With the most recent Brock University Students’ Union U-Pass referendum passing after an unsuccessful first attempt, bus-dependent commuters have a bit more insight as to what the future holds. However it is worth noting the events that lead up to the referendum. Why did the first referendum happen? What can we take from these events? And why did the first referendum fail when this one succeeded?
All of these things are worth looking at because the bussing at Brock has always been a large issue, contested by both students and faculty. There were grievances being lobbied against both St. Catharines Transit and BUSU/BUSAC. It is worth the time to look back and decipher not only the actions of the student body at Brock University, but what this all means for our community around the university.
This began with the 2017/18 BUSU executive election. This was the first referendum, which offered to raise the U-pass yearly costs from $202 to $240. Despite two weeks of coverage in The Brock Press, three debates that were livestreamed by BrockTV, six emails over three days and two heavy weeks of campaigning on social media and on campus, it failed to pass. 51 per cent of voters chose not to change the price of the U-pass by $38. It was a problem with communication in the student body. Only 32 per cent of students voted, which was a record breaking amount for Brock.
At the time much of the debate centered on the ‘16’ or the Brock-Downtown Terminal route. This route was used primarily to serve the students in Fine and Performing Arts that would have to juggle their schedule between the new downtown campus and Brock’s main campus. Due to the frequency of the 16, there was a strong feeling that it was always available to students on campus. For those on routes with less support there was a feeling of irrelevance, or a lack of import on their routes. To quote one anonymous student:
“It felt like [bussing] had to make sure no DART student was ever late, even if it meant making anyone who lived in Thorold take a bus that didn’t come anywhere near them.” This change within the community played a large role in the discourse around the vote. A false narrative got spread about the referendum through social media and word of mouth.
The false narrative in question can plainly be seen through the posts explaining why some individuals voted no towards the referendum. It should be noted that these seemed to be mostly Thorold-based students, who felt that there was too much of an overcorrection with the Brock-Downtown buses and that they would rather have a shift in that power struggle. These comments were made on a post made by BUSU on the results of the referendum, but the individuals who have posted these comments will remain nameless.
“How is it easier to get all the way downtown than five minutes down the road?”
“If we lose a few 16s along the way I have no problem with that. There’s never not been one at campus.”
“DART students already have to bus all the way downtown and back for classes, now you want to make that harder for them? We didn’t choose to get a new campus, it was thrust on us.”
This is just a small excerpt of some of the more appropriate responses levied against the transit routes that had been in place. The false narrative around the referendum was that they were going to get rid of the 16. Instead the bus route was not noticeably touched at all, maintaining its 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. coverage with a bus at Brock every fifteen minutes. Instead what happened was the Brock shuttle was eliminated, along with the Brock-Sullivan which traversed Thorold, centering on Collier road. Along with a few other amendments and eliminations, Thorold students were left with less access to transportation than they had started.
Now it is a commonality to see nearly 200 students all waiting for the Brock-Pen Centre bus because it is one of only a few routes that goes towards the Burleigh Hill/Collier Road intersection and one of two remaining routes that venture into Thorold past 8:00 p.m. At the time of the first referendum failing to pass many students cried out, and stated that this was in no way is a fair situation.
Then-BUSU President Patrick Foster stated in an interview with The Brock Press “When I did reflect on the implications of this and all the difficulties it will cause I was comforted knowing that BUSU has a great team lined up for next year.”
It was felt by many students who expressed their opinions that they were not informed of what that change would be.
It should be noted that this is not entirely the students’ fault. While there was campaigning, flyers, emails and a myriad of other tools to get students to vote, that was where those campaigns ended. As it hadn’t yet been determined which routes would be eliminated and/or changed at the time of the vote it was difficult to allow students to make an informed vote.
While the referendum stated the process of what should happen if it would pass and where the $37.78 would go to, it was never mentioned the information that most students seemed to be basing their vote around, which routes would be affected. Because students were voting based on this knowledge and not the general notion that routes would be lessened they decided not to vote.
