U-Pass haggling leaves students waiting for transit break
A negotiating delay with TransLink means students at Douglas College and Kwantlen Polytechnic University will have to wait until September to join the reduced-rate transit U-Pass system.
Students at both institutions recently voted to join the program and were promised they'd have their new transit passes for this spring semester.
The provincially mandated U-Passes give unlimited transit service for $30 a month to students at campuses that sign on, although Kwantlen students will pay $40 and receive various additional benefits arranged by their student association.
But Kwantlen's spring registration starts March 14 and Douglas students register March 21.
And the master agreement governing the passes won't be ready by either of those dates, according to Blaine Jensen, vice-president of education services at Dougas.
A final deal would have to be vetted by lawyers and the administrators need several days to ensure systems are in place to charge students for the U-Passes when they pay other student fees.
"It's very disappointing that our students won't have U-Passes this summer," he said.
Jensen cited delays in finalizing the terms of the contract but would not elaborate on the reason.
"TransLink and the province are well aware of our concerns and we're waiting to hear how they will respond."
Vancouver Community College and Emily Carr University of Art and Design had previously signed an interim agreement with TransLink to ensure they'd be part of the U-Pass system for this spring.
TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said the same arrangement was offered to Douglas, which has campuses in New Westminster and Coquitlam, and Kwantlen, which serves Surrey, Langley and Richmond.
"That was available," Hardie said. "It was good enough for VCC and Emily Carr. It should have been good enough for Douglas and Kwantlen."
But Jensen, who heads the coalition of post-secondary schools negotiating with TransLink, said the group had legal advice that warned of potential problems with the interim deal.
Both sides say the final agreement was close to being ironed out.
But a new hitch recently developed that caused a further delay.
Hardie said it was noted that students might have to pay the 12 per cent Harmonized Sales Tax on the U-Passes – even though other fare types aren't subject to HST – because their schools weren't agents of TransLink.
He said TransLink has agreed to make school administrators TransLink fare dealers for purposes of selling the U-Pass to address the problem.
Lawyers are still considering that proposal, he said, but added in the meantime TransLink has offered to accept any risk that the HST is charged on the passes.
Kwantlen Student Association spokesman Matt Todd said the HST issue made students even more wary.
"The students at Douglas and Kwantlen are being held hostage," Todd said.
"TransLink has been dragging its feet in contract negotiations. We were originally promised we would have these passes in hand in September of 2010."
The issue so far doesn't affect students at UBC, SFU, Langara College and Capilano University – all of which have existing U-Passes that expire at the end of August, to be replaced by the new provincial U-Pass.
But Jensen said the coalition has notified TransLink that a contract must be concluded by mid-April if the provincial U-Pass is to be in effect for the fall semester at Lower Mainland campuses.
"Our 11 institutions are united in wanting a fair agreement that provides long-term benefits to students and one that institutions can sustain," he said. "But we're not quite there."