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Rowan Ley, vice president external for the University of Alberta Students’ Union, said access to affordable transit is essential for students during the pandemic even if many of the classes are online. About 7,000 students will still need to travel to campus for their studies and many students use the system to get to work and access essential services.
“We are frustrated this took six weeks to come up with and the proposal does not reflect student input,” said Ley, arguing for a reduced monthly pass specifically for post-secondary students closer to the U-Pass cost. “Student success is an essential component in the future success of our city and access to affordable transit is essential to student success.”
Under the approved changes, students will now be able to apply for the city’s Ride Transit program which offers discounted passes to low-income residents. Those with an annual income of less than $29,069 will be eligible for a monthly transit pass for $34, about $11 less than the U-Pass. Students who fall within the income range of $29,070 and $33,033 will be eligible for a $48.50 monthly pass.
But this program isn’t available for international students and also requires an application process with income verification that takes two to three weeks for processing. For ineligible students, they will be able to access youth fare products with the age threshold of 24 being temporarily removed.
Coun. Ben Henderson, who represents the ward housing the University of Alberta, said there is no perfect solution and he is hopeful the low-income pass option will work well for the majority of students who rely on transit. But he is concerned about getting back to the U-Pass program in the winter and future years. The current agreement with the post-secondary institutions ends in August next year and students will be voting in a referendum if they want to see the program continue.
“I think it’s going to be way trickier than we think it’s going to be,” he said of the solutions the city is moving forward with. “It will be imperfect. I’m not sure how we can make it perfect.”
The city and student unions will revisit the U-Pass or other alternative options ahead of the winter semester.