What will happen to the U-Pass in a COVID-19 world?

The future of the U-Pass program is uncertain after its suspension due to COVID-19 closures.

The U-Pass — the program which provides access to bus, SkyTrain and SeaBus service in Metro Vancouver to students for a $41 monthly fee — was suspended on May 1. Before its suspension, it was mandatory for all UBC students currently attending school, save those not living outside the Lower Mainland or taking a fully online course load.

Now, students who still need to take transit will have to pay between $98 and $177 for a monthly pass from TransLink.

With many faculties planning to offer fully online programming in the fall, the number of students needing to use transit to get to UBC is expected to be significantly smaller than usual. But in an interview with The Ubyssey, AMS President Cole Evans emphasized that some students do continue to need transit.

“We've heard a lot of concerns from students who utilize transit in the Lower Mainland in the past few weeks, mostly because TransLink reinstated fare collection,” Evans said.

There are a few options moving forward. Evans said they’re exploring a subsidy program, restarting the program or pressuring TransLink for a revised opt-out system, as currently only one per cent of students can opt out, according to VP External Kalith Nanayakkara.

A subsidy program would help bridge the gap between the U-Pass and TransLink’s regularly priced monthly passes.

“This is a program that would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not potentially millions of dollars given the needs so this is something that we have to make sure that we're implementing effectively and that we're able to target students who are in need the most,” Evans said.

While the subsidy program would be costly for the AMS, the option of restarting the program would be costly for students.

“Students who aren't located in the Lower Mainland who are taking courses online, in other parts of the country, other parts of the world would have to be paying for the service even though they don't have access to it,” Evans said.

In a written statement to The Ubyssey, the BC Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure confirmed that “participating public post-secondary institutions and their respective student associations are in discussion with TransLink regarding re-starting the U-Pass BC program.”

“Encouraging students to take public transit now and into the future is an important initiative — it helps students gain access to affordable transit while reducing greenhouse gas emissions attributed to the transportation sector,” the statement reads.

Grace Dupasquier, the chairperson of the Alliance of BC Students, an organization representing 80,000 students in BC including members of the GSS echoed Evans’ concerns.

“Right now, undergrad students don't need to get to campus yet, as most of their classes are online. But for graduate students, it's totally a different story. They have to get to campus in order to continue their research and they're looking for a solution to that,” Dupasquier said.

“It's getting to the point now, where we're hearing that the majority of graduate students would like to see the [U-Pass] program reinstated as quickly as possible.”