By BETH AUDET
“In September, 2018, there will be transit; there will be U-Pass; there will be buses to ride.”
Ryan Huckla, president of the Niagara College Student Administrative Council (NCSAC), says that despite the imminent referendum, Niagara College’s student transit isn’t going anywhere.
Niagara News learned of NCSACs intention to take transit to a student vote after they published an open letter to riders on Sept. 19, expressing shared frustration with the current service.
The NCSAC board of directors continues to discuss what question they will be taking to the students.
Huckla says it will tackle the U-Pass fee, not its elimination.
The number of students using transit has steadily increased since students voted for the U-Pass in 2007. The increase has been enough to warrant adding service to Pelham, Fort Erie and Port Colborne – which were not included in the original agreement – and extending service into the summer semester.
NCSAC has raised the mandatory transit fee by five per cent every year – the maximum allowed increase – in an attempt to keep up with the growing contracts.
But Huckla says this hasn’t been enough: “Now we’re drowning.”
The Niagara College website shows that students currently pay $93.16 per semester for the U-Pass.
Huckla was unable to indicate what the new fee needs to be, only that the current transit system is “not sustainable as is.”
“We’ve hit that tipping point,” says Huckla.
The Brock University Students’ Union (BUSU) held its own referendum for the 2016-2017 school year.
According to Aidan Hibma, BUSU vice-president of finance and administration, the vote asked the students to allow them to increase the U-Pass fee from $101 per semester to $120.
Brock students voted no.
Hibma says the referendum lost by a mere one per cent (or 100 votes).
Consequently, he says Brock transit riders are experiencing a cut of close to $700,000 in routes and services.
“There’s been backlash,” says Hibma, and the reaction came immediately after everyone “realized what they had to lose.”
Lydia Collins, 22, a recent Brock graduate and current workshop facilitator for the Brock Student Justice Centre, says the campaigning was “very poorly done” and that “people didn’t understand what was being asked or how it would affect things.”
She says the failed fee increase has made transit “even worse” than it already was.
BUSU is going back to the students to vote again, and Hibma says this time they will be putting all their energy into marketing so students can make a better-informed decision.
For Niagara College students, Executive Director Steve Kosh says SAC will communicate the pros and cons of the upcoming referendum very clearly.
You can expect to start making demands in November, when Kosh says SAC will be reaching out to the student population to ask what needs to be done to fix transit.
They’ll compare these responses with recorded complaints and ridership data in order to determine transit needs and create an appropriate fee. Once classes resume in January, Kosh says: “then we’ll start educating you.”
Kosh projects the referendum to happen during the winter semester in order to include January-start students.
Whether students vote yes or no, Huckla says next year’s U-Pass fee will accurately reflect the services provided.