U-Pass fees keep parking costs low

Mount Royal University’s mandatory U-Pass fee of $120 per semester has some students who also pay for on-campus parking frustrated, because it appears they are paying for services they don’t use.

“A lot of students come to the parking office asking for a U-Pass refund because they have a parking pass,” says Stefan Durston, manager of parking and transportation services at Mount Royal. “They don’t understand the benefit of the U-Pass.”

But Durston says he believes students who park on campus should also accept paying the U-Pass fee, because they are the ones benefiting most from this program.

“If we didn’t have the U-Pass program we’d have to raise parking fees because the parking department needs to fund its own operations,” says Durston. “With less students coming to school on Calgary Transit that would mean more expensive parking rates to accommodate the volume of cars.”

The provincial government requires auxiliary operations at post-secondary campuses, like parking and transportation at Mount Royal University (MRU), to be self-sustaining. Due to this legislation, the parking department is unable to receive government grants or loans to fund new parking spaces.

In order to fund its operations, the MRU parking department would have to increase rates to be able to afford more parking stalls.

“It’s going to be the students and employees that suffer the costs because it’s going to come back to the fees and how we collect them,” says Durston.Stefan Durston, manager of parking and transportation at MRU, believes students should support the U-Pass program.

Photo Credit: Amara McLaughlin

According to Duane Anderson, vice-president of administrative services, parking rates on campus is some of the lowest in the city.

While the lowest cost of on-campus parking at Mount Royal is $320 per semester, this fee is lower than the University of Calgary, where it costs $368 to park on campus for a semester. However, both institutions pale in comparison to SAIT’s cheapest parking fee of $640 for four months on campus.

Although Mount Royal students may feel that they are paying more for parking, in reality they would be paying much more without this program.

“Students need to remember that the U-Pass program isn’t a fare, it is part of their tuition fees,” says Neil McKendrick, manager of transit planning at the City of Calgary.

The distinction between a fare and a fee is crucial when referring to the U-Pass program.

“Parking is an alternative,” says MRU’s Anderson.

This partnership between the city and MRU offers students a reduced fare for transportation that normally costs an adult $96 for a monthly pass. Instead, students receive universal access to all Calgary Transit Services for a four-month term for $120 — a heavily subsidized rate that could cost students $384 without this agreement in place.

The Students’ Association at Mount Royal University (SAMRU) held a referendum in 2005 where students voted to implement the U-Pass program, with 65 per cent of students voting in favour.

The new U-Pass program was part of Mount Royal’s “C-Choices Campaign” initiative aimed at promoting environmentally friendly commuting, with the intent of reducing the number of single occupancy vehicles coming to campus. The “C-Choices Campaign” won the City of Calgary’s “Environmental Achievement Award” in 2006 for sustainable commuting options.

This year, only 7,547 students, of the eligible 10,319 students, have chosen to pick-up their U-Pass.

Full-time undergraduate and graduate students are eligible for the U-Pass. Since 2001 Calgary Transit has offered this program to the city’s five major post-secondary institutions — the University of Calgary, MRU, SAIT, ACAD and St. Mary’s University.

“A lot of students do travel by public transit to school,” says Seija Roggeveen, vice-president external for SAMRU. “A lot of students rely on it to get them to class, back home and to work as a reliable and safe source of transportation.”

The U-Pass program relies on the university’s relationship with Calgary Transit.

According to McKendrick, the city’s manager of transit planning, with more MRU students relying on public transit as their primary mode of commuting compared to U of C, keeping costs low for MRU students is important.

The U-Pass fee is determined by the full adult cost of transit for a four-month period, multiplied by the number of students actually using city transit at one of the five participating university’s.

“From these five schools, on average 30 per cent of students use public transit to get to school,” says McKendrick.

This semester, that works out to approximately $1.2 million of revenue generated from each participating university.

This is why when Bow Valley College tried to appeal the U-Pass program in early 2014, it was unable to do so because 99 per cent of its students use public transit as their primary means of commuting to campus, says McKendrick. This would have meant a fare increase for all partnering post-secondary institutions to account for the revenue Calgary Transit would lose if Bow Valley College were allowed to opt out.

“Make no mistake. Transit isn’t losing money on this,” says Durston, MRU’s manager of parking and transportation services. “They’re not running a charity. This is a money-making venture, and in many ways for them it’s great because they do none of the work, they don’t have to sell any of the tickets.”

Despite the business behind the U-Pass fee and the intricacies of the program, this service benefits everyone. The U-Pass program is designed to offer students an affordable means of commuting to campus, while helping keep costs down for those who prefer to park on campus.

Calgary Transit offers seven opt out options for the U-Pass. Students with disabilities or completing a work-term are eligible to opt out of the mandatory fee.