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TTC picking up speed at last on all-campus pass

U of T Scarborough likes idea of bundling cost into student fees; hotels also approached

Feb 19, 2008 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation reporter

The TTC is on the brink of a breakthrough in attracting more riders by offering discounted passes in bulk to Toronto-area students and hotel workers.

After years of negotiations with local post-secondary schools, the TTC says the student council at University of Toronto’s Scarborough campus is close to supporting a “U-pass” - a discounted transit pass whose cost is bundled into student fees - for all 10,000 students.

TTC commissioners approved the idea last week. TTC chair Adam Giambrone said it would cost the transit agency “under $1 million” if the students go for the proposal.

Meantime, the hotel workers’ union, which represents about 6,500 employees, is trying to work out a deal to give a substantial number of its members a discounted TTC pass through their jobs.

If all eight college and university campuses in the city adopted a U-pass, it could produce 15 to 20 million more rides per year for the TTC and $72 million in revenue, money needed to increase service to match ridership growth.

“The best thing to get people on transit is to offer better service. But reducing the price helps,” said Giambrone said.

It’s also easier to retain an existing transit user than to attract a new one, he said.

U-passes are a tough sell for student governments because the discount rate is pegged to universal inclusion in student fees, something that requires a campus referendum. Those who live on campus or drive to school often resist paying for transit they won’t use, which can scare away student politicians.

Chris Drew, a member of Ryerson’s student union, told the TTC yesterday his group would want more details before trying to sell the idea to the student body.

But the U of T’s satellite campus, where about 60 per cent of students use the TTC, is poised to hold a referendum next month.

Commissioners yesterday approved a price freeze for that campus that would keep the pass at roughly $60 a month until 2010 irregardless of fare hikes.

If the U-pass does go ahead there, other student governments “will be banging on the doors very quickly,” Mike Anders, the TTC’s market research director, predicted in an interview.

If a campus vote is held on a U-pass, the Scarborough students would be allowed to opt for a discounted York Region Transit pass or - for full-time students only - a GO discount as well.

Meanwhile, the TTC hopes to reach terms with Toronto hotels and their workers to widen use of its so-called VIP pass, said union officer Paul Clifford.

The Fairmont Royal York already contributes to the cost of a VIP pass for about 500 workers as part of their negotiated agreement.

But workers at hotels with fewer than 50 employees aren’t eligible for the pass, simply because they lack the numbers. The union and TTC want to create a group program for them, but persuading some hotels to get on board can be challenging, Clifford said.

The out-of-pocket savings would be significant for hotel workers, 80 per cent of whom are immigrants earning $30,000 a year on average.

About 30 of 45 unionized hotels have agreed to participate so far.




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