Students with Disabilities Face Challenges with Opting Out of the U-Pass

Getting out of paying for the U-Pass poses extra challenges to people with accessibility needs

KSA Multipass Coordinator Michelle Lam. (File photo)

Kwantlen Polytechnic University students will continue to get the U-Pass for five more years, but some students with disabilities would rather skip paying for it altogether.

On Jan. 30, the B.C. government announced the renewal of the Universal Transit Pass Agreement between TransLink, public post-secondary institutions, and student associations in Metro Vancouver. The renewal means that the program will continue until 2025.

“Students can continue to benefit from the U-Pass Program, which offers a monthly three-zone bus pass at a significantly discounted rate,” wrote Michelle Lam, the KSA’s Multipass Program Coordinator, in an email to The Runner.

“U-Pass Program provides an affordable and safe, not to mention sustainable, transportation option for students to travel across Metro Vancouver,” wrote Lam.

But some students with disabilities are eager to opt-out of paying for the U-Pass because they do not use it. Currently, these students have to fill out a document every semester stating that they have a permanent or temporary disability to be able to opt out.

A mature KPU student who prefers to remain anonymous says that, because of her disabilities — which are invisible or not immediately apparent — her doctor has exempted her from taking public transit.

“I would like to see students with a permanent disability only make one application during their studies at Kwantlen regardless of which Kwantlen campus [they study on], and I think that can be easily achieved by having a set template that allows a doctor to tick off permanent disability or temporary disability,” she says.

Lam says that she and her team have contacted KPU Accessibility Services to see if there is a way to help reduce the difficulties students have with opting out.

The Universal Transit Pass Agreement states that a student must be “permanently or temporarily disabled” to be exempt, and that their “physical or cognitive barriers cannot be accommodated by using the U-Pass.”

“Post Secondary Institutions, in consultation with the Students Association, are responsible for establishing procedures to handle exemptions requests, ensuring the exemption criteria are met, and ensuring the Exemption Limit is not exceeded,” the agreement reads.

Lam says that there is a limit to the number of exemptions that can be made for KPU students, but she doesn’t know the number because it is confidential. She explains that the university places a cap on exemptions, not the student union.

Outgoing KSA Students with Disabilities Representative Jaya Dhillon says that students with disabilities who want to be exempt from paying for the U-Pass have to fill out an online application document from the KSA Multipass website and get a doctor’s note.

Afterwards, the documents are sent to the registrar’s office at KPU. The staff there determine if the student qualifies or not.

If the student does qualify but their documents need to be checked further, the paperwork will be sent to Accessibility Services, who make the final decision.

“The main issue we are facing is that it is the registrar’s office who are overlooking documents that they are not qualified to look at,” says Dhillon.

The mature student who chose to remain anonymous says that she “was met with challenges with the Multipass department accepting [her] doctor’s letter.”

“I received an email stating that I needed to provide a recent email and more information as to why I cannot use the [U-Pass]. I also received this email on Sept. 9, and the deadline for the application was Sept. 13,” she says.

Her son, who is also a KPU student, has been at the school since 2015. Due to his own medically documented but invisible disabilities, he too is unable to take transit.

“He has been required to apply every semester in the last five years, which makes it very difficult for students with disabilities,” she says. “He has had applications denied or replies stating that he needs an updated doctor’s letter or his disabilities needed to be disclosed.”

She says that KPU is not doing enough to advocate for students with disabilities.

Dhillon says that better communication between different groups and departments could help resolve the issue.

“The Register’s office is saying one thing, the accessibility department is saying another thing, so there is nothing actually correlating whatsoever,” she says.