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(This article ran as an Opinion-Editorial in the September 10th edition of The Journal, Saint Mary's student newspaper.)

3 Credits To Graduate? You May Be Transiting On Your Own Dime
by William Matheson

On my way back from Prince Edward Island in February, I was fortunate enough to meet up with a fellow SMU student who got on the shuttle in Summerside.  I was awaiting the results of the SMUSA elections and referendum with some anxiety, as I had spent at least $957 on transit at that point ($1,119 or so to date) since starting university, and I was salivating at the prospect of getting around for peanuts during the following academic year.  I was overjoyed to hear from him that “the U-Pass passed,” but his reaction to my joy was, “You want the U-Pass?” and it seems that this is the typical attitude.  Anyhow, my salivation about the U-Pass has since turned to mild frustration, but more on that in a moment.

I’m a frugal person at heart and I can’t understand why anyone at this school (okay, okay, maybe with the exception of the “my dad gave me $3,000 US to buy a laptop” kiddies over in Commerce) thinks that they can afford to drive. You’re getting gouged on three fronts (gas, insurance, taxes and fees), and it seems pretty obvious that Nature doesn’t want you to drive anymore – at least for now.  No one is ever going to pass a law to stop you from driving, but a much more powerful force, Entropy, may.  (If you wish to continue driving and need to feel something positive about your U-Pass, think of all the envious granola crunchers at the Mount and King’s who’d give their Hello Kitty backpacks to have one.)

Of course, while we’re being held back from driving, we’re still waiting for the public transit systems of most of our cities to spring up to take driving’s place.  (I suppose it could be a matter of who’s supposed to make the first move – we can shy from using the service because it’s inconvenient, and the service can stay where it’s at since people aren’t using it.)  Halifax’s system will be more difficult to develop than most because of our… interesting road system, coupled with some urban planning disasters such as Kingswood and the Fall River / Beaverbank / Windsor Junction area (I’m sure you can name more).  However, improvements are on the way: our Metro Transit has been creating new routes and expanding old ones, and some HRM employees made a really slick proposal (http://www.region.halifax.ns.ca/metrotransit/Showcase.pdf – you’ll need a Reader plug-in) to apply for funding for our forthcoming BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) system from Transport Canada under their Urban Transportation Showcase program.  At least four municipalities will be chosen for funding, and we’re on the short list of fifteen, and this time neither Baltimore nor Hamilton can steal our thunder.

We should also be happy about how we compare to other Canadian cities. While a single fare in Halifax costs just $1.75, a trip on Toronto’s TTC will run you back $2.25.  Forget about a $51 student Metropass – the Toronto equivalent costs $76.25.  I suppose the lower tuition more than makes up for this.  Then there are other major cities that can hardly be said to have a “system” to begin with – even CBRM’s setup is better than some, and where else can you head into the downtown on a glorified school bus to hit the clubs, provided that you are underway before 6pm?  I shouldn’t talk; my “I walked 30 minutes to the bus stop,” and “I have to leave at 12:05 to go back to my mom’s house in Bedford,” lines never flew too high at J.J. Rossy’s (Rest In Peace).

So now we have our U-Pass, available to everyone who is taking “3 or more on-campus courses per semester.”  (Check page 77 of your Registration Booklet.  It’s under your Don Cherry Bubba keg.)  Unfortunately, the wording really is as truthful as you’re afraid it is.  Taking “Narrative in Fiction and Film” up at the National Film Board?  Sorry, that doesn’t count – even if you have to take the bus to get there.  Web courses also don’t count, notwithstanding that many of us do all our WebCT work on the campus computers… or the reality that you might have had to take a course such as “English Composition” on the web because all the real classroom spots (even the always-popular 8:30am MWF sections) were taken!

When the U-Pass was first proposed, it was promoted as something for all Full Time students (and the brochure released by SMUSA that I received after getting my U-Pass still promotes it in this way).  Since SMUSA dues and the like are adjusted on the basis of FT/PT, why not the U-Pass?  Well, to be fair to people who, say, take one meet-weekly course on campus and two in the extension centres or online, the U-Pass had to be easy to get away from.  Many residence students are probably feeling that they’ve been left out of the equation, but my answer to them is that they should use the Pass and get out more – it will only take them a few trips a month to feel that they're getting their money’s worth.  This will be especially easy for first-year students, since they have had this attitude concerning their actual courses for decades.

If you’re looking to get out of the U-Pass so you can put more summer-internship-that-you-beat-me-to cash into your ‘81 Rabbit, I can’t help you; but, I may be able to help get you into the U-Pass program if you’re not already.  Your shining loophole is that you can get your U-Pass starting September 1 at the Info Desk – just bring your Registration Receipt and ID Card – before you must pay full tuition (30th), and before the add / change / drop-for-free deadline (16th).  Simply: 1) Register for more courses than you require such that you line up to “3 on-campus courses per semester.”  (Remember, if you have any doubts that a course is “on-campus,” then you can be sure it is not.)  Look for courses that nobody in their right mind would want to register for, such as “Postcolonial Literature: An Overview,” or “Organometallic Chemistry,” or “Integrative Managerial Accounting II,” or anything under a “Thematic Selected Topics” heading.  (Actually, that is just a joke.  Register for things you can and want to take, in case something goes horribly wrong.)  2) Get your U-Pass sticker at the Distribution table near the Info Desk.  The $110 charge will be permanently applied to your account.  3) Withdraw from the extra courses ASAP so that students who need to get into them still can.  This can be done in less than two minutes at Late Registration / Change of Registration in L290, but you can also do this at the Registrar’s Office.

This must all be done before September 16th.  At that time, your course selections and fees are “locked in,” and Financial Services will charge the U-Pass fee to everyone who qualifies for or already has a U-Pass, and they will overlook the people who aren’t qualified or didn’t backdoor their way into the program like I just advised you to.

If anyone thinks that my approach is a little dishonest, I don’t blame them – but I’m taking (and paying for) the same 3+ credits over the year that people who automatically qualify for the U-Pass are.  What’s more, an actual SMUSA employee gave me this wonderful idea, but I’ll keep his name to myself and let you savour the mystery or check page 77.  Lastly, I got my s**t together on September 3rd such that angry torch-wielding mobs of Religious Studies majors didn’t spoil my Frosh Leader Week by showing up at my doorstep some Midnight.  If this does happen anyway, I can only hope that the 30-minute walk to my house from my bus stop exhausts them.

William Matheson
Bedford, NS

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