Save Our Transit: The Gravity of Next Week’s Referendum

Calling all SFU undergraduates! Are you aware that the fate of your Compass card rests on the outcome of a 2-day voting period from March 22nd-24th? Are you also aware that transit passes will no longer be provided to you if less than 5% of undergraduate students vote, even if the majority of those students vote yes?

This may be news to you, considering that SFSS candidates’ advertising is currently at the forefront of everything from school halls to Facebook walls. But do not be fooled; the U-Pass BC* referendum question is of equal importance.

Its results will affect all SFU undergraduate students, and they will come into effect almost immediately. If less than about 1,300 undergraduate students vote (that is, 5% of roughly 26,000 undergrads), we will be on our own finding a way to school as of May 1, 2016.

Why is the SFSS taking such drastic measures? The reason for the referendum is that SFU’s deal with Translink expires in April, and prices are on the rise. In order for the service to continue, we must approve an increase from $38.00 to $39.50 per month for the next year and $41.00 per month two years from now. To me, this seems insignificant in the face of the $50 - $120 per month the U-Pass saves those of us who take transit to school (the amount saved depends on frequency of use).

Besides saving money, there are a multitude of reasons we should keep our U-Passes. The 2001 decision to look into a universal transit pass, which was made officially by SFSS members, was unprecedented at SFU. Remember the drawn-out Build SFU campaign that eventually culminated in approval? The struggle to approve the U-Pass was somewhat similar, with several campaigns running against it. It wasn’t until 2003 that the transit pass was finally approved. If voter turnout is below the 5% threshold, we will be forced to go through this painstaking process once again if we decide that we want our Compass cards back – assuming this is possible.

Students who rarely use transit may view the original approval as well as the cost rises with irritation. Not everyone lives within an hour’s commute from SFU. Nonetheless, I know people who travel from Richmond and North Vancouver to the Burnaby campus via transit, and they use it as their time to catch up on readings or add the finishing touches on their lab reports. For those who cannot use transit due to any major access issues, requesting exemption from the U-Pass may be an option. If you are exempted from the U-pass, I encourage you to still vote yes, because with respect to the sustainability and desirability of the city, it is in everyone’s best interest to keep the U-Pass.

Transit makes the city a more livable place, and this is a crucial reason to vote yes. As we have all observed, road traffic contributes to more noise, more carbon dioxide emissions, and more congestion, all of which make the city less desirable to live in. A few years back, BC vehicles contained an average of only 1.61 people, which is an enormous problem for our local air quality due to the inefficient nature of personal vehicles. Transit, on the other hand, is much more efficient. If just 40 SFU students who once took the bus switched to driving themselves to school every day, they would emit as many as 168 tonnes more of air pollution each year.

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Impressively, within the first year following SFU’s installment of the U-Pass system in 2003, SFU students were already using transit 39% more. This is a huge difference, with a major positive impact on the environment and the city. If the U-Pass falls through next week, who can tell how many SFU students will turn to other, more polluting means of transportation.

We need to work towards the goal of getting all students who can to use transit or other alternative transportation. To do this we need to offset the appeal of driving by shaping SFU’s involvement with the transit system into something that conforms to our needs. As students, the needs of many of us revolve around cheap transportation, and the U-Pass substantially decreases our fees for public transit.

With the U-Pass BC referendum quickly approaching, it is of the utmost importance that we all cast our votes in the name of future local air quality and the livability of our city. The saying goes that we don’t know what we’ve got until it’s gone, so let’s show how much we value our access to the transit system before it’s too late. Your voice (or rather, your click of the mouse) makes all the difference; make it count between March 22nd and 24th next week, and let your vote be a tribute to the SFSS members who originally made SFU’s U-Pass possible!

*NB: ‘U-Pass’ just means ‘universal transit pass’, and your Compass card is just a type of U-Pass. The referendum has nothing to do with going back to the paper style of U-Pass and everything to do with whether or not we will keep our universal transit passes.

Read about the other referendum question here.  

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