After feeling the effects of changed routes, it can be observed that there was a massive difference between yes and no votes compared to the first. After the results have played out such that a majority of Thorold students are waiting on fewer bus routes in order to get home they are clearly dissatisfied with the way in which the referendum has affected them. The effect of last year’s referendum will be felt for the remainder of this Fall term.
So what changed as to this vote compared to the last?
With an 81.1 per cent of voters voting to regain the routes lost this year, compared to only 49 per cent of students having voted ‘yes’ to the first referendum. A 32.1 per cent increase in ‘yes’ votes is a substantial change, especially for a student body that received approximately the same amount of information in both votes, what changed?
Well the primary causation for such a massive shift is the current attitude towards the routes after the referendum. As previously mentioned the referendum has left a lot of students feeling somewhat stranded, especially after 7:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. when the majority of bussing has finished. While there is nothing that BUSU can do about this issue currently and this is more to do with St. Catharines Transit itself, it can certainly be argued that this situation was only aggravated more by reducing the number of routes. Because of that alteration many Thorold students were using alternative methods to the U-pass that they had already paid for, which certainly spurred change.
One professor who takes the bus, Bill Bohlen, has stated in an interview that he has been seeing a simply unsafe amount of students riding the buses, especially later at night. By the time students have been picked up from the lofts residence there is so many students on the bus that they cannot help but be on or past the yellow safety line at the front of the bus. This is troubling for a number of reasons, but should St. Catharines Transit decide that there are too many students to pick up; a student could be waiting for up to an hour to get home. This is troubling during the winter. The usual place for students to wait during the winter nights was inside the now under construction Brock Link.
It is clear that this was not a sustainable form of transit for Brock students. While it is incredible to have so many buses reaching out to so many different locations around the city, when students’ only plan for getting home after a long night of studying is full and only comes once every half an hour, it can certainly be flawed. So that left two options for students: find a different way to get home, or vote yes for the referendum. While we now know that students decided upon the latter, it is worthwhile noting that there was no other option even in the ballpark of such a fair price. Driving, ride-share programs, and paying for your own St. Catharines Transit pass would have been more expensive than simply voting yes. Now that this has gone through, students are able to take a collective sigh of relief.
It can also be argued that one of the most wide-reaching and egregious effects of the referendum were the cutting down of the double-length buses universally. There are far fewer on all routes and while no concrete numbers are currently available it can be safely said that with many more students forced to pile onto one aggregate route, like the 335 (Brock-Pen) a longer bus would be incredibly helpful. Any 335 bus leaving Brock is almost always full, but noticeably less so once it has completed its rather short journey to the Pen. This is because of how many students use it to reach the residential areas around its route.
This is not just a Thorold problem. The 16 (now 316) has had this issue for some time now as well. Unlike the Brock Bullet (or 25) the 16 has nearly 20 stops before it reaches the downtown terminal. This makes it the prime and only bus for students who live between Glendale and St. Paul for their trip to school. This obviously fills the bus incredibly quickly, especially since its secondary use is transporting students who attend the Marilyn. I Walker School for Fine and Performing Arts between the two campuses. This situation culminates in a bus route that, while it is the most easily available to students, is also always full.
Even worse off than any of the above mentioned students are first year students, students who are starting their undergraduate degree that places half their course-load at Brock’s main campus, and the other half at the Marilyn Walker campus. Those students who are torn between the two locations and without an adequate bus route to ferry them between are truly the students at Brock who have been affected the most by the changes in buses. They are requiring ferrying between the two extremes and are constantly forced to ride a bus that is almost always full. The referendum certainly, to most students this year, did not seem worth the price of admission. With zero benefits save for the less than $40 a student saves it is not hard to imagine why this second referendum, after all of the changes that have left students dismayed about the current state of their bussing it is good to see that this will be changing fairly soon.
Through every referendum and situation that affects the Brock population The Brock Press will be covering it, and helping to keep you informed.