By Kristy Koehler, June 24 2020—
The UPass program has been suspended until at least Dec. 31, 2020, leaving the University of Calgary Students’ Union (SU) and Graduate Students’ Association (GSA) scrambling for an alternative.
“Our goal as the Students’ Union is to advocate for an affordable alternative to the UPass going forward,” said Marley Gillies, vice-president external of the SU.
A note on U of C’s website states that “undergraduates, graduates and co-op/intern students will not have access to the UPass program until January 1, 2021 at the earliest.”
Though work to remedy the situation is ongoing, there remains some confusion about who ultimately put the program on hiatus in the first place.
Gillies noted that the SU learned about the cancellation of the spring/summer semester UPass in April, at which time work began on joint advocacy with the GSA and with the university itself around the Fair Entry program that provides low-income transit passes.
On April 21, former SU president Jessica Revington, along with then-GSA president Mohammad Mansouri and U of C president Ed McCauley, penned a letter to the City of Calgary’s Community Support Task Force.
“The Low Income Transit Pass will be essential to supporting students to meet their basic needs during this difficult time, especially since the UPass program, which typically benefits approximately 9,000 UCalgary students during the spring and summer terms, has been suspended until September 2020 and more than half of students at UCalgary use transit as their primary mode of transportation,” reads the letter.
It goes on to advocate for Calgary Transit to place more visible information about the Fair Entry program on its website so UPass users can easily assess which supports they may qualify for.
The letter also calls on the City to alter requirements for students under the Fair Entry program. Currently, a collective household income disclosure is required to qualify for a low-income transit pass. Many students live at home or have had to move back home as a result of COVID-19, and requiring collective household income assessments to qualify may pose undue hardship for students whose families do not in fact contribute to their expenses in any way, says the letter.
“Our goal in meeting with the Mayor’s Office and with several other city councillors so far has been to ask the City to ease this restriction,” said Gillies. If the City doesn’t do so, Gillies says the SU plans to call on the university for help.
“If this is too much of an administrative burden for the City or doesn’t happen as quickly as we want it to, we’re also in discussion with administration for the institution to actually purchase monthly passes,” she said. The idea would be for the institution to provide the passes to students at roughly the same cost as the UPass fee that is normally assessed each semester.
Several graduate students writing online on the popular r/UCalgary subReddit expressed frustration with the cancellation of the UPass, noting that their work as Teaching Assistants often pays them just enough to make them ineligible for the Fair Entry program but not enough to actually purchase a transit pass in addition to their other living expenses.
In May, the SU learned the UPass program would be suspended even longer.
“We learned about the cancellation of the Fall 2020 UPass from the university in late May, at which time they indicated the city would not be moving forward with offering the UPass in the coming semester,” said Gillies in an email. “There still seems to be some discrepancy about who is responsible for cancelling the pass itself.”
The official Calgary Transit Twitter account has been responding to confused students, placing blame with the universities for cancelling the transit program.
On June 18, the account Tweeted that: “the UPASS has been deferred by the schools due to changes caused by the pandemic. Unfortunately Calgary Transit does not have any influence on this decision. The UPASS is a program offered as a bonus by the school you enrolled in.”
On June 20, the account Tweeted that “the suspension of the UPass for next semester (Sept 2020-Dec 2020) was not a Calgary Transit Decision, it was the universities [sic]. Please refer to your institution for further information.”
Gillies says the City has been receptive to the SU’s ask and did recognize it as a significant issue. She hopes the issue will see some movement in city council within the next couple of weeks.
The University of Calgary has offered the following statement:
“Various scenarios were discussed during the last few months between Calgary Transit and the University of Calgary. Calgary Transit proposed running the UPass program for Fall 2020 in the same format as previous years. This would mean all students would pay into the program, even if they were not physically on campus. The University did not feel this was a reasonable alternative as a large majority of students would end up paying for a service they would not be utilizing.
“The university proposed running the UPass program as ‘opt-in’ for students, which was not supported by Calgary Transit. As a result, the mutual decision was made to suspend the program for Fall 2020. We continue to work with Calgary Transit to explore other discount programs to support students. As information becomes available it will be posted on the UPass website.”