As part of a fare review, BC Transit is proposing a discounted universal bus pass for North Island College students in the Comox Valley.
But support for the idea might not be as universal as the pass itself.
Representatives from BC Transit presented a review on its fare structure for the Comox Valley transit system at the CVRD’s committee of the whole meeting on Feb. 6.
One of BC Transit’s suggestions is to implement a mandatory UPass system for college students in the Comox Valley.
UPasses are discounted public transit passes for post-secondary students included in their mandatory fees. Such partnerships between post-secondary institutions and local transit authorities are common in large Canadian cities.
“We recommend that [CVRD] staff engage in dialogue with North Island College and the North Island Students’ Union to introduce a UPass program,” said Levi Megenbir, a senior transit planner with BC Transit, at Tuesday’s meeting.
Under the proposed system, NIC students would be charged the rate of one monthly adult bus pass — $52 — that would give them universal transit access for a whole semester. Students currently pay $135 for a semester bus pass or $44 for a monthly pass.
According to a staff report, implementing a UPass system could increase transit revenues in the Comox Valley by about $200,000 and increase ridership by about 180,000 annual rides per year.
“This has been shown in other regions to provide a considerable amount of fare revenue and ridership, as well as contribute towards reducing the number of cars on the road and parking concerns on campus,” said Megenbir.
But NIC students themselves may not be on board with the idea.
North Island Students’ Union (NISU) executive director Andrew Dalton said he was surprised when he learned about BC Transit’s suggestion and stated he does not think the student body would support it.
“Everybody I’ve heard from says this is not something they would want,” he said. “Charging students a large, mandatory fee is not in their best interest.”
Fourth-year NIC business student Sheldon Falk lives in Black Creek and said he would not be able to attend evening classes without a car, as the last bus to Black Creek leaves at 5 p.m. He thinks the current transit network in the Comox Valley is not comprehensive enough to support a UPass.
“The schedules aren’t good for students,” he said. “It seems wrong to deal with a shortfall in funding by putting it on the backs of students, which is adding a further barrier to education.”
Victoria is currently the only municipality on Vancouver Island where post-secondary students pay for a UPass. Discussions were also been held in Nanaimo for Vancouver Island University students, but the VIU Students’ Union did not support the idea.
After listening to BC Transit’s presentation, the CVRD board approved reaching out to NIC and the students’ union for further consultation.
NIC responded to a request for comment with the following statement:
“We welcome any opportunity to talk to our community partners about ways to improve transit schedules and routes for our students,” wrote NIC’s vice-president for strategic initiatives Randall Heidt.