EDMONTON - For the last 7 weeks, student organizations like the University of Alberta Students’ Union, the Students’ Association of MacEwan University, and the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology have been negotiating on a U-Pass, a transit fare program providing participating post-secondary students with unlimited access to regular Edmonton, St. Albert Transit, Strathcona County Transit, Fort Saskatchewan Transit, Spruce Grove Transit and Leduc Transit services for the Fall semester. Students’ transit needs may not look the same as a typical school year, but remain essential to living and working throughout the city and the UPass must reflect this. However, the Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) has rejected every proposal offered by student organizations in the city. This means that the thousands of students who rely on a UPass must now budget hundreds of dollars more in order to be mobile at a time when people, especially precarious people such as students, are vulnerable.
“Online classes do not end students’ need for transportation,” says Wen Chan, a student at the University of Alberta. “Thousands of students rely on safe, affordable and frequent transit in order to attend any classes that may be in person, as they do for groceries and for work. Student transit needs are unique and varied because students are not just students, they are workers and volunteers and essential members of our community. In lieu of a truly universal system of fare-free public transportation, it is only the U-Pass that fits these needs.”
The counter-proposal provided by ETS is to increase the age limit of the Youth Pass, which is still a 66% cost increase for the entire semester. This alternative is hard to see as a compromise, when what is being compromised is students’ mobility and access to essential needs such as food, adding on more expenses and more debt.
“In the middle of a global pandemic, where youth unemployment is at an all-time high, where programs like the Canada Emergency Student Benefit have given reduced assistance to students, and where tuition is rising, students continue to be kicked while they are down,” said Chan. “Thousands of students in Edmonton use transit regularly not only to attend their schools, but also to get to work, access services and engage in their communities. This decision by ETS very openly chooses to push them into further precarity.”
This move from ETS is not without precedent. In March, the City of Winnipeg considered ending their U-Pass program as part of budget cuts. Instead, they increased its cost to $200 a semester. Mobility is a student right, and any city that attempts to increase the cost of transportation is abandoning post-secondary students across the city and partnered communities. Making transit less accessible to students connects to a larger system of cuts to social services, including the privatization of post-secondary institutions and the growing cost of housing across the province.
Free Transit Edmonton, a campaign for fare-free and expanded public transportation, calls on the City of Edmonton to approve the proposal brought forward by student organizations in the city. Free Transit Edmonton also supports the push to make the U-Pass program truly universal by offering it free of cost. In times like these, post-secondary should be more affordable, not less.