Reporter: Venera Nikolaeva
This past Tuesday marked the beginning of a series of open consultations with the entire student body at MUN regarding the introduction of a discounted bus pass that would give them access to all bus routes and an expanded level of service. Following concerns related to commuting challenges expressed by student representatives in 2015, a Parking and Transportation Committee was formed on campus spanning participants from all the major stakeholder groups within the university(students, faculty, staff), as well as Metrobus and community officials.
The U-Pass Program was among the first promising solutions examined by the committee and it received due attention for a number of reasons. It is a common transportation option at other post-graduate institutions across Canada and provides a helpful alternative for one of the most financially vulnerable parts of the population.The program has the potential to increase the search area of housing options and employment opportunities as well. Parking scarcity is another ongoing concern that could be mitigated with the launch of the U-Pass. The environmental impact should not be underestimated either – provided the availability of a viable alternative to driving, there will be less cars circulating on the streets and consequently – lower levels of air pollution.Last, but not least, the U-Pass Program is not just going to help students get back and forth to university, it will enable them to explore everything the city of St. John’s and nearby areas have to offer – from shopping centers to food and entertainment venues.
The session started with a short introduction by a representative from the Facilities Office at MUN. She provided some background information as to how the idea about the program was brought to the table and what the next steps would be. Jordan Wright, Manager of the Office of Associate Vice-President (Facilities) and moderator of the discussion took the floor next. He walked the audience through the U-Pass Model and the dynamics between its factors (level of service, number of users and price point). Particular attention was paid to the cost of current means of transportation, which were then compared with possible price ranges for the U-Pass. The presentation also focused on potential improvements in existing core services (more buses at peak times and express buses to certain areas) and expansion into new regions (Portugal Cove, Torbay and Conception Bay South) as explained by Metrobus officials.
Once the formal part of the session was over, students received the opportunity to share their opinions, questions and concerns with respect to the U-Pass model, the price range and the level of service improvements. Most of the participants in this consultation session were positive that if implemented, the changes will indeed make the metrobus service much more useful to them – especially for the students from the Ocean Sciences center, which currently have very limited options for transportation. One of the students, however, suggested that weekend service should receive attention as well. This will make it possible for them to pursue other interests on and off-campus and utilize more of the services offered by the university (as they will be able to rely more on transportation). In terms of cost, the general opinion of the participants was that the price of the pass should be reasonable, meeting the financial needs of both the students and the respective external parties.
By engaging the parties in a productive discussion, the committee will receive valuable feedback which will help them find the right balance between the three variables – and come up with viable alternative.
The decision whether to adopt the U-Pass program will be taken by the students. A referendum will be held by the end of the Winter 2019 semester. If the vote is in favor of the program, an implementation process will ensue with Fall 2020 semester indicated as the the earliest completion period.