With the next HSR bus pass referendum expected in 2023, McMaster students have mixed feelings about the current contract
All full-time McMaster University students have access to an unlimited Hamilton Street Railway bus pass included in their yearly tuition. The HSR bus pass was implemented and maintained through a contract between McMaster University and the HSR.
The HSR contract is renegotiated and renewed every three years through a referendum, in which students vote on whether to continue to pay the mandatory HSR tuition fees. The next referendum is expected to occur in 2023. Current HSR bus pass costs are $232.94 for undergraduate students and $294.15 for graduate students.
The results of the graduate student 2017 HSR referendum were posted by the Graduate Students Association. 36.6 per cent of eligible voters voted in the referendum and 81.7 per cent of voters opted to renew the HSR bus pass contract.
The next referendum occurred in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to online schooling and postponed campus residence, the HSR bus pass deal was temporarily suspended. As remote schooling continued into the Fall 2020 semester, the bus pass fees for that term were reduced 75 per cent from the normal cost. Additionally, there was a temporary implementation of opt-in/opt-out options for the remainder of the term.
The bus pass fully resumed operations in the 2021 winter semester and has remained active since.
The HSR contract has been sustained throughout several referendums, reflecting how the majority of students continue to find the HSR contract beneficial.
Third year undergraduate student Kieran D’Sena spoke about his own frequent use of the bus pass and its importance to students who don’t live in the immediate vicinity of the McMaster campus.
“I frequently talk to [students] who live downtown and they rely on the bus to get to class. Having [the bus pass] included in the tuition makes the process so much simpler,” said D’Sena.
Third year undergraduate student Luca Scanga explained that although he does not require the HSR to get to campus, his bus pass is still an integral part of his routine and develop a greater relationship with Hamilton.
“Even though I live very close to campus, I need the HSR for grocery shopping, getting around to other people's houses in Westdale and Ainsley Wood, and getting downtown. If you don't have a car, which most students don't, it's great for getting around the city," said Scanga.
Other discussions brew among McMaster students, shedding light on alternative perspectives regarding the HSR bus pass. The r/McMaster subreddit hosts conversations from students expressing frustration with the mandatory bus pass tuition fees. Students do not currently have the option to selectively remove HSR fees from their tuition.
Regular adult HSR bus fare is $3.25. A student who requires the HSR to get on to campus may use their bus pass approximately 130 times during the fall and winter semesters, excluding holidays. With adult prices a student would be paying $409.50 in bus fares a year, which exceeds current HSR tuition fees.
This is an ongoing story.
[spacer height="20px"]A few weeks ago, the provincial government froze the minimum wage at $14 per hour and cut the planned increase to $15 per hour that was planned for January 2019. With this cut, many businesses, but not all, have decided to forgo the planned increase they had set up for employees. The McMaster Students Union should not be one of them.
Studies have shown that the actual living wage in Hamilton is $15.85. The cost of tuition ranges, but the majority of programs at McMaster are roughly $7000, with some programs slightly below that figure, and many significantly above, going as high as $13,829. There’s no collected data on the average rent McMaster students pay, but anecdotal evidence points to most students living in off-campus housing paying somewhere around $500 per month, not including utilities. Some students pay less and others pay more.
With this in mind, working during your undergraduate degree is inevitable for a lot of people. Whether it’s a retail job or a paid internship, many students find themselves working two to three jobs at a time just to pay all of their fees. I can personally think of a handful of friends and acquaintances who juggled three jobs just to pay for rent and school.
The MSU employs 300 students, and the jobs they offer are unique to the university bubble. They offer the kind of experience many people would not receive otherwise and are often set up with the student schedule in mind, making them ideal for anyone who wants to work on campus. The MSU’s minimum wage for these jobs is currently $14.15.
It’s no secret that students are struggling to pay tuition and the rising costs of rent. One of the easiest ways to support these students is to go ahead with the wage increase, something that had already been worked into the 2018-2019 budget.
The MSU has a lot of initiatives that support low-in- come students such as the Food Collective Centre, but one of the easiest ways they could vastly improve the livelihood of hundreds of McMaster students is by raising the wages for their workers. The MSU is run almost entirely off of student labour, so it would only make sense that these students are compensated appropriately.
If the MSU really wants to support low-income students, they could easily do so by making sure that their workers are compensated appropriately. In doing so, they set a standard not only for other student unions but for any future employers students may have.