When city buses pull up to a university stop, doors open to a sea of students— all flashing cards with a shiny yellow sticker on the back. That sticker is the U-Pass and this year, it celebrated its sixth anniversary at TRU.
In 2003, the TRU Student Union voted in favour of getting the term-long transit passes. That cemented the university’s relationship with the transit system and helped to keep buses on Kamloops roads.
“When the U-Pass went in, in some ways it saved transit in Kamloops,” said Erin Felker, the transportation planner for the City of Kamloops.
Prior to the adoption of the U-Pass, BC Transit, which funds provincial transit programs, had put a freeze on funding for the City of Kamloops, she said. That meant there would be no budget increases for inflation that would have forced the city to cut bus services to avoid running a deficit.
When students voted in the U-Pass, it resulted in thousands of dollars entering the transit system, Felker said. That money allowed the system to not only avoid making cuts, but for service to be increased across the city, she said. The pass still provides substantial revenue for the Kamloops Transit System. Currently, it brings in $575,000 in revenue annually.
The pass has been a benefit for students too. They make up about a quarter of daily transit users and they’re on the bus for good reasons.
“I love the U-pass,” said Serene Cachelin, a business student at the university. “It makes it really cheap and convenient.”
Annie Charput was waiting at the bus stop beside Cachelin. The arts student is also a big fan of the idea.
“U-Pass is good, for sure,” she said, “I have a car, but I don’t want to have to pay for parking so getting the U-Pass was really good because I saved gas money and parking-pass money.”
At the cost of $40 for the pass, neither student would consider opting out of the U-Pass. That sentiment is shared by most of the students at TRU. Of the over 10,000 people attending TRU in Kamloops, less than a hundred students per year choose to opt out of the U-Pass, according to Nathan Lane, the executive director of the university’s student union.
In Felker’s view, that comes in part because universities and transit systems have a special relationship. The university is a main destination and a key part of the Kamloops Transit System because of the nearly 3,000 weekly student riders, she said.
“We added routes specifically to make it better for students,” said Felker.
Larry Frank, the Bombardier Chair in Sustainable Transportation at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, also sees the value of students on buses.
“Students are a very important demographic in terms of transit,” Frank said. “Transit service gears toward providing better service to universities. This creates ridership.”
U-Passes are a big reason why universities are top of mind for transit systems in the province. Since the program started in 1999 on Vancouver Island at the University of Victoria and Camosum College, it’s moved across the province to all publicly funded post-secondary institutions.
After ten years with the U-Pass, people at University of Victoria seem happy with its results.
“It’s served the university very well,” said Neil Connelly, the director of campus planning and sustainability.
He’s pleased with the way the U-Pass has increased the number of student using transit. Since the pass’s introduction at the university, transit ridership has increased to 26 per cent from 11 per cent.
“It’s really made a difference,” said Connelly.
Back at TRU, the U-Pass is also making a difference. Because of the pass, thousands of students are getting necessary transportation and the transit system gets the ridership it needs to keep its services growing. Proof of that continuing relationship can be found on every computer at the university – there’s a link on the school’s homepage that takes students directly to the Kamloops Transit System website.