In the Lethbridge Herald article published on December 31, 2016, University of Lethbridge’s President Mike Mahon mentioned parking issues and communication problems, but he failed to talk about transit. Considering their record on transit, it’s no surprise.
When Students are in Need, ULeth & City of Lethbridge Do Nothing
In September, I purchased a bus pass. Unfortunately, other students weren’t so lucky. Many are single parents who can’t afford additional transit costs or the time transit requires. Some were forced to choose between work and school.
Other students got around the problem by parking on residential streets, which created a new set of issues. Students from places such as Brocket were having a difficult time getting to Lethbridge. But, with no parking, they are now competing with even more students for a place to park if and when they get here. Even students with disabilities have had to make a broken transit system work for them regardless of the costs to their personal lives and education.
With over 1000 students experiencing the same problems, and the fact that they were caused by poor administration decisions, I assumed the city or university would do something. I was wrong. Terribly wrong. Other than temporary cheap passes ($200) available with a Lot Q parking pass (only available for a limited time), they’ve done next to nothing.
UPass to the Rescue. Or, Not…
Prior to most of us starting at the University of Lethbridge, and the Destination Project, students voted down UPass in a referendum twice. I had to investigate.
Turns out, there were several reasons for this despite what others seem to think:
- No open opt-out – The second time, there was a conditional opt-out, but some students would still have been forced to pay for a bus pass they didn’t need
- A “No” side – Some students actively worked to kill the referendum. The “Yes” side had far fewer involved in informing students
- The “No” side worked harder – Misinformation and marketing were serious issues
UPass didn’t have a chance. And if it’s going to pass next time, it will require some loud, dedicated, hard-working individuals to push it through. It will also require an open opt-out or a UPass-parking hybrid that would allow students to purchase either parking, transit, or a combination of the two. I’ve also discovered that it will take a minimum of three years before we get relief. University of Lethbridge students can’t wait that long. They need help now.
I’ve helped some of them, but I can’t keep doing it forever. And, they can’t keep struggling forever. I’ve also begun to question whether UPass is even in the works, or if I’ve been lied to. The lack of movement from anyone, combined with a few bits of information I’ve come across, suggests this may very well be the case. Even President Mahon’s own comments in the Herald article suggest they’re doing nothing to get students usable and affordable transit.
Lethbridge City Transit currently offers seniors passes for $28/month or $280/year. Post-secondary bus passes are $289 for 4 months. While students don’t expect to get the same subsidized rates as seniors, it tells me there’s room for cuts. It also says they can offer cheaper rates without a referendum.
Unfortunately, city transit seems quite set on UPass, and they’re not interested in temporary relief, because it would be too much work. At least, that’s the story I got.
I realized this was going to take some time, so I thought we could at least make the transit system usable. Wrong.
When It’s Broken, and You Know It, Drag Your Feet
The Lethbridge Transit system is famously inefficient. Even the City of Lethbridge openly admits it and launched the Transit Master Plan to collect ideas from the community. While this is great (bias and value could be an issue), it will be at least 4 years until any of the changes are put into place. Again, students can’t wait that long. The residents of Lethbridge can’t wait that long.
The Government of Alberta gave the city money for a new park and ride parkade system and transit terminal. This is brilliant! It was on our list of requests, but there are a few problems.
First, it will take up to 10 years to complete. Secondly, it doesn’t fix the rest of the system. Lastly, the city doesn’t seem interested in promoting transit use. Odd.
Locals already complain that the transit system isn’t used enough to warrant the expense. If the city doesn’t fill their buses before these large projects start, it’s going to get ugly. Besides, wouldn’t more riders offset costs? Apparently, politicians feel otherwise.
Here’s a quick and dirty list of comments I’ve received from various individuals:
- “Students need to realize they’re not the only group in the city” – Oh, I’m sorry. So, we’re not citizens? And the entire city isn’t going to benefit from the improvements? What about the money students bring to the city?
- “Students can’t expect to get everything for nothing.” – Nice. So, by decreasing prices and increasing pass sales, students will get transit for nothing? What about seniors then?
- “Students had their chance. Now, they can pay.” – Um… I didn’t, and neither did many that I spoke to.
- “If we give U of L students a discount, other groups will demand special treatment.” Followed by: “Lethbridge College students are different. They aren’t really interested in taking transit.” – Honestly, I’m confused. And sort of disgusted.
An email to the city councilor in charge of transit resulted in even fewer answers. In response, I got a bunch of bullshit. Most of the answers contained no new information. The rest of them had nothing to do with the questions asked.
One group I will give huge kudos to is Lethbridge Transit. While we don’t see eye-to-eye on some things, there is absolutely no questioning their dedication to the people of Lethbridge, or their desire to make it (and transit) better. This includes everyone from bus drivers right up to the top. I think our city is all the better for them.
My next step is to release a set of reports containing my research and findings. Then, I aim to present our collective ideas to Lethbridge City Council in the hopes that we can get finally get some kind of help.
In addition to specific route requests, some of the suggestions from students I will be putting forward include:
- Combination of collection and express systems – Currently in the “plan”, but no idea if this will actually happen
- Extend or eliminate 400m mandate for bus stops – Sounds good on paper, but doesn’t work in theory
- No parking in bus stops – Encourages respect for transit, makes it safer for drivers, passengers, and other commuters
- Warnings prior to the start of construction – Drivers can plan and make changes
- No parking on upper-right-hand corner on detour route turns – Many streets aren’t wide enough. This would make room for them to turn safely
- Improved transit map with cycling, walking paths, etc. – Currently in the plan, but no word about whether it will actually happen
- Improved signage – They need route numbers and information
- Improved promotion of transit – Improved marketing and service integration
I was told there was no guarantee I’d get the opportunity to present to city council. It felt like a warning that I was wasting my time. Not sure, but it’s worth a try. I mean, they can’t make it much worse.