U-Pass program offered to more students in Metro Vancouver, across B.C. Will Transit Fares soon increase?


Gordon Campbell is in trouble, the HST fiasco is as close to a ‘pitchfork‘ rebellion as one can get, so to increase his popularity he must buy off voters and in a classic Campbell downloading taxes onto the poor announcement has declared a universal U-Pass to all post secondary students. The problem is, the region has a $8 billion gold plated metro system that sucks in a vast amount of taxpayers dollars, including an off the top $230 million annual subsidy from the provincial government even before TransLink shells out cash to SkyTrain and RAV, plus a cash starved bus system.

The U-Pass, first conceived in Seattle to put student ‘bums‘ on empty bus seats, has now become TransLink’s modus operandi in claiming record ridership on the regional transit system. Trouble is, the U-Pass offers very little money to maintain both the bus and metro systems. A $30 monthly U-Pass, roughly equates to a $1 a day for transit and depending on how the fare is apportioned (if indeed it is apportioned) between SkyTrain, Canada Line, SeaBus and the bus system could be as little as 33¢ a day for the metro system and even less if the U-Pass is used more than twice a day!

Example: A student in Richmond or south Delta, taking transit to UBC must take a bus to RAV, then take another bus to UBC, with each mode being apportioned 33¢ a day for usage. We do not know the funding formula for the RAV Line, but if rumours hold true that TransLink pays the RAV consortium a flat fee of $2 per passenger, then the U-Pass is creating a deficit of $1.67 per student per day of those students using the new metro! What this means is that TransLink will hemorrhage money, which must be made up by increasing fares, student tuitions and the TransLink property tax, thus making transit more expensive to use for those of us so unlucky not to be subsidized by the government!

The students euphoria over the universal U-Pass maybe short lived as already at capacity buses pass up more and more people and the metro lines cutting back services, due to revenue shortfalls. The transit system will continue to be unattractive to the car driver , with overcrowded trains and buses, thus making our regional transit system just one for the poor, the elderly and students, which is a signal that the public transit system is in very serious trouble.

Full trains and buses means nothing, if the Transit system collapses due to lack of funds!

U-Pass program offered to more students in Metro Vancouver, across B.C.

By Stephen Thomson

Post-secondary students in Metro Vancouver and across B.C. are being offered access to a universal transit pass program already in place at a dozen colleges and universities.

Premier Gordon Campbell announced today (June 9) that the remaining 15 publicly funded institutions in the province that are not already part of a U-Pass program will be able to sign on.

In Metro Vancouver, that gives students the chance to pay $30 a month for system-wide access starting this fall, down from the $81 it would otherwise cost. But students at each school would first have to vote to join the program.

According to the province, the monthly U-Pass rates at Simon Fraser University ($26) and the University of B.C. ($24) will stay the same until at least September 2011. As well, the monthly rates at Langara College ($38) and Capilano University ($32) will both be lowered to $30 in September.

Campbell said the program would make transit use more affordable for 430,000 post-secondary students in the province.

“I think it’s a significant value for institutions around the Lower Mainland and around the province,” Campbell told a crowd gathered for the announcement today at Vancouver Community College, one of the schools that does not yet offer a U-Pass.

The plan also has support from student advocates who have been calling for an expanded program.

Nimmi Takkar, B.C. chair of the Canadian Federation of Students, said the provincewide plan is unique in Canada.

“A whole new generation of students are about to experience a college and university system where access to affordable transit and supporting sustainability is a part of their daily lives,” Takkar said.

Transportation Minister Shirley Bond described the arrangement as a “student-led initiative”.

The province has committed $20 million over the next three years toward providing the U-Pass in Metro Vancouver, and “funding as required” to keep the monthly cost below $30 elsewhere in the province.



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11 Responses to “U-Pass program offered to more students in Metro Vancouver, across B.C. Will Transit Fares soon increase?”

  1. Rod Smelser Says:

    Am I to understand that Rail for the Valley is opposed to a UPASS system for all post-secondary students?

    Obviously any concessionary fare involves an element of cross-subsidization from the rest of the users or from general revenue. Frankly, there’s really nothing to explain there. The question is whether or not this additional subsidization is thought to be “worth it” in terms of broad policy goas, such as subsidizing not student travel per se, but post-secondary enrolment and graduation. That’s the judgement that has to be made.

    Do I take it that in the opinion of Rail for the Valley this particular program will cost too much in terms of additional subsidization compared to the additional education programs completed?

