Lack of voter turnout has made program difficult to navigate

By Rachel Ferstl

The Red River College Students’ Association (RRCSA) is holding another referendum to decide whether to implement the Universal Transit Pass (U-Pass) for the winter 2023 term.

The U-Pass is a discounted bus pass offered by Winnipeg Transit. It provides students with unlimited bus rides anywhere in the city.

If students vote in favour of the pass, all full-time Red River College Polytechnic students who live within city limits can expect a $208 charge on their winter 2023 tuition.

A student stands at a bus stop near Red River College Polytechnic Exchange District Campus. Students will vote in the upcoming U-Pass referendum March 21./RACHEL FERSTL

Avery Halldorson, RRCSA president, stressed the importance of voting for students. “Please vote,” she said. “We have to make a decision.”

The RRCSA has been working on the U-Pass program since 2013. It gained some traction in 2017 when 57.44 per cent of students voted in favour of the pass, but when COVID-19 hit and most classes went online, it lost momentum.

The U-Pass cost 62 per cent less back in 2017 — $130 per term, according to the RRCSA website.

“A lot has changed in the last five years,” Halldorson said. “With the price difference, [we] have to make sure that students at Red River College Polytechnic still want this.”

Last October, the RRCSA held a referendum to gauge student interest in the program after the cost increase. But not enough students voted, rendering the results invalid.

At least 1,000 students must vote in the referendum for the RRCSA to act on the results, Halldorson said.

“With COVID, online [classes], and not being able to engage students mainly in the hallway, we weren’t able to get the number that we needed to pass it,” she explained.

Sofi Silvestri, a first-year nursing student at RRC Polytech, said she had never heard of the U-Pass vote before.

“I may have seen an email about it, but I didn’t read into it,” she said.

Other students are aware of the upcoming referendum, like RRC Polytech nursing student Laila Arjoon. Although she doesn’t take the bus anymore, she said she still plans on voting.

“I don’t have an issue anymore, but I’m still willing to advocate for those who do,” Arjoon said. “These are people who are in an equally as tough program as me who just have to work that much harder just to get to school.”

Lack of student engagement is challenging for the RRCSA, Melissa Ghidoni, former VP of external affairs, said.

“It’s very difficult for them to do their jobs effectively when students either don’t know or don’t care,” Ghidoni said. “Honestly, just vote…the opportunity to shape your education, including cost to your tuition, is in front of you.”

Students wouldn’t be able to opt out of the fee unless they live outside city limits or if transit cannot accommodate a disability.

Voting opens at 8 a.m. on March 21 and closes at 3 p.m. on March 23.