Memorandum: Transit Service Disruption Update

WUSA logo
Seneca Velling
VP Operations and Finance
Tue, 01/28/2020 - 15:45

Memorandum 

To: Undergraduate Students with UPass 

From: Seneca Velling, Vice President, Operations & Finance 

Re: Update on Transit Service Disruption and the possibility of UPass Refunds

GRT buses

The ongoing Grand River Transit (GRT) strike has crippled local transit in the Region of Waterloo and made it difficult to get to school, co-op, work, and access community resources. The Universal Transit Pass (UPass) program was designed with consideration for potential labour disputes in mind; Section IV of the UPass Agreement between the Region and WUSA outlines that:

"In the event of a period of sustained interruption of GRT service, exceeding 7 full service days, the Region's liability will be limited to a reimbursement to the Federation on the basis of a daily rate, (defined as the current base fee divided by the number of days in the affected school term, times the number of full days of lost service, times the number of UPasses in effect. A reimbursement will be paid within 30 days of the resumption of service."

As of Tuesday January 28, the disruption of transit has exceeded seven full service days. While no arrangements have been made yet with the Region or GRT Senior Management, a prorated rebate of UPass fee is owed to WUSA. It is currently unclear how the subsequent refunding of the UPass fee to students will occur. We are examining the options available and remain actively committed to providing students with refunds, if it is logistically and administratively possible. 

Below, some considerations are outlined with potential options and the complicating factors for each.  

  1. Claims-based refund: Claimable cash or cheque options are being explored. In this case, students may have to visit the WUSA Main Office in SLC 1116 to receive their refund. For this to function, WUSA requires considerable cash on hand. In addition, this approach may be administratively costly depending on the staff time used and logistical complexity of refunding between 20,000 to 35,000 eligible students. This option may lead to some affected students failing to claim the refund if they cannot make it into the office.  

  1. Issuance of gift cards or vouchers: Another possible solution being reviewed is the issuing of gift cards or vouchers for purchase of goods on campus. This solution is inelegant as there will be some who are dissatisfied with the manner of refund they received. Logistically, this approach may have similar complications with the cash or cheque claims-based refund model, depending on how it is implemented.  

  1. Crediting of student accounts: WUSA is currently in communication with UW Finance to determine if the University has the capability to facilitate mass refunds to students on Quest, cross-referenced by those who have paid the UPass fee in a specific term and if so, whether technical capabilities exist for variable crediting of accounts (i.e. Are there obstacles to implement a direct refund to each student who paid the UPass fee for a variable amount of money?). This avenue may present technical challenges if Quest is currently unable to issue variable crediting or if patching Quest to allow for that is a lengthy process. There are also logistical challenges if this approach cannot be automated, as Student Financial Services may then have to manually enter each refund on a student Quest account as a credit. 

There are other alternatives being explored, including whether a portion of the funds could be used to establish a student transit strike reserve fund which would be restricted, accumulating interest, to financially support students in the future in the event of another GRT Strike (e.g. reimbursement of cab fares). Needless to say, there are a number of complexities to refunding that are being considered and a solution is being mapped out.  

In addition, there are other factors that may influence the refunded amounts. These include how the Region interprets "service disruption" under the Section IV provision and whether the ION being active affects this interpretation. Similarly, WUSA's consideration is currently focused on how many UPasses are deemed to be active, and whether only those currently on Academic Term count toward the total rebated amount. WUSA is reviewing potential interpretations, ensuring students receive a fair refund for the experienced disruption to service.  

In any regard, it is unlikely that WUSA will receive refunds from the Region of Waterloo until 30 days from the time full service resumes. WUSA is in direct communication wtih GRT Senior Management to determine if it possible to issue refunds to students earlier by garnishing a portion of the amount owing to the Region from the UPass fees collected this term. Vice President Education, Gerrits and myself, are currently in the process of renegotiating the UPass agreement for 2020 and beyond (as it is set to expire on August 31, 2020). Service disruptions caused by labour disputes remain a key priority for WUSA at the negotiating table, to ensure students' expectations of transit service levels are met going forward. Meetings continue on Monday, February 3 and more updates will be provided when both parties have reached agreement. 

Please continue to review your WUSA News & Updates page and the WUSA VPOF twitter account for important updates on the GRT Strike and information regarding refunds. If and when refunds are to be issued, WUSA intends to work closely with the Registrar’s Office to distribute email communications to ensure all students are aware of the opportunity for refund. Please do not anticipate that refunds will be processed until at least 30 days following the resumption of full service by the GRT. 

We appreciate your understanding and patience as we try to resolve this matter as expeditiously as possible, especially given the frustration caused by the ongoing transit strike.