    I think it would be interesting to see what the governments own estimates are on the costs in terms of lost revenues/increased subsidies, and the benefits in terms of more educational participation.

    Zweisystem replies: The problem Rod over the U-Pass is that we are filling up our transit ‘seat’ with massively subsidized students with U-Pass’s. Why should I, as a car driver, be enticed to a transit system that is both uncomfortable (as I have to stand and that I am being penalized to take transit). The U-Pass only gives TransLink a large up front cash flow that mainly will go to pay for its extremely bad transit operations while at the same time starve buses of revenue. As it stands there is absolutely no incentive to take public transit unless one is subsidized to do so.

    Watch for a financial fiasco in the next two years and a tripling of the TransLink property taxes. I think a course in transportation financing is in order, unless you subscribe to the theory of unlimited financing for public transit.

  2. David Says:

    The issue of setting appropriate subsidies for various groups is a tricky one.

    There are a number of reasons to subsidize a class of passenger:
    1. to simplify fare collection at peak periods (passes)
    2. to reduce fare collection costs (passes)
    3. to encourage use of transit off-peak instead of peak (lowers operating costs)
    4. to encourage use of transit vehicles with excess capacity
    5. to encourage a lifetime of transit use (reduced fares for impressionable young people)
    6. to better tie fares to ability to pay

    Items 1-4 provide benefit to the transit operator and should be set on a business case basis.

    Item 5 is a calculated risk and should therefore be underwritten by a funding agency with deep pockets.

    Item 6 is the social welfare side of the equation and should be funded entirely by the upper level of government responsible for social welfare programs. That means millions of dollars from the Provincial treasury flowing to TransLink, BC Transit, etc. It does NOT mean authorizing more taxation of local residents.

    The U-Pass is a mix of 5 and 6 and therefore the Provincial government should be guaranteeing that it is economically neutral. We’ve already seen from the original U-Pass program that the Provincial Government does NOT understand this concept. They use the term “revenue neutral” without admitting that the increased demand drove up operating costs.

    At a fixed price of $30/month (less outside Vancouver) I can see no way for the widened U-Pass program to be economically positive or neutral. Without increased provincial funding of the transit operating companies this move is only going to make things worse.

  3. Warren Says:

    Remember than U-Pass is an “all or nothing” scenario, whereby ALL students at UBC and SFU currently pay for the pass, whether or not they use it. If only 50% of the students use the pass, the effective revenue per pass to Translink goes from $30 to $60.

    Studies have already shown that the availability of this pass helps create transit users at post-secondary institutions whose transit use extends beyond school.

    RFV, What would be your proposed fair structure for a 90-120 min journey from Chilliwack to Vancouver on a tram?

    Zweisystem replies: Quote: “Studies have already shown that the availability of this pass helps create transit users at post-secondary institutions whose transit use extends beyond school.” What studies? Do not forget, the U-Pass was conceived to fill empty seats on buses. TransLink love the U-pass because they can claim much higher ridership figures; it is the taxpayer that gets hit.

    The fare structure for the Valley TramTrain project has yet to be determined.

  4. Michael Says:

    Having grown up in Germany Student passes exist there as well, albeit a bit different: You pay a (much) lower rate and on a monthly pass you can use it as much as you like as well.

    The problem with “all you can eat” monthly passes, regardless if they are U-Pass or full paid ones, is that the issuer “guesses” an average number of trips that each user will take.

    Obviously when I have a monthly pass my trips are much more frequent then when I pay “at the gate” but the offset is that buses, trains etc. are running anyway, so not selling these passes isn’t really a solution either, it’s not much cheaper to run an empty train / bus than a full one.

    The problem here in the lower mainland is not the U-Pass but rather that the people approving the building of new lines want it cheap and “for now”, there is no longterm thinking. They do not build infrasturcture for 20+ years, they build them for the need that exists NOW. The Canada Line is a primary example of this, if they would have really planned on a successful system they would have made the platforms bigger and longer to allow the hitching of two trains to increase capacity. Instead they build what they “needed now” with no (or very little) allowance to future growth.

    I would attribute this directly to the PPP, for a Private Contractor it is much more rewarding to have a transit system run at 100% than provide spare capacity. Spare Capacity costs money and the Canada Line is not about moving people, it’s about making as much profit as possible.

