U-Pass or no U-Pass, that is the question

The Parking Services webpage shows a joyful girl getting off the backseat of a car. Her nails are done. She is holding a sleek backpack and wearing the Algonquin hoody. It gives the image of an overjoyed customer with a received service. That is not the experience I got dealing with Parking Services. A big […]
Algonquin Times writer Brahim Ait Ouzineb

The Parking Services webpage shows a joyful girl getting off the backseat of a car. Her nails are done. She is holding a sleek backpack and wearing the Algonquin hoody. It gives the image of an overjoyed customer with a received service. That is not the experience I got dealing with Parking Services.

A big line of students in the commons building swarms the small office handling the lockers and parking inquiries, along with U-Pass. The handling time of inquiries is quick but does not draw smiles on the customers.

My unpleasant experience relates to the U-Pass opt-out. Students pay for parking permits to avoid the hustle of OC Transpo but are obligated to pay $223.48 each term.

I am not here to rant about parking prices or the application, Honk, that does not help me much when needed. I just want to understand why students who buy monthly parking permits do not get an automatic opt-out of the U-Pass.

To opt out of U-Pass, the front desk of the Students’ Association turns me down immediately.

“Sorry, U-Pass is obligatory, and you cannot opt out of it,” said the lady behind the counter.

I called the registrar’s office, and they asked me to fill out the opt-out form and attach the documents to defend my case. I go back to the Commons building to request a record of my trips last term to attach. The receptionist tells me to call OC Transpo.

After waiting in line, I get to the operator who says it is Algonquin College that manages its students’ accounts. I send an email with OC Transpo’s response to Parking Services. They end up confirming that they do not have the info I am looking for. I print out the screenshot of the term’s parking permits via the parking portal.

My argument is clear. I paid for a parking spot and I rode the bus four times. It is inconceivable that four rides would cost $223. The registrar’s office answered my question: “Owning a car or purchasing a parking pass does not make you eligible to opt out of the U-Pass fees. Your request has been denied.”

The response went on: “We recognize that this decision is not what your desired outcome; however, it is the responsibility of Algonquin College to ensure all students are assessed equitably according to the binding agreement with the City of Ottawa, this decision is final, and no further assistance can be provided.”

In the face of this crude explanation, I reached out to the ombudsman’s office, which advised me to give it up.

The U-Pass has been an issue of debate not only here in Canada but even in the U.S. The Students’ Association agreed with the City of Ottawa to have preferential rates in exchange for Algonquin College students’ ridership. In 2015, when it was first introduced at Algonquin College, 16.67 per cent of students were against it. In 2021, I found an article on students’ complaints about paying it despite COVID and the lockdown. I never received any response from the Students’ Association about the complaints handling and the student satisfaction surveys on the U-Pass.

The agreement means “a compulsory ancillary fee introduced through the Students’ Association following a Universal Transit Referendum in 2014,” stated the registrar’s office and Campus Services. This charge grants students unlimited use of OC Transpo, STO and ParaTranspo services. In an email received from Campus Services, it said the college collects the fees and administers the program on behalf of the Students’ Association. The fee partially covers the cost of running the program, with the remaining operating costs offset by the college. The U-Pass program is not profitable for the college, nor is it intended to be.

The new variables at play render such a project obsolete, while it started off to encourage students to use more public transportation. In the last three years, there has been a 48 per cent decrease in ridership for OC Transpo. COVID made the situation worse because more and more people avoid going into crowded places. This adds to the complaints from customers on the service and the constant failures. Students are no exception.

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