Students retain bus pass, record 16,327 votes cast

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Rides to Richmond Row, Masonville Mall and even home will continue to be unlimited for Western students according to the most recent University Students’ Council referendum.

Between March 11 and March 14, 16,327 students voted in the referendum " with over 15,000 students voting in favour of keeping the bus pass. The results of the vote mean students will retain the eight-month bus pass at an increased fee of $135.84 next year.

“Students overwhelmingly voted to continue the program,” USC President Stephen Lecce said.

“Students took it upon themselves to be informed and vote,” he added.

Lecce credited the need for affordable transit in students’ lives, along with transportation being a key issue when students are looking for jobs and opportunities in the city, as reasons for the large voter turn out.

“Obviously, if the referendum wasn’t successful, we’d have to adjust our services accordingly,” said John Ford, director of transportation and planning for the London Transit Commission.

He explained the cost of the bus pass had to increase due to fuel and other expenses incurred by the LTC.

Protecting students from increasing transportation costs is included in the new bus pass contract with LTC.

The contract specifies the LTC can only raise fees by up to five per cent every year. In previous contracts, the LTC could increase fees and the USC typically would have no choice but to accept it.

The new contract will create accountability for the LTC, Lecce said.

“Students want to know the increases and make sure they are tied to services,” he explained.

With regards to the large voter turn out, Lecce mentioned the work of the USC and the university, as well as the bus pass website as forces that contributed to a strong showing.

“I jumped on a few buses to communicate [about the referendum],” Lecce said.

“It was huge, we had about 60 per cent of the population vote, which was totally unprecedented,” Rachel Halpern, USC communications officer, said. “It’s something that affects students so directly.”

The referendum did not get off to the best start, however.

There was a small technical glitch that kept students from voting for the first 10 hours. In response to this, Halpern explained 10 hours were added to the voting period and a mass e-mail went out to inform students what had happened.

Another referendum will have to take place if the USC wants to introduce a 12-month bus pass, Halpern said.

“There’s been a lot of talk about creating a 12-month bus pass,” she noted. “That will be discussed among next year’s council.”

“We were able to get confirmation that the USC is able to get a 12-month bus pass,” Lecce said.

He added the current council has created a framework that allows next year’s council to put the bus pass to a referendum if they choose to.

Ford admitted the LTC and the USC have had discussions about the 12-month bus pass and it is a possibility if students want it.

“[Fanshawe College] and the Society of Graduate Students have a 12 month [bus pass] " the USC may want to go to [that] in the future.”

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