A “disturbing” 50-per cent parking rate hike and student transit pass are key to help dial back vehicle travel and address parking conditions at Vancouver Island University, according to a recently released transportation study.
Avery Bonner, director of external relations for VIU Students’ Union, said students, regardless of whether they use transit, would pay a flat rate. He called that “a little disturbing” given how a lot of them live outside of Nanaimo, don’t have access to transit and wouldn’t use the service.
“If anything we need to be thinking about how to make education more accessible for more people, not less accessible by increasing parking rates, eliminating parking spots and having a U-Pass, which all of those things make post-secondary education