Many University of Regina students say the U-Pass is changing their driving habits.
“I don’t drive to school as often anymore, it’s only if I miss the bus,” U of R student Morgan Jeannot said.
Since the U-Pass program was introduced in September, university students have taken 300,000 bus rides, an increase of 78 per cent.
“I really like it because I can get around, I can be good to the environment, and I can get a bit of a cheaper price for it because I’m a student,” U of R student Jennifer Ackerman said.
“When they didn’t have it here, I found I was just paying a lot more to get around, and it means that you don’t have an incentive to be environmentally friendly,” she said.
More than 4,000 students have activated their bus pass, which costs approximately $87 each semester.
“There are a lot of students that this opens up more money in their monthly budget for them, and there are also students that hadn’t used transit before and this is a new learning experience for them,” Neil Middlemiss, University of Regina Students’ Union operations manager, said.
Not everybody is using the program. Eleven hundred people opted out, which is an option available for students who live outside city limits or within about a kilometre of campus.
Another 5,000 students have paid for the pass but haven’t activated it.
“The few times I’ve waited for the bus, it’s taken a long time, and I prefer to ride my bike or walk,” student Gaelan Malloy said.
“I think it would be a good option if I was able to catch a bus more often,” student Janelle Blakely said. “It takes me 10 minutes to drive here. If I took a bus I’d have to take a connection. It would be like an hour journey.”
“While it’s not the best that there are 5,000 students that are paying and not necessarily using the system, the program in general, its original conception, was intended to deal with a lot of things, which include improved parking on campus and lowering carbon emissions,” Middlemiss said. “So while the students aren’t directly using the bus, they’re still getting some sort of benefit out of the U-Pass program.”
“We need to change the idea that you should be able to drive everywhere in five minutes, and go to something that’s a little more sustainable for everyone,” Middlemiss added.
Brad Bells, Regina’s transit director, said the city expects thousands more students to get on-board with the U-Pass program over the next couple of years, and it will meet demand as needed.
“Right now we’re in a very good state. We knew that ridership would go up, and we increased our fleet and our service hours to adjust to it. Right now we can handle the capacity that there is,” Bells said. “But we expect it still to grow in the next seasons.”
When the U-Pass program was introduced, the city purchased an additional five buses for $2.75 million. It’s also added 3,200 hours of bus service.
The program is currently a seven-year contract, but both the city and student union say they would be interested in extending it into the future if the demand is there.