By: Daniel Cress
Students Association president David Corson has told the city that if an age cap placed on student bus passes by OC Transpo was not removed, the SA could file a human rights complaint with the province.
“We have consulted our lawyer and reviewed with the Board of Directors the case law, and we believe we have grounds to file a complaint,” said Corson.
The SA contends that OC Transpo is engaging in discrimination by imposing an age limit of 19 on its student bus passes. With many of the SA’s 15,000 members falling outside this category, an added financial burden is placed on students who were previously able to get discounted passes.
This constitutes an unfair and unequal treatment of a certain group according to the SA.
“A student is a student,” said Corson.
Corson said that despite talks with the city that have been ongoing since the summer, the city has refused to make concessions and is ignoring the rights of students born prior to 1993.
OC Transpo contends that they are only acting as other transit providers do in creating their own fare system and offered this statement when contacted regarding their decision to scrap student passes for those over 19 years of age:
“OC Transpo, like other transit providers such as Toronto and Hamilton, have age restrictions on student and post-secondary transit fares. The Transit Commission have the authority to set fares for different groups such as children, students and seniors.”
The city’s response has been to offer Algonquin students a U-Pass program similar to those in place at the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
Asked for a comment the city provided this statement:
“The city has invited the Algonquin College Students’ Association and any other eligible institution to let its students vote in a referendum on joining the U-Pass program, as students have done at the University of Ottawa and Carleton. This would allow Algonquin students to benefit from the significant discount offered to all students who have a U-Pass.”
This solution is a sidestepping of the problem in the SA’s eyes, said Corson. The option of a U-Pass does not address the immediate and specific needs of Algonquin students.
“We need terms; without terms what do we go to our students with?” said Corson. “What is a U-Pass?”
The city’s proposal that Algonquin adopt a U-Pass system has not been accompanied with any details. Basing specifics of the U-Pass programs at the other institutions in the city is impractical because each has a differing contract with the city, said Corson.
In terms of the time frame of offering a U-Pass to Algonquin students Corson said it is not feasible short-term and students need help now.
“All or nothing is not negotiating, it’s capitulating,” said Corson.
To approve the U-Pass, the SA would have to hold a referendum. A protocol is now in place to prevent students from experiencing a price shock in their SA fees. If the referendum were successful, the pass could not be implemented for up to two years because of this protocol.
Corson also pointed out that the split between students who get to school by driving, walking, or biking versus those who make use of OC Transpo Services is roughly 60/40 in favour of non-bus commuters.
Bringing back the student bus pass for all students is possible and has been done before in the case of OC Transpo’s Eco-Pass which was discontinued and then reinstated, argued Corson.
While Corson is looking for a return to previous bus pass conditions, he is not opposed to opening up the issue of eventually adopting a U-Pass to a student vote.
“We would accept a program with conditions to be met and actively go to students and go through the process,” said Corson. “We would let OC Transpo on campus to advertise but I would like to have the University of Ottawa and Carleton student unions on hand as well to tell their sides of the story.”
Both institutions have faced problems with their U-Pass systems and harsh criticism, even legal action from students.
“We want our students to be informed and we want it to be fair,” said Corson. “We want students to vote on a deal, not on a box.”