Ryerson University is known as a commuter school, but it is still struggling to get affordable transit prices.
Louis Bae, a fourth-year architectural science student, commutes from Oakville. Back in first year he spent between $320 to $400 a month to get to class on both the TTC and GO Transit. These days, Bae schedules his classes to make sure he will only pay around $160.
“I try to not be at school when I don’t 100 per cent have to,” he says. “It’s like an hour commute each way and saves me a bunch of money.”
Emad Taji, a third-year business management student, does the same thing. He’s squished all his classes into two days a week, but still spends $200 a month to get to school.
While that may not seem like a lot, other Canadian university students pay that amount for a whole semester.
Most Ryerson students pay between $112 for a Metropass and up to $540 in GO Transit fees per month, adding up to around $2,000 for that same four-month period.
Thanks to the universal transit pass (U-Pass), students at institutions across Canada — such as Carleton University, Dalhousie University, University of Alberta and University of British Columbia — have unlimited access to their local transit for a fee included in their tuition.
Algonquin College in Ottawa recently implemented the U-Pass, and the University of Winnipeg is in the process of voting on it.
For students attending schools with a U-Pass, the cost of transit ranges from $120 to $400 a year.
However, Ryerson doesn’t have that option, even though the school’s official undergraduate calendar says that 90 per cent of Ryerson students commute to school.
Ryerson Students’ Union (RSU) president Rajean Hoilett says for the past two years, the RSU has been working with the Canadian Federation of Students-Ontario to make transit more affordable and accessible for students.
They’re currently surveying students on how much they spend and what transportation methods they use.
But Hoilett says there’s one problem with a getting U-Pass: their relationship with municipalities.
“We haven’t had an opportunity to lobby folks directly, just because of the varying contexts with municipalities and how folks are accessing transit in those various systems,” he says.
“(We need to) get something that works well for the students.”
In 2008, the TTC proposed a GTA U-Pass. The University of Toronto Scarborough was the only university that considered the option.
The cost of the planned U-Pass was $60 per month, for both full-time and part-time students. The Metropass cost $87.75 at the time. It included an option for the TTC, GO Transit or York Region Transit (YRT).
It was voted down by a majority of UTSC’s students.
“Students didn’t want to automatically have transit costs added to their tuition fees,” said Brad Ross, the head of communications for the TTC.
But Praveen Ahilan, a second-year business student at Ryerson, says he doesn’t see why it would be unfair.
“It would be the same as paying access to the gym. (Students would) still have to pay even if they don’t use it,” said Ahilan.
And while Taji agrees a U-Pass would be beneficial, he believes, if ever presented, it should include an opt-out option for students who don’t use public transit. Opting-out isn’t an option for most universities who have the U-Pass.
Ross says, as far as he’s aware, there has been no discussion about the potential for a U-Pass in Toronto.
“Fares are already discounted today for university and college students, so it’s unlikely the cost would be further discounted,” he said.
However, Ross says a fare policy review will be held later this year by the TTC in order to look at all discounted fares ahead of the full Presto Card rollout in the city.
How much are other Canadian university students spending on transit?