U-Pass price negotiations between Edmonton Transit Services and the University of Alberta have yet to get the green light for students who will be using local transit systems throughout the 2013-14 school year.
The contract, launched in 2008, comes up for renewal every four years. Negotiations are handled simultaneously by ETS and the U of A’s U-Pass Advisory Board — a group of students, staff and administrative members intent on reaching a common agreement on the student transit pass.
This year’s U-Pass costs students $140 per semester, but the new proposal from ETS is seeking to raise that fee to $171.42 per semester — a figure based on a survey ETS conducted to collect data regarding how many times students use their pass. The U-Pass Advisory Board has opposed the new proposal due to concerns with the data collection methods ETS used.
The opposition has led to discussions with city councillors who sit on the City of Edmonton’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to bring the issue to city council and move negotiations forward.
An ETS U-Pass pilot program evaluation conducted in 2009 says the price point is generated based on ETS receiving an 84 per cent portion of the revenue the pass creates — producing 30 per cent of adult cash fare at 40 trips per month, with an assumed static student enrolment of 43,000 per term. This number of trips per month for each student was re-surveyed by ETS last year, resulting in an average range of 38-41 trips per month.
The survey was conducted on buses and LRT trains at a variety of stops and stations. Although ETS has not yet officially released their new survey data, U of A Students’ Union Vice-President (Student Life) Saadiq Sumar says he was told the new numbers sat at roughly 47 trips per student, per month, which was factored into the pricing as a reason for the increase. However, the Students’ Union is filing a Freedom of Information request regarding the survey data.
“In terms of that survey specifically, we feel that it heavily skews the data towards people (who) use transit much more frequently than low-usage transit users,” Sumar said.
“You’re more likely to hit people who use transit more often on the bus than people who use it less.”
Sumar said an external company, the Mustel Group, was also hired to compile data on the pass. While the ETS survey encompassed 650 students, the external survey conducted by the Mustel Group surveyed around 2,500 students and included those in line to receive their U-Pass as well as data from online surveys.
“The web-based portion is a little bit different because … we believe that students who have a vested interest in transit basically chose to take that survey. So the trip metric for that is a lot higher — it’s actually just over 60 trips,” he said.
Consumer Price Index (CPI) has guided gradual increases to the U-Pass each year, but the U-Pass Advisory Committee wants to push for a Municipal Price Index (MPI) model that would increase gradually over four years.
“CPI doesn’t really take into account a lot of the things that are important when considering transit, like the cost of fuel, so MPI tends to run a little higher than CPI,” Sumar said.
Ward 10 City Councillor Don Iveson is one of the councillors to whom the U-Pass Advisory Committee is bringing this issue forward.
He requested a report on the U-Pass negotiations for the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Agenda on Oct. 24, and is setting aside certain times for students to present.
“The students will have an opportunity to present their concerns and their position there, and city administration will be able to present … and eventually all of council will have to weigh the argument,” Iveson said.
Iveson was involved in negotiating the original U-Pass, and said he wants to see a fair price negotiated for the service. He also noted the current pricing structure is based on a policy that allows the city to recover some of its revenue.
“The way the city’s fare policy is set up is we’re looking to recover about 30 per cent of what we would normally recover of when someone pays fare into the cash box,” he explained.
“(This means) there is a 70 per cent discount (for U of A students) already factored into the city’s pricing.”
The university also puts one-sixth of the U-Pass cost towards managing their travel demands as a method of reducing needs for parking and traffic congestion and encouraging the environmental benefits of commuting.
“So when the city is talking about $170, that’s the gross price. You can take one-sixth of that off for what a University of Alberta student would be paying,” Iveson said.
Other U-Pass negotiations for the Spring and Summer terms have produced a contract currently undergoing final review, which Sumar hopes to sign as soon as possible, with a set price of $140 in total for both terms.
“We want to keep in mind that students aren’t the only people who are paying for the U-Pass — taxpayers are also, so we just want to make sure that it’s a win-win for everybody,” Sumar said.
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