Vancouver Island University Students’ Union is calling for transparency and better communication from the university in the wake of survey questions on campus transportation, including parking.
As part of a study, the university has put out a survey for staff and students which explores the effect of increased parking prices, elimination of long-term parking permits and the willingness of students to pay for a subsidized university bus pass or U-Pass.
Parking has long been an issue on campus, but earlier this year the student union reported an unprecedentedly high number of complaints from students and challenges with infrastructure projects on areas formerly used for parking and increased numbers of people, like in trades, needing to access campus.
A petition was started in September on Change.org by student Edward Nathanson, who wanted the university to take the parking problem seriously, and it has been signed by more than 1,700 people. A transportation demand study was expedited as a result of complaints, and the university website shows pop-up booths to get feedback on sustainable transportation and an open house happened this week.
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The student union issued a press release on Wednesday claiming administrators are “examining new ways to increase costs for students” and that three options – increasing fees, the bus pass and elimination of long-term parking permits – comprise the entire transportation demand study.
VIUSU director Gabrielle Lent said it’s a slap in the face that VIU’s response to the parking issue is “they’ll making parking too expensive for many students which will in turn eliminate the demand for parking spots” and the alternative “is to force students, under the threat of increased parking fees, to pay a mandatory transit tax” or U-Pass.
Parking, at $150 a semester, is already on par with UVic, whose fees are $163 a semester, and higher than Douglas College which charges $90 and North Island College which recently went parking fee free, according to the union.
Richard Lewis, VIU’s director of facilities services and campus development says the options in the survey do not reflect the depth of the items being looked at and the depth of the study, which explores parking and all modes of transport to and from the university.
Lewis also said the university is early on in the process and is gathering information from the community and looking at all options.
“We have no pre-determined outcomes here, including rates, we’re merely studying the problem and trying to understand it as best we can before we get into the place where we bring all the people at the table and start working on decisions,” he said, adding the students’ union, City of Nanaimo and Regional District of Nanaimo will be brought the table.
But that it’s not final and there might be other solutions hasn’t been communicated to the union, according to VIUSU director of external relations and spokesman Avery Bonner, who notes that a lack of communication is the problem.
He claims there was no consultation with the union or students about what the transportation demand study might look like, the communication the union has had so far about an open house and pop-up booths is from the university’s survey page and said the union was more or less shocked with the survey because questions box students in and don’t provide open, transparent communication.
Also distressing for the union was a question about a U-Pass which Bonner said is typically organized and facilitated by a students’ union, but there has been no negotiation or communication about the idea.
“Any time you need to discuss any projects, any time you need to build some sort of a facility in the city, the No. 1 step is to communicate with your stakeholder and this is not what happened,” he said.
Recommendations from WATT Consulting Group, hired to do the transportation demand study, are expected around the end of the year. Lewis said people can send feedback and ideas for the work on the university’s sustainable transportation webpage at https://viusustainabletransportation.wordpress.com/.