David Vanderberg – Contributor
For students at the U of R, the average daily commute takes one of two forms: in a car or on the bus. In the pre- ‘new-dormitory-being-built-on-campus’ era, driving your car was the much-preferred commuting mode over waiting at an unheated bus stop in -30 degree weather for an oft-unreliable Regina Transit bus. However, the construction of a new residence on campus and the resulting loss of roughly 400 parking stalls now means that drivers are looking for alternatives to circling M-Lot for twenty minutes, waiting for a vacant stall. The new residence, combined with seemingly endless parking fee increases has changed everything: now everyone’s commute is terrible.
An investment of any size into the commuter-system at the U of R will improve it, given its current dismal condition. A $1.6 million investment into this system via the U-Pass (every student gets an unlimited bus pass for $70-90 a semester) will improve the commuting lives of drivers and bus-riders alike. Not only is the U-Pass an answer to improving students’ commute and upgrading Regina Transit service, it is the only answer that is currently being discussed at the university to alleviate the obvious transportation issues.
Last year, both the Students’ Union (URSU) and the U of R launched feasibility studies into building parkades to solve the parking problem. The answer? Not going to happen: the U of R lacks both the space and capital to build a parkade. In fact, the only new parking stalls will be the 150 underground stalls underneath the residence to replace the 400 lost stalls. This represents a problematic reality for drivers, considering that the U of R already oversells its general parking by 1.5 times and its underground parkade stalls by 1.2 times. Add to that the fact that the new residences will be welcoming 605 students and their cars to campus in September 2015, and it is easy to see that the parking crisis is not getting better; it’s becoming impossible.
For drivers, Regina’s U-Pass will improve their commute by giving them access to potential Park and Rides throughout the city where they can leave their car, hop a shuttle-bus to the University and avoid having to buy parking passes. Further, the currently over-full parking lots will have more vacant stalls as more students opt to use their U-Pass instead of paying for/dealing with campus parking.
[pullquote]“U-Pass gives students the power to create new alternatives rather than submitting to the existing inadequate options.”[/pullquote]
Granted, the U-Pass is not a perfect solution to improved commuting. If you’ve casually taken Regina Transit and experienced its imperfections, the idea of relying on it daily may seem like a dire proposition. However, U-Passes have proven to enhance shoddy transit systems. Prior to the University of Saskatchewan implementing the U-Pass in 2008-09, Saskatoon’s transit could be described as below average. After U-Pass implementation, the U of S saw an increased student-ridership of about 40 per cent. This prompted the City of Saskatoon to increase buses and service to these routes. Additionally, given the influx of riders, Saskatoon transformed the U of S campus into a transfer-hub, greatly increasing the amount of buses and service available to students. Saskatoon’s transit is still far from perfect, but their U-Pass allows thousands of students to forego pay-parking and instead use the bus to get to class. In Regina, the groundwork is already laid for a similar transformation as Regina Transit officials having already laid out portions of the proposed U-Pass deal, which would include more buses on express routes as well as some new services.
Having more options is always an improvement. Currently, the students’ only “choices” are bearing the expenses of car-ownership or riding a flawed bus-system. U-Pass gives students the power to create new alternatives rather than submitting to the existing inadequate options.
Taras Matkovsky – Op-Ed Editor
For my entire life, I more or less rode transit. When I was a little kid, I rode the Kiev subway system with my grandmother, sometimes just for fun; I still remember the subway line that exits the ground to cross the Dnieper River. When I came to Canada, I depended on transit to get anywhere, since my parents could not afford a car at the time. Since Grade 1, I have been using the Saskatoon and Regina transit systems to get to where I need to go. To this day, I do not own a car.
Consequently, issues such as the Regina U-Pass interest me. The idea that registering for classes gives me easy transit access for the semester sounds great. I am in favour of anything that would help boost ridership and support for the bus system in this city. Regina’s transit system deserves far more support than the city government is willing to give it. However, I do not think the U-Pass is the best way to do this for two reasons.
The major reason I am against this is because of who exactly is running the transit system: the City of Regina. This is a government body that has consistently let transit services be substandard and have shown a clear preference for transit-unfriendly development. On top of this, they also plan to increase transit fares in order to provide the same level of service. Can you imagine asking students to pay more tuition to support our current service? Of course, you could say that an influx of student riders would generate pressure to improve this transit service. However, this is to ignore the nature of our city government. The City of Regina government is devoted to the idea of fiscal responsibility in everything except helping developers. It has already proven these credentials by deciding to build a stadium over infrastructure for new subdivisions. On the flipside, it fights its unions tooth and nail to avoid paying pension plans. Given this, how committed would it really be to improving the transit system? One would have to focus the most intense pressure on the government in order to improve the bus system. Meanwhile, students would find that paying extra tuition for a ramshackle network is not in their interests.
[pullquote]“Before we ease access to the system, we must ensure the system itself is worth accessing.”[/pullquote]
All of this is before discussing the bus network itself. In my experience, riding the bus has been a chaotic rush to get to the nearest bus stop. These bus stops tend to be far away from people’s houses, and also tend to arrive at random times. I have arrived too many at bus stops only to wait ten minutes and realize it had come earlier than listed on the schedule. On top of that, commuting can be horrendous along Albert Street due to the masses of cars clogging the way. All of these problems require planning to overcome. Yet currently, there is little will to do so. Transit in Regina is caught in a catch-22 situation: transit won’t get more money until it improves, but it can’t improve unless there’s more money. The U-Pass is itself a way of getting more money, but this is off the backs of the captive student market. It seems unfair to me that the students should bear the burden of improving the transit system when transit is supposed to be a universal public good. The city government, as the entity responsible for the transit system, should instead design a network that does not shut down after 6:00 p.m. and is easily accessible to most people. Only then would a U-Pass make sense.
Ultimately, the U-Pass at this time is an unfair burden on students. It forces them to pay extra in tuition for a service that does not benefit them. Before we ease access to the system, we must ensure the system itself is worth accessing.