More than 75 per cent of graduate students at the University of Alberta have been using the spring/summer U-Pass, indicating that its first implementation in the summer months has been successful.
As of August 7, preliminary figures show that 3,937 spring/summer U-Pass stickers that have been distributed out of the total of 5,200 eligible grad students. It's a number that the Graduate Students' Association Vice-President (Labour) Tamara Korassa is pleased with.
The U-Pass is only offered to research-based graduate students and those enrolled in a spring/summer course, and came about as the result of a survey of grad students done in 2009, where many showed support for a transit pass for May through August.
In March 2010, students voted in favour of the pass in a referendum and the GSA worked with Edmonton Transit System to fully implement it as a pilot project for this summer. The cost was a mandatory fee of $91.67 to all those eligible, identical to the cost of the Winter 2011 U-Pass.
"We were confident that the spring/summer U-Pass would be successful," Korassa said. "However, as we were the first group to try a spring/summer pilot program, we all had some concerns about the implementation."
Korassa explained that those concerns were primarily logistical issues, such as differentiating between eligible and ineligible students.
"There are students from each group that want to use the pass and those that don't," she explained. "However, with the way the U-Pass currently operates and the way it benefits each of the stakeholder groups, it's not possible to differentiate between students based on their preference for using the pass or not."
Korassa indicated that the majority of feedback about the program has been positive, although more formal feedback will be required for the U-Pass' long-term prospects. That information will be collected through surveys once the summer term is completed, and will help them assess exactly how successful it was.
"Once the GSA has this information, we'll be able to design a strategy for the continuance of the spring/summer U-Pass program and also be able to look into options for annual graduate student passes," Korassa said. An annual transit pass could become availabe that would be valid for an entire year.
Korassa has little doubt that it will be supported in the future, thanks to the positive responses from students, as well as the fact that the program is "beneficial for many different stakeholders."
"Students gain affordable access to the transit system, the university can free up parking space, ETS is able to plan for guaranteed revenue and consumers, and Edmonton benefits from an increased awareness and culture of public transportation," Korassa said.
With the success of the spring/summer U-Pass for graduate students, Korassa also believes that it may open the door for undergraduate students to implement a similar program.
Students' Union Vice-President (Student Life) Colten Yamagishi is heading up the initiative for a spring/summer undergraduate U-Pass, but the plan is only in its infancy, and will require a referendum vote from students.