Bond promises action soon on U-Pass

Good news appears to be on the way for the thousands of Lower Mainland post-secondary students who’ve been denied access to the U-Pass program.

NDP MLA Michelle Mungall (Nelson Creston) took advantage of Legislature debate on the Ministry of Transportation’s budget estimates Thursday to find out the status of the long-awaited  program, promised by Premier Gordon Campbell in the 2008 election campaign.

Here’s what Transportation Minister Shirley Bond had to say:

M. Mungall: The minister announced in the Province newspaper in March that the government will be going ahead with the U-pass program for students around the province, but there weren’t a lot of details.

I understand that you’re still negotiating a lot of those details, but I’m hoping to get some direction of where things are going. One of them, of course, is that existing agreements are already in place for several schools around the province, notably in the Lower Mainland, but also, for instance,  Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops. I’m just wondering how those existing agreements are going to be impacted, if at all.

Hon. S. Bond: I really appreciate the member’s interest in this file because it is an important one. We have found that utilization, especially when a U-pass program is put in place…. I know that in my own constituency we’re seeing our transit numbers go up dramatically. It certainly is our intent to honour commitments and contracts, and I think that’s important. There obviously will be differential rates. The rates outside of the Lower Mainland will continue to be significantly lower because of the degree of service that’s available. We made a commitment to look at a universal rate, particularly in the Lower Mainland, where there’s a great degree of variance there.

I can tell the member opposite that I expect within the next couple of weeks to be able to actually outline the program publicly. It would be our intent to look at honouring contracts that exist, but I think that this will be a good-news story for students right across the province.

M. Mungall: Just to follow up on that. You answered a lot of questions I had, so thank you very much for that. But one of my other concerns, of course, is TransLink not having the funding currently right now, especially if user rates go up. Where are those dollars going to be coming from?

Hon. S. Bond: I think the member opposite will be pleased when the program is announced publicly. I think that students’ interests have been taken to heart. We are currently negotiating with TransLink in terms of the final details around this program, but we will certainly honour our commitment to have a universal program in place. Our goal all along has been to minimize increases, particularly in the Lower Mainland. We had to look at it very realistically. The rate that’s in place currently is very, very reasonable.

My goal was to talk to students and work through to find a reasonable and acceptable new program for them. I’m feeling confident that we’ll be able to deliver something that is both reasonable and fully paid for.