Lindsey Poepping came to Royal Roads University to finish her degree in communications, but managed to leave behind a legacy of affordable transit for students.
BC Transit opened its U-Pass program to Royal Roads students in August, barely six months after Poepping made a phone call to transit CEO Manuel Achadinha.
“I called up Manuel and asked what do we need to do to get the U-Pass?” said the 23-year-old president of the RRU Student Association. “I said we’ve got the students, you’ve got the buses. Let’s set something up.”
The student association quickly organized a referendum in the spring asking if students would be willing to fund a U-Pass — 83 per cent gave it a thumbs up. The first undergraduate cohort in August had $250 tacked to their fees for the full year of bus passes. Twelve months of bus passes for post-secondary would normally cost about $900.
“Without Lindsey this wouldn’t have happened. Royal Roads implemented the U-Pass with lightning speed,” Achadinha said during a U-Pass kickoff ceremony last week at RRU. “This is the quickest U-Pass program we’ve ever implemented. That says a lot for this institution.”
The U-Pass at Royal Roads was likely inevitable as it expands undergraduate programs that draw students from other institutions, such as the University of Victoria and Camosun.
Poepping said she was used to having a U-Pass when she attended UVic, a common sentiment from RRU undergrads completing third and fourth year. One student sent in a letter asking for a U-Pass earlier this year, and the ball started rolling from there.
“Most of the undergraduates come from other institutions, and the majority have a U-Pass. Once you have it, it’s hard to give up,” Poepping said. “Once we got that one letter, we we started asking around and hearing a lot more grumbling from students.”
Students got their U-Pass, but RRU isn’t exactly a transit hub. The No. 39 Royal Roads is the only bus that enters the campus and the No. 52 Wishart community bus rolls along Sooke Road.
RRU vice-president Steve Grundy admits it’s a catch-22 — students won’t use a U-Pass without a high level of service, but BC Transit won’t provide service without demand.
On the other hand, the university has to find ways to chip away at 93 per cent of its students accessing the campus via a single occupancy vehicle.
“We need a critical mass of students. The tricky part is about demand and service,” Grundy said. “Fortunately the students went for the U-Pass program. We’re hoping over time BC Transit will improve service for the campus.”
The RRU U-Pass program will benefit a few hundred students now, and will grow as the university expands longer residency programs. Achadinha said BC Transit tracks usage and ridership closely. UVic and Camosun tripled student ridership after bringing in the U-Pass.
“Every institution does the same. It really takes off,” he said. “And from a student point of view, they don’t have to worry about a car. These bus passes really help students financially.”