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U-Pass system to be investigated for implementation for region’s students

Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
By Timothy Schafer Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
November 22nd, 2023

The region’s transit providers might not be passing on the U-Pass system.

Partners in the West Kootenay Transit System — which includes Nelson, Castlegar and the regional district — are considering implementing the U-Pass system, which gives post-secondary students unlimited access to transit for a heavily discounted rate.

U-Pass BC — a program pass that is linked to an Adult Compass Card by eligible students — is a public transportation monthly pass for post-secondary students valid throughout B.C. and is available to students at participating institutions, with the school determining eligibility.

The Regional District of Central Kootenay (RDCK) board of directors, Nelson, Castlegar and Selkirk College must give their approval before the program can be implemented, said Tom Dool, RDCK research analyst, in his report to the West Kootenay Transit committee.

The benefits of the program include environmental, guaranteed annual revenue, reduced parking demand and creating lifelong transit users, he said.

“Considerations include increased demand on the system, pricing, and the post-secondary institution, which can include multiple campuses and remote learning,” Dool said in the committee minutes from Sept. 26.

U-Pass requires students to confirm their eligibility each month in order to load U-Pass BC onto a Compass Card. As a discounted transit program, this safeguard reduces the chances for fraudulent misuse and helps ensure the continuation of the U-Pass BC Program.

Expansion ideas

There are several transit expansion projects for 2024/25, said Daynika White, B.C. Transit government relations manager, at the Sept. 26 meeting.

The following expansions were approved by local government for their share of the funding: additional service on Route 98; Route 34 expanded to Grandview Heights; and two new round trips on Route 99.

B.C. Transit must now proceed with a request to secure the necessary remaining funding for these expansions from the Province.

“It is only when service expansion proposals have approved funding from both the local and provincial governments that they can proceed with implementation,” said a B.C. Transit spokesperson.

“This expansion process allows governments to budget appropriately for the costs associated with increasing transit service. It also provides B.C. Transit with enough time to procure buses, prepare adjusted routes and schedules, and work with our operating partners to ensure new service is met.”

Keeping it short

The labour shortage that afflicted local transit service delivery appears to be subsiding overall, but there are still areas of concern.

Trevor Stach, chief executive officer for NextGen Transit — which provides West Kootenay Transit — said NextGen is currently short only one position, but that staffing is still a challenge.

“The Salmo run has been adversely affected by this, resulting in cancelled runs,” he said in the minutes from Sept. 26.

He suggested the committee may want to investigate funding for training transit drivers.

Committee chair Rik Logtenberg asked if the Economic Trust of the Southern Interior (ETSI) funding could be used for training. BC Transit staff determined that it is.

A motion was made that the West Kootenay Transit committee recommend to the City of Nelson, the Regional District of Kootenay Boundary and the RDCK support NextGen Transit Inc.’s application to ETSI-BC for funding for driver training.

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