contract itself is one part of the bigger transit issues for U of G students right now, the other part for Hamad is making sure that all her fellow undergrads know there’s a new contract coming, there are options in the meantime, and they need to vote to get their UPass back this winter.
“I’ve had many students email me asking about what our transit situation will look like in the fall, so we’re hoping to clear that up through our social media and our website soon and post some frequently asked questions and answers in the next few weeks,” Hamad said.