Parked in the pit


U of R president Vianne Timmons seeks grassroots solutions to parking problems

John Cameron

Students who regularly hunker down in the Ad-Hum pit between classes had company on Friday, Sept. 23.

The University of Regina’s administration had several rows of plastic chairs set up to face a podium that had been placed under the concrete steps leading to the second floor, and several students had filled out the ad hoc seating. Others took spare spots on the benches lining the pit, or stood around its edges, or parked themselves next to the railing on the second floor, giving them a spot to lean over and watch the proceedings.

When U of R president Vianne Timmons approached the podium and began to speak, almost all of the assembled heads were turned towards her.

“People always talk about how important accessibility is for post-secondary education, and normally people think of things like financial, geographic, those types of things,” Timmons said during her preamble. “Parking is also an issue around accessibility and it’s something we take seriously.”

Parking on campus has been a hot-button issue as of late. The U of R’s board of governors voted in May to increase parking ticket fines from $15 to $65, prompting the U of R Students’ Union to launch a campaign at the start of the fall semester protesting the lack of additional action. The posters for the “UR Screwed” campaign were up briefly before being replaced by posters advertising a public forum on the issue.

Even first-year students like Britton Grey, Danny Meyer, and Erik Kreis were in attendance, having already noticed the lack of adequate parking on campus in their first few weeks.

“I was smart and got my parking pass months ago, [but] I have to park a long way away because I don’t start until late in the day,” Grey, a pre-journalism student, said.

Meyer, a pre-med science student, has similar troubles: “I come at least 30 minutes early to make sure I have a spot in Lot 15.

Kreis, a science student, says his cousin had parked illegally in the M lots in previous years, carrying a chequebook in case he was hit with one of the $15 tickets.

“Now he’s taking the bus,” Kreis laughed. “He’s like, ‘This sucks, man.’”

All of these issues –  parking that’s increasingly distant from campus buildings, a lack of available space in the lots, and cars parked illegally in M lots – were brought up, almost inevitably, by students who approached the microphone during the forum.

Tommy Douglass, a fourth-year “run-of-the-mill” student, had previously posted a pair of videos on the parking issue to YouTube, prompting Timmons to greet him by saying, “I saw your videos!”

Douglass pointed out that a failure to address the inadequate parking on campus was making the distinction between illegal parker and wronged customer increasingly unclear.

“A $65 ticket, I have no issue with that,” Douglass told the crowd. “But for the student with an M parking pass who can’t park in his own lot and is forced to park in another lot, who’s paid for a service, not receiving that service, and now being penalized for both poor management and other students taking advantage of it?

“The $65 ticket doesn’t bother me at all, if we have a system that works.

Douglass proposed, to much applause, the construction of a parkade. He also suggested improvements to the UR Self-Serve system, allowing students to indicate that they intend to purchase a parking pass; currently, the system only allows students to make purchases.

Other solutions proposed included creating a pass for students who want to park at metres, ending the practice of running metres until 10 p.m., and starting a carpooling initiative for university employees. As well, two speakers suggested making another attempt at a universal student transit pass; the crowd responded with light applause.

While many of the proposals wouldn’t see fruition immediately, some speakers at the forum had ideas that they believed could be put into practice quite soon. John Klein, a University of Regina employee, suggested working to develop a car-sharing program to complement the university’s current carpooling program, as well as negotiating for student-parking at the Centre of the Arts’ parking lot and arranging for a shuttle between that lot and the university.

And although participants were willing to share their ideas, many were simply frustrated people looking to express their concerns directly to the university’s president. Students at the forum were upset not only with the lack of consultation and the lack of adequate parking, but also the lack of foresight on the part of an administration that had previously dealt with enrolment around current numbers only six years ago.

URSU education director Mariah Perkins wondered aloud why the university hadn’t planned to improve parking conditions on campus before the start of the new term.

“I just think that you shouldn’t have waited so long to create [a new] parking lot,” she told Timmons. “I think that should have started a long time ago, when you knew that there was going to be increased enrolment on top of the nursing students.”

Fourth-year journalism student Tory Gillis, who said she was 159th on the waiting list for parking passes, was also curious about the university’s long-term planning for parking.

“One hundred and fifty-nine on the waiting list – how is that not something that can be anticipated?” Gills asked. “Was there not a waiting list last year?”

Timmons conceded that the list was around 100 students last year, and added that the new lot in the northwest corner of the campus would bring that number down by adding an extra 485 stalls.

“So what about my parking tickets in the meantime?” Gillis responded.

“Tory, you pay them,” Timmons replied. “And we’ll keep looking at the solutions the best we can.”

Moments like these, where students brought their concerns and questions directly to the head administrator of the university, defined the forum; to almost each student, Timmons responded with a variation on “we’ll look into that.”

On occasion, such as when Douglass asked why the parking metres on campus cost more for minutes than anywhere else in the city and run until 10 p.m., Timmons told the crowd that they were bringing up “issues [she] wasn’t even aware of.”

She also had to confirm with aides that the 98 members of the U of R senate receive parking passes.

After Timmons brought things to a close, URSU president Peterson remarked that the forum had demonstrated a need for similar consultation of students in the future.

“I hope the university administration realizes that by consulting with students, not forcing policies and fees upon them, they can get a lot of positive outcomes and solutions,” he said. “What we’re really interested in is if they actually take note of the suggestions and come back with solutions, or at least a reason why something couldn’t happen.”

While Timmons told reporters after the forum that student concerns were warranted, she was vague on the possibility of the administration consulting students before making policy changes in the future, rather than consulting them afterwards.

“We make decisions every single day,” she said. “We do our best to consult. We have student union representatives on the board of governors, on our senate, on our executive council … the challenge is how to consult more. And I think we can always communicate better and consult more. I will always be looking for ways to improve that.”

Although Timmons seemed enthusiastic about the ideas presented to her during the forum, it will be several months before the students of the U of R see any of them put into action – that is, if any of them are deemed feasible.

In the meantime, even freshmen like Erik Kreis have no illusions about what the next few months of parking on campus have in store for them.

“In winter, it’s going to be brutal,” he said.

EDIT (9:39 P.M., 02/10/11): Tommy Douglass's name has two Ss in it, not one. We've corrected it.

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