The fate of the U-Pass at post-secondary schools in Edmonton may be on the line after a proposed fee hike that would require thousands of post-secondary students to pay more for transit passes next year.

City staff are proposing a fee hike for the U-Pass transit program with fees increasing from $140 to $170 per student, per semester. The hike would affect roughly 60,000 Edmonton students.

The U-Pass is mandatory at the University of Alberta, NAIT and MacEwan University and is meant to make taking transit more affordable, but student leaders say the proposed 20 per cent hike may force students to vote against taking part in the program.

“It seems like only $30 but you times that per semester, it’s $60, then times that by 10 or 11,000 students, that’s a larger number of revenue that would be getting generated. It adds up,” said Teagan Gahler, president with NAIT’s Students’ Association.

NAIT students have been using the U-Pass for the least amount of time out of the three post-secondary schools and Gahler said students just barely voted in favour of the pass during the last referendum. Now a referendum on the U-Pass is set to take place again at NAIT in February.

“This barely passed last time. For $30 (increase), I think there is a real risk of it failing,” Gahler said. “I believe if it failed at NAIT, we are stepping backwards."

Student leaders from MacEwan and the University of Alberta are also speaking out against the proposed hike and say the problem is with the city’s ridership numbers.

Survey results base the hike on an average of 47 rides per student per month, but student leaders argue the real number is closer to 40.

Since the U-Pass depends on a student referendum, there are fears the $30 hike won’t pass.

“You have students paying higher tuition, higher books, and other mandatory fees for sport and wellness and so forth and this is just another one on top of that,” said Jed Johns with MacEwan University’s Students’ Association.

“When you artificially inflate that price point it becomes a much tougher sell for students who don’t use transit as frequently,” said Saadiq Sumaar with the University of Alberta’s Students’ Union.

Students are arguing for a slight increase of about $5 instead of the $30 hike, meanwhile city councillors have instructed city staff to negotiate further with students.

“When it (the U-Pass) started nine years ago, it was $90, so it’s already climbed significantly,” said Coun. Don Iveson. “I think we need to find a balance between the real cost to provide these service sto students and the benefit that the city realizes in terms of congestion.”

Coun. Ben Henderson said the issue needs to be explored further.

“We have to be able to weigh the revenue we get against the risk of what it means to us if one of the big schools drops out,” Henderson said. “It’s really hard to know and in the end that’s going to be the choice we have to struggle with… We have some numbers right now but clearly some work needs to be done for understanding those numbers and there are different interpretations of those numbers and that’s part of what has to be worked out and talked about.”

Both sides are expected to bargain a new deal and report back to council on Nov. 7.

With files from Sean Amato