  5. David Says:

    When U-Pass was introduced it was designed to be revenue neutral. In other words the total revenue from the entire student body was based on the estimated number of students already using transit and how much they were paying for it.

    It was a great idea, but somebody forgot that unless all the additional passengers attracted to transit by the pass are filling empty seats, there is additional cost. On many routes heading to UBC there were no empty seats at peak commuting times so Coast Mountain Bus had to add more service. So although the program was “revenue neutral” it increased operating costs making it an overall drain on the system.

    There are social benefits to having students use transit instead of driving, but social benefits don’t pay bus drivers’ wages so the Provincial Government should have kicked in money to cover all the extra costs.

    The U-Pass program has also had a significant negative social and environmental impact: fewer students walk and cycle to school now that riding transit is “free”.

    Zweisystem replies: I believe the provincial government does kick in some money (about $20 million), but does that money go into the ‘fare pool’ of general revenue? Isn’t interesting that TransLink now claims an operating surplus, instead of a deficit and the U-Pass program may only be a surplus on paper, with money earmarked for fares, going elsewhere, while at the same time money for improved bus services go wanting.

  6. Dave 2 Says:

    Well, having a transit pass (in my case, a normal, $110/month one) for commuting does encourage one to use it at other times (ie, weekends), much the same way having a car already insured encourages one to use it. I recently acquired a vehicle after being car-free for 7 months, but use it much less than my previous vehicle, having become accustomed to managing without it.

    I’m not sure if filling empty buses was the raison d’etre for the UPass in Vancouver like it was in Seattle, iirc it was to cut down on car commuting by students; the massive “B-Lot” surface parking lot I remember from the early 80s appears to be gone, http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&q=ubc&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

    Zweisystem replies: There is a phenomena in the Dunbar area, thousands of UBC students drive in from the burbs, park and use the the U-Pass to only go a couple of kilometers to the university. In fact with the U-Pass, an over $8 billion investment in the metro system, monthly passes etc., there is no discernible modal shift from car to transit in the region. What the U-Pass has done is to offer deep discounted tickets to a very few people so TransLink can claim high ridership on the transit system.

  7. Anonymous Says:

    The solution to the west side problem is to change the parking to resident only, as-is done all over the city.

    The U-pass is a province-wide student program. Your Translink conspiracy theories are getting old.

  8. David Says:

    So Anonymous, if it’s a province-wide program then the funding for it should be coming from the province-wide government. Will it? Or will the added costs get dumped on local taxpayers again?

    I don’t trust TransLink, but when it comes to what’s wrong with transit in this region I place most of the blame on a certain stone building in Victoria.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    There’s only one taxpayer.

    I take it RFV and it’s supporters do not agree with subsidizing public transit for students. That’s your choice.

    Zweisystem replies: I do not speak for RFV, but I do disagree with a certain class of people, getting deep discounted tickets to ride a heavily subsidized transit system. It has been found that when a public transit system is used mainly by students, the elderly and the poor, indicates that there are serious problems with the system. The standard concession fare should suffice for post secondary students, not $1 a day fares.

  10. David Says:

    No Anonymous there is NOT one taxpayer unless you’re volunteering to be it.

    Initiatives funded entirely through local taxation hit individual taxpayers far harder than those funded by provincial or federal money. It’s simple mathematics.

  11. Kenny Wu Says:

    Your spreading of rumours is annoying. Could you please source the location where you found that InTransit is paid $2 per person boarding the Canada Line?

    If you do go through the little un-blacked-out portions of Translink’s contract with them, the payment is mostly based on availability of service (amount of trains being run), and availability of stations, customer satisfaction surveys ect., with a portion based on passenger count, although exactly how it works is blacked out. Based on this, it seems that increased ridership would NOT be creating a heavily subsidized black hole; the costs are paid to InTransit for running the trains at the frequency specified by contract, regardless of the number of riders.

    Zweisystem replies: As I said, I heard that InTransit is paid $2 a head, but of course if TransLink’s claims are true and that the Canada Line will pay its operating costs carrying 100,000 passengers a day, then the minimum needed would be about $2.00 a customer!

    Now would not it be a lot easier if the figure was made public? No rumours needed, but the cloak and dagger way TransLink works, makes me very suspicious that the payment to InTransit BC is much higher than $2.00 a customer! This figure is important, especially with the U-pass and concession fares, thus as it stands, TransLink is losing money while InTransit BC makes money!

    What is TransLink afraid of? Ask them!

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