Public Transport Savings for Students - A Nationwide Analysis

This week’s CSBR Student Economist examines the fees paid by university students for monthly public transport passes in major Canadian metropolitan areas. These fees are often heavily discounted when compared to full-price monthly passes though the base price and discount varies greatly from city to city.

When comparing the experiences and campus culture of universities in the United States and Canada—of course, legal drinking ages for alcohol and tuition rates aside—the Canadian and American post-secondary education lifestyles share more similarities than present glaring differences.  One of the areas in which experiences diverge is on the topic of housing during university studies; Canadian students elect to live off campus more often and for a longer duration of their post-secondary studies when compared to American students.[1]

University students who reside off campus often possess numerous transportation options in making their way from off campus housing to their respective university.  On average, Canadian university students take 25 minutes to commute to class—45% opt to travel by automobile (either alone or as a participant in a carpool), 26% choose to utilize public transport, and 22% of students live in relatively close proximity to campus and are able to travel by foot.[2]


This analysis will focus upon the 26% of Canadian University students who elect to take the bus, train, metro, light rail, or other public transport and the monthly fees paid by students for these transportation services. For the purpose of brevity and effectiveness, this short examination will limit itself to the Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, and Vancouver metropolitan area transportation systems (STM, TTC, Calgary Transit, and TransLink respectively).


As can be seen in the above table,[3] almost all cities or universities offer their students some percentage of a discount on monthly public transport passes. The monthly STM pass, which can be used for unlimited rides on Montreal’s bus and metro system, is available at a reduced rate to all individuals (students or otherwise) under 25 years of age. Also, the fees for the monthly student Calgary Transit and the TransLink passes, aptly named u-pass and upass respectively, are collected by the universities themselves on a scholastic term basis.

When analyzing the price structure, it is clear that students at universities in Calgary (such as the eponymous University of Calgary) and Vancouver (the University of British Columbia as an example) pay some of the lowest monthly fees for unlimited public transport access; however, these costs are mandatory for students and are considered part of university student fees.  In Vancouver and Calgary, students receive a lower price for transport but they do so in exchange for their choice in whether or not to purchase the pass itself (students get a deep discount, but they lose flexibility). Though students in Montreal are offered a significantly smaller discount at only 40% of the regular monthly fare, the choice of whether or not to purchase the transit pass is completely at the leisure of the student. Lastly, students in Toronto pay the highest cost for the monthly transit pass and receive the smallest discount on the regular rate.

By offering (and sometimes mandating) the purchase of discounted transit passes to student communities, large Canadian cities and universities provide students with a cheap, useful, environmentally-friendly option in their commutes to and from campus; however, the size of the discount and the voluntary/compulsory nature of the purchase varies.

John Butler

Works Cited

[1] Marthers, Janet & Paul. Follow Your Interests to Find the Right College, Wheatmark, 2016. p. 125

[2] Prairie Research Associates. Canadian University Survey Consortiuml; Undergraduate University Student Report 2011.

[3] Table assembled using information from the websites of the STM (Société de transport de Montréal), TTC (Toronto Transit Commission), Calgary Transit, and TransLink in addition to informational resources from the University of Calgary and University of British Columbia.

Picture titled, "STM", taken by Danielle Scott on April 20, 2011, obtained through Creative Commons (