But ‘U’ Are No Longer on your ‘U-Pass’
// Christine Jamieson

For several years now, Capilano students have enjoyed the benefits of the U-Pass. However, with the implementation of a new province-wide U-Pass program, students will quickly notice several important changes with their ticket to transit.

The Vancity U-Pass, which was originally implemented at Capilano, Langara, UBC and SFU, is being expanded to post-secondary institutions across the province. Following an announcement by former BC Premier Gordon Campbell in June 2010, students all over BC will now have access to a U-Pass at the cost of $30 a month. At that time, Campbell said to New1130, "Students in all publicly-funded post-secondary institutions in British Columbia will have a universal U-Pass to help them have access to transit across this province." The program, called U-Pass BC, is scheduled to commence this September.

According to the Translink website, each participating university and corresponding student society will have to execute two contracts : the new U-Pass BC Agreement, a document covering the universities’ agreement to administer the U-Pass program; and the U-Pass BC Risk Mitigation Agreement, a document which ensures only eligible students are receiving the benefits of the program. Under the previous program, each institution had its own separate agreement, but “part of the initiative [of U-Pass BC] included taking all of the past contracts and concerns and unique language, which was complicated and time-consuming for TransLink to administer, and putting it into one truly universal contract,” says Richard Honkanen, a member of the Capilano Students’ Union’s U-Pass working group.

The new U-Pass no longer contains the student’s personal information such as their name, their picture, or the name of the institution at which the student is studying. Because this information is no longer included, students will now have to simultaneously present their valid student ID and their U-Pass or risk receiving a fine and having their U-Pass confiscated.

Amy Maycock, a Capilano student, is unimpressed with the security of this new method. “I think the new way they did it makes it easier for people to use other students U-Passes, which is surprising to me that they’d allow [that to happen].”

The distribution of the U-Passes will also be different from the mail-out system that was used for institutions on the previous Vancity U-Pass program. Students will now have to line up monthly to collect their U-passes from one of four vending machines located in Library building or the cafeteria in Birch. Translink argues that this change is to avoid the security risk of sending valuable U-Passes through the mail.

With the U-Passes now being uniform across the province, they can easily be produced in bulk, and shipped to the institutions. However, despite the passes being mailed out in bulk, Capilano students were not able to get their U-Passes until August 31st, the same day that the summer U-Pass expired.

“I’m unimpressed with the organization of the distribution process. For one, the new passes aren’t available any sooner…and the new passes require us to switch passes every month,” says Eric Seeley, another Capilano student.

Fraud was a major issue with the Vancity U-Pass program. Translink estimates that $15 million worth of U-Passes were reported lost or stolen. Many of these found their way into the hands of other, non-student users, typically through outlets such as Craigslist.

“While the former U-Passes had a magnetic stripe on the back that were required to be inserted into the coin boxes on board buses most students and drivers did not do this for the sake of faster load times and convenience, as you can probably imagine,” says Honkanen. “TransLink and schools had no way of ‘deactivating’ a lost or invalid card, [and although] the new U-Passes BC do not have a photo of students on them, TransLink can cut down on fraudulent reproductions by integrating new security features into the card.”

Although the new U-Pass is coming with many changes, students can look forward to adapting to another new U-Pass system in a few years.

“For now, the new U-Pass BC is a better system that allows the program to add almost 50% more students,” says Ken Hardie, spokesperson for Translink. “Students are going to really like it when TransLink integrates the new U-Pass BC with the Compass Card in 2013.”

The Compass card, currently in development by Translink, is an electronic fare card with a micro-chip inside which passengers will use to pay for their transit trips. “With the electronic chip from the Compass Card embedded in student cards...student cards would then double as U-Passes.” Hardie added.

// Christine Jamieson

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© 2011 The Capilano Courier. phone: 604.984.4949 fax: 604.984.1787 email: editor@capilanocourier.com