UPass and You: FAQ

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Federation of Students
Tue, 09/18/2018 - 15:30

Public transit is undergoing some improvements in Waterloo Region this year. While light rail transit is set to launch later this year, you're now able to tap your Watcard to ride Grand River Transit (GRT) buses.

Grand River TransitWe know you’ve had some questions about what this means for you and your UPass, so we’ve put together a handy FAQ to address some of the most common questions students have asked!

1. When can I start using tap-to-ride on the GRT with my Watcard?

You can tap-to-ride now! As more students arrive in Waterloo in September and start using the new system, we'll continue to work with GRT on implementation. 

2. How do I know if I have a UPass? 

You have a UPass and are eligible to ride the bus system using your Watcard if:

  • If you're a full-time student (taking three or more on-campus courses per term)
  • You're on co-op
  • You're between two full-time study terms

Part-time students and Stratford campus students are not enrolled in the UPass program at this time. Stratford campus students and AccessAbility students not currently enrolled can contact Vice President Operations and Finance Kurt MacMillan to opt-in. Part-time students are encouraged to look at other GRT fare products

For more information on eligibility, please see our UPass agreement with GRT.

3. Will I still be able to ride the bus with an old Watcard?


The first few weeks of September will be considered a grace period where you can still use your old card. After September 26, GRT will not be accepting old Watcards for ridership.

If you haven't replaced your old one yet, visit the Watcard office in the Student Life Centre ASAP to get your new Watcard. 

Some background: GRT began a transition period in January 2018 when riders were being asked to tap their Watcard. Riders who tapped their Watcard and their validation failed, the operator performed visual inspection. During this period, riders were not denied a ride because of a failed tap. This transition period allowed for all students to acquire a new Watcard and for GRT to identify and fix any problems with Watcard validation.

GRT has set the cut-off date for visual inspections for September 26, 2018. At that time, a successful tap will be required to ride.  

Holders of expired or fraudulent Watcards will be required to pay to ride. 

4. What should I do if my Watcard doesn't work on the bus?

If your new Watcard fails to validate, it may be due to technical issues, or you may not be enrolled in the UPass program. We recommend that you go to the Watcard office and have them check for technical issues with your card.

If there are no technical issues with your card, you may not be eligible for a UPass. Please see FAQ point number 2 above for eligibility requirements.

6. Will I be able to ride the bus on a co-op term?

Yes. As per Feds’ agreement with GRT, all students enrolled in a co-op term are also enrolled in the UPass program. This includes students on 8-month work terms.

7. Will I be able to ride the bus on an off-term?

A UPass holder can remain enrolled for a maximum of one (1) off-term (four month period), assuming that you intend to return to studies.

For example: if you take the summer off, you will be able to ride the bus. However, if you complete your studies or choose not to return to your studies after one term off, you will not be enrolled in the UPass program the following term.

8. Will my UPass get me on the ION?

Yes. When ION light rail transit launches later in 2018, UPass holders will have full access to ION.

9. Wait - I've already been using my Watcard to ride the GRT with no problem, but now you're saying I'm not eligible? What gives!

When operators were doing visual inspections, they checked to see if you had a Watcard - and didn't necessarily check to see if you were a part-time/Stratford campus/other type of student not eligible for a UPass. Now that the system has moved to tap-to-ride, it can easily identify if you have a UPass. Basically, you lucked out and got a free pass for a while. 

Not all students are eligible for a UPass (see FAQ point number 2 above). Only those who are eligible for UPass pay a termly UPass fee that those who are ineligible do not.

Are you ineligible for a UPass? We want to know if you would want to pay the same termly student fee to have access to a UPass. Let us know by providing your feedback!

10. And what does Feds have to do with all of this?

Feds negotiates the UPass contracts with GRT. The current contract was put in place years ago, and we're working to update it. Right now, we want to know if students who are currently ineligible for a UPass would want to pay the same termly student fee to have access to a UPass. Let us know by filling out our survey

11. Okay. Anything else should I know?

If you have not already done so, you should get a new Watcard ASAP. For more information, visit the WatCard website.

As more information about the tap card transition and the launch of ION becomes available, we'll update this FAQ. Check back here and on Feds social media for updates. 

You can also check out GRT's university student information. 

If you have any questions about the UPass agreement, the new tap system, or if you require help navigating this process, please feel free to contact us at fedsupas@uwaterloo.ca.