Back that bus up

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Looking at the front of a city bus stopped at a glass-enclosed bus stop with a red sign with white text spelling “Bus Stop.”
Reality bites when your students’ union fails to be transparent. Clker-Free-Vector-Images via Pixabay, manipulated by lee lim

The reality behind URSU’s Spring/Summer 2023 bus pass reimbursement

Earlier this month, the University of Regina Students’ Union (URSU) released a video stating that they will refund an amount up to $112 to students who had to pay more for Regina city bus service in the Spring/Summer 2023 semester.  

The Carillon covered the announcement that came much to the relief of students who had no other option but to pay more than twice as much to get around the city this past Spring/Summer. Thousands of students at the University of Regina rely on city transit services and the affordability typically offered through a UPass. As much as the reimbursement came as a relief, students were not informed why their Spring/Summer 2023 bus fee saw a sudden increase this year.  

The Carillon did some digging, received some student tips, and found out more facts behind the spike in the Spring/Summer 2023 student bus fee and why the recent reimbursement occurred.   

Looking back, student voters at the 2019 URSU General Election passed a referendum with over 80 per cent in support of having a Spring/Summer UPass. After the referendum, URSU and Regina Transit/The City of Regina signed a Memorandum of Intent to have a UPass for the Spring/Summer semester.  

In January 2020, the city council approved a three-year contract for a UPass for the combined Spring/Summer semesters at the same amount as the Fall and Winter semesters. URSU later publicly announced the commencement of the Spring/Summer UPass beginning May 1, 2020 – with a fee of $87.60— keeping it the same as the other semesters. 

At that time, it was understood that URSU would set up automatic payment with the University administration to collect the UPass fee from students registered in classes in Spring/Summer semesters, the same as Fall and Winter are done. However, the lack of in-person classes during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns led to a temporary pause in the implementation of the Spring/Summer UPass, and URSU did not set up automatic payment with the University then, or during the two and a half years since. 

It is important to understand that a UPass and a regular bus pass are fundamentally different. URSU sent an email to students in April this year informing them about purchasing a UPass for Spring/Summer, but they were actually describing a regular bus pass at a reduced cost. The email was misleading, as it was titled “U-pass available for Spring and Summer Semester” and the content was confusing.  

Students may not have realized at the time that the reason they would have to pay a lot more for Spring/Summer 2023 bus service was because instead of coordinating with the University to collect fees for 2021 and 2022 Spring/Summer semesters, URSU subsidized most of the money for this cost from its operational budget.  

In an April 2023 letter written by Regina Public Interest Research Group (RPIRG) to URSU, Tayef Ahmed highlighted the mistakes that led to the disruption of UPass for Spring/Summer 2023. Among the issues mentioned in RPIRG’s letter, the one that stood out was URSU’s lack of communication with students. Lack of communication and transparency played a major role in the development of the situation as the students’ union failed to clearly communicate its own shortcomings to students and instead offered a reimbursement of money that should not have been charged to begin with.  

Moreover, if the situation is not resolved, it could continue to generate financial stress and potentially erode URSU’s relationship with the City of Regina, jeopardizing future UPass agreements. That could cost students more money in the future. 

RPIRG advocated for the reimbursement from URSU beginning in April 2023. At a May 2023 board meeting, URSU agreed to return students’ money during the summer. Finally, URSU announced the reimbursement in November, but failed to provide the proper context around why such a reimbursement was necessary.  

URSU would do well to realize that students would prefer honest communication and efficient action over a fabricated display of infallibility to cover up mistakes. In addition, as indicated by the 2019 referendum, students want the same affordable UPass for future Spring/Summer semesters as offered for Fall and Winter.   

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