October 28, 2015 - 8:30 AM
KELOWNA - The fate of the U-Pass transit program at a local university is in the hands of the students, who will vote over a fare increase next week.
Students at the Okanagan campus of the University of British Columbia are holding a referendum over a fare increase for the program next week, which if defeated, could stall future improvements or even see the popular program cancelled.
Voting takes place next week for all registered UBC Okanagan students and both the student union and Kelowna Transit are urging students to vote 'yes,' even those that drive to school and never use the pass.
Purchase of the U-Pass is mandatory and curently costs $60 per semester, a deeply discounted rate further subsidized by UBCO administration.
UBC Student Union Okanagan President Tom Macauley says there are benefits for those that drive to the campus too, including reduced congestion and better parking, and should be worth the additional $9 per semester being proposed.
“I’m confident that all students are willing to make further investments in transportation. This is a good, accessible system, especially for a remote campus, with all the out-of-province and international students we have.”
Macauley is pretty sure the fare increase will be approved, just as it was the last time it faced referendum in 2011, although he hedges his bets.
“You just never know. Students are entitled to vote however they want. The important thing is to vote.”
He guesses 50 per cent of the 8,000 students at the Kelowna campus use the pass on a regular basis.
Jerry Dombowsky, transit manager for the City of Kelowna, says it's not certain what would happen if UBCO students rejected U-Pass, although outright cancellation is possible.
"A 'no' vote is something we would deal with if it happens. Because ongoing increases are a fact of life, we couldn't practically sustain a U-Pass without them,” Dombowsky says. "It is certainly possible that the U-Pass could be gone and students would have to pay regular fares. Our elected officials would make that ultimate decision."
At stake would be the continued improvements to Kelowna Transit's Rapid Bus System, stretching from West Kelowna to the university, and a proposed upgrade to the transit exchange on the UBC Okanagan campus.
The U-Pass fare increase was part of an across-the-board increase in transit fares and pass prices approved by Kelowna city council last spring.
Students will vote in the referendum Nov. 4 and 5.
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— This story was updated 8:15 a.m., Nov. 3, 2015, with a corrected date.
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