Edmonton and area post-secondary students, including those at the University of Alberta, will have no U-Pass transit pass during Winter 2021.
The Edmonton Transit Service (ETS) and other regional public transit providers will not be offering a U-Pass for students attending post-secondary during Winter 2021 due to COVID-19.
Despite being U-Pass-less, post-secondary students have other options for buying transit passes. University students, regardless of age, are able to access youth fares or the Ride Transit Program. The Ride Transit Program offers discounted monthly passes based on income levels. Those programs have been extended until April 30, 2021.
On March 17, 2020, the U of A announced it would not assess students mandatory non-instructional fees for services they could not access due to COVID-19 precautions. This included no Spring and Summer term U-Passes. Normally, the U-Pass is automatically charged to all students attending class at the U of A.
Later in the summer, ETS announced it would not offer a U-Pass option to post-secondary students in the Fall term since the majority of students would be taking online classes. ETS updated their announcement on November 25 stating the U-Pass would continue to not be available for students in Winter 2021.
Student representatives “worked hard” to find better alternatives for students
Alana Krahn, vice-president (operations and finance) at the University of Alberta Students’ Union, said that she and other student representatives “worked hard” to try and get a solution for students before ETS’ Fall U-Pass cancellation, and then immediately afterwards to secure a winter solution as well.
“What students will be seeing for the Winter semester are what they’ve been seeing for the Fall, despite our best efforts,” Krahn said in an interview with The Gateway.
“We had gone to ETS extensively during the summer months and encouraged them to try to come up with a solution that would be more convenient to students,” she added.
“We know the Ride Transit program is a really cumbersome process to be dealing with, and students don’t need that added stress right now.”
Krahn added that ETS “simply did not want to find another solution” to the U-Pass.
In early September Krahn said the focus shifted to finding solutions for the Winter 2021 U-Pass. They came up with new proposals and presented past ideas to all transit authorities in the region. Krahn said an opt-in U-Pass option was discussed and other products that would provide value to students closer to the U-Pass price point.
“We were flat out told there was no appetite at all on ETS’ part to have anything available to students other than Ride Transit and the youth passes,” Krahn said.
There were additional roadblocks including a lack of up-to-date data from the University of Alberta registrars office. Krahn said the office was unable to confirm which students were still living in the Edmonton region at the time of the pandemic.
“We then estimated the numbers of students still in Edmonton who would need a U-Pass,” Krahn said. “Those numbers ended up being too low for ETS, and there was no incentive for any [transit partner] to try and find a solution for students who had in-person classes.”
“We worked hard and really hoped to find a consistent fair product [for students] but instead ended up with the Ride Transit and youth passes.”
Olena Babiy, a communications advisor with the City of Edmonton, said in a statement provided to The Gateway, that the lack of students requiring in-person delivery of classes ultimately resulted in the U-Pass cancellation.
“The city and regional U-Pass transit partners have been working collaboratively with the participating U-Pass Students’ Associations,” Babiy said. “Due to the majority of classes being offered online at this time, all 11 parties agreed that Fall U-Passes and Winter U-Passes will not be issued, and students will not be charged the U-Pass fee.”
“COVID-19 has presented unique financial challenges for everyone, and the suspension of Fall U-Pass and Winter U-Pass is a temporary adjustment due to the pandemic,” Babiy added.
Krahn says conversations about Fall 2021 term are “ongoing”
Krahn confirmed to The Gateway that planning for Fall 2021 plans for the U-Pass program are “ongoing.” She said conversations with the registrars office are occurring to see how gaps in data can be filled to help administer a U-Pass or U-Pass alternative.
“It is very preliminary,” Krahn said. “I know that ETS and the other transit authorities have been very much hoping and planning for the optimistic situation that enough students will be on-campus to be able to justify charging the U-Pass in the Fall.
“We are very much aware at the Students’ Union that students are missing the U-Pass,” she added. “We are hoping… that we will have solutions in place for Fall 2021.”