In last week’s referendum, full-time undergraduate students voted to uphold the current agreement between Hamilton Street Railway and the McMaster Students Union, which gives students bus passes for 12 months with expanded service on the 51-University bus line.
Out of five options, 43 per cent of students that voted chose the 12 month expanded bus pass as their top choice on the ranked ballot.
Students also had the option to decide between a 12 month pass without expanded service, an eight month pass with or without expanded service and no bus pass at all.
Prior to 2014, the MSU provided a subsidized HSR bus pass that lasted from September to April. In a 2014 referendum, students voted overwhelmingly in support of a year-round bus pass with expanded 51-University service.
The MSU renews their contract with the HSR every three years. Students voted to uphold the agreement in 2017, and did the same this year.
To establish the agreement for the base fee of the bus pass, the MSU engaged in a negotiation process with the HSR alongside the university, Redeemer college and Mohawk college.
In September 2019, students paid $225.55 for their bus passes. Next year, under the renewed agreement, they will cost $223.92, climbing to $229.62 in 2022. In comparison, an unsubsidized monthly HSR bus pass costs $110 per month, or $1,320 for a full year.
According to a 2017 briefing from the McMaster Graduate Student Association, the city of Hamilton has a vested interest in offering a reduced bus fare. A subsidized bus pass encourages students to explore the city, which can in turn lead to greater population retention.
The HSR stands to benefit from this deal as well. Approximately 12 per cent of the revenue collected by the HSR comes from the McMaster U-pass.
McMaster is one of many post-secondary institutions across southwestern Ontario to provide some sort of subsidized bus pass for undergraduate students. Within Hamilton, Mohawk college and Redeemer college also offer subsidized bus passes for students. Students at Queen’s University, the University of Western Ontario and the University of Guelph also decide via referenda to provide compulsory passes for undergraduate students. The costs vary depending on the university, ranging from $90 to $240.
Now that the McMaster bus pass has been voted on via referendum, students cannot opt out of the fee. This is because, when HSR knows how many students will pay the fee, they can project service levels and secure revenue. In turn, they agree to provide a bus pass at a substantially reduced cost.
After the student choice initiative was announced in January 2019, there was some concern that the bus passes would be designated as non-essential, which would have prevented the MSU from making an agreement with the HSR for subsidized bus passes.
In February of last year, Merrilee Fullerton, then the minister of training, colleges and universities, announced that the bus passes would remain mandatory.
The agreement with the HSR will be renegotiated in 2023.