Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for November 19th, 2006

College students may balk at transit rates | Straight.com Vancouver

leave a comment »

College students may balk at transit rates | Straight.com Vancouver

TransLink spokesperson Ken Hardie told the Straight that TransLink has told the colleges the price difference is due to the “revenue-neutral” model TransLink uses. This model ensures colleges “at least all pay their way” with regard to the U-Pass program, he said. Hardie adds that UBC and SFU are large schools and the students who do not use U-Pass are offsetting costs for those who do.

I feel sorry for Ken. No, I really do. It is not easy being a spin doctor for an organisation that has lost the plot. And Ken doesn’t have much of a grasp of economics either.

“Revenue neutral” has nothing to do with “paying your way”. It just means that there is supposedly no loss of income attributable to UPass. But it says nothing about cost. The SFU and UBC prices regime reflects relatively low transit ridership at two somewhat remote locations prior to UPass. So a “revenue neutral” formula produces a low fare if everyone pays for the pass, since transit riders were a small percentage of the student body at these locations *before*. Now transit ridership at the colleges is much higher now (without the UPass). Because they have urban locations, a tighter catchment area (though some people do commute from Langley to Langara) and a broader socio-economic demographic. And fewer parking spots. So the formula produces a higher UPass fare.

If SFU and UBC were “paying their own way” i.e. reimbursing Translink for the incremental costs that UPass has imposed on the system then a lot more money would be on the table. But of course the UPass would then be much less popular with the students and unlikely to pass a referendum. One way to deal with this would be to raise parking prices on the campus, but that would not sit well with unionised staff. Or neoconservative economists who think that cross subsidisation is evil. At UBC parking prices were tied to the one zone cash fare on transit (not sure if that is still the case, but I am sure my reader will let me know if I am wrong.)

Written by Stephen Rees

November 19, 2006 at 11:26 am