Preliminary discussions have begun on a universal bus pass for Vancouver Island University students. At universities on the Lower Mainland, the passes are funded by student fees. (News Bulletin file)

VIU, RDN ponder unlimited-use bus pass for students

Preliminary discussions between university and regional district have taken place

Vancouver Island University, its students’ union and Regional District of Nanaimo are pondering a pass that could give students unlimited bus service.

The universal bus pass, or U-Pass, available at a number of post-secondary institutions on the Lower Mainland, is paid for through student fees. James Bowen, VIU Students’ Union executive director, said a U-Pass makes sense in many ways for students who use transit because it makes it much more affordable. The union board has done some research, and there is definite interest and Bowen said preliminary discussions have taken place.

“We did some surveying of students in the previous semester … there’s a good contingent of students that are very much in favour of it and also a very, what I would call, vocal contingent of students that are opposed to it just based on the fact that they don’t use transit and they don’t want to pay another fee for their education,” Bowen said. “So the board of directors needs to reflect on all those voices when they make a decision down the road, should it come to that. In general, the conversations between the regional district and the students’ union are very positive and are forward-looking.”

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In an e-mail, Richard Lewis, VIU director of facilities services and campus development, said the university formed a mobility task force last year, which is a working group of volunteers representing all VIU’s key stakeholders and in response to the “high demand” for transportation improvements at the Nanaimo campus, with a medium-term recommondation to explore development of a universal bus pass for students and employees.

“VIU is supportive of the idea of a U-Pass system as a sustainable option for reducing traffic to campus,” Lewis said. “It aligns with the vision outlined in our campus master plan and supports one of the key values outlined in our academic plan: sustainability and well-being.”

Bowen said there are no specific U-Pass models being considered at this point, but the union’s research shows that people favour a combination pass.

“Certainly, some of our information showed that members would be much more in favour of a U-Pass if it included some sort of recreation pass, which is a model that is out there … but at this point, it’s so preliminary,” Bowen said.

The RDN confirmed that preliminary conversations with the university have taken place, but nothing concrete has been decided.

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