Friday, October 31, 2014
Last updated: 18 hours ago

U-Pass contract an attempt to keep dropouts from keeping transit benefits

Geoff Lister/The Ubyssey

A contract signed between the Province of BC, UBC and the AMS is responsible for forcing UBC to change to a monthly U-Pass system. The change was intended to prevent students from dropping out of courses but still keeping their subsidized U-Pass.

The contract was obtained by The Ubyssey through a freedom of information request.

The old distribution system for the U-Pass, where the pass was mailed out twice a term, didn’t account for students who had dropped out, AMS President Jeremy McElroy explained.

“TransLink is saying the day that a student stops being eligible for a pass, we take that as being a loss on our revenue. That student needs to pay a full-fare pass to have it or you give us the pass back.”

The Unreturned U-Passes Risk Mitigation Agreement is separate from the main U-Pass BC contract and places restrictions on schools that wanted to hand out full-term passes. Originally the contract also prevented students from getting their U-Passes if they were on financial hold, but this was later retracted.

TransLink was not included in the agreement, but was pushing for these changes.

“After having directly, and by ourselves, borne the risk and suffered the consequences over the length of the years of the old U-Pass [program], TransLink—when the U-Pass BC program came along—really wanted to tighten that up,” said Ken Hardie, director of communications for TransLink.

He noted that the upcoming implementation of the Compass transit fare card system would change the distribution pattern in 2013.

“We were trying to share the management of the passes in an appropriate and fair way between TransLink and the institution.”

Unreturned passes

According to McElroy, UBC has to pay the full value of passes for U-Passes that aren’t returned by dropout students.

“Remitting $151 is a lot different than getting October-November-December and having to do $450,” McElroy said. “It was a way to ensure that there was only ever a one-month window where a student might not be eligible and UBC might be responsible for that money.”

With this new contract, if an institution opts for per-term passes, they need get written approval from the Province and build a system for retrieving old passes. They also need to commit to an unreturned U-Pass rate of less than two per cent, or charge dropout students for the full remaining value of their term pass.

“This agreement helps reduce the financial risk of passes being used when they shouldn’t be, as well as passes being sold,” wrote Kate Trotter, public affairs officer for the BC Ministry of Transport, in an e-mail.

“The Province has committed $28 million to March 31, 2013, and part of this funding will go to covering the cost of passes that are being used, but shouldn’t be.”

Trotter noted that a model that splits the term into a pass for the first month and another one for the next three months is present for schools that want to get around first-month dropout rates of five to seven per cent.

However, if the institution isn’t able to maintain an unreturned pass rate of less than two per cent, they could be reviewed by the Province and forced to distribute passes monthly.

If universities are distributing passes monthly, they still must prove that less than 15 per cent of their students are dropping out per semester to avoid a provincial review.

“This didn’t exist before, this is only with the new sort of hyper-accounting that is required in this new program,” McElroy said, comparing it to how you don’t get tuition or AMS fees back after the add/drop courses date. “It’s frustrating, but it’s a TransLink requirement.”