By Nicholas Hodge
Mayor Jim Watson, a vocal supporter of the U-Pass for Ottawa post-secondary students, has weighed in on the controversial issue for Algonquin now that its implementation could be decided by student votes later this year.
Since referendums saw the U-Pass introduced to the University of Ottawa and Carleton in 2010, Watson has encouraged the Students’ Association to hold a similar vote for Algonquin students.
“I’m encouraged that at least now there seems to be some discussion about holding a referendum,” said Watson.
According to Watson the tuition hike the U-Pass requires is calculated to profit-neutrality. The city does not make or lose a significant amount of money by making it available to students.
The city would not know what to charge for the U-Pass if there was a voluntary opt-out program that a number of students desire.
“There are two different things,” said Watson, “You can’t opt out if you don’t want [the U-Pass]. If you live outside the boundaries of Ottawa, it’s not a question of opt-out, you just won’t get charged.”
Watson is not open to the idea of removing the student age cap on bus passes. Only students that are 19 or younger are currently able to enjoy savings of $20 a month.
The Students’ Association has been critical of Watson and the City of Ottawa for this decision and has pushed for the city to eliminate the age cap.
College Ward Councillor Rick Chiarelli supported the SA in their movement, including their petition signed by 10,000 Algonquin students arguing for its removal.
He suggested that it would be in the college’s best interest to wait until the completion of the renovations at Baseline Station to hold a student vote on the U-Pass.
“I understand why [the SA] have a problem with it,” said Chiarelli about the U-Pass. “It fits the Algonquin student less than other universities.”
“When the new Baseline Station opens it will make more sense.”
Chiarelli tried to mediate between the Transit Commission and the SA but he has recognized that the removal of the age cap is not going to happen.
“In the words of Austin Powers, that trained has sailed,” he quipped.
Chiarelli’s advice to the SA and student body is to “move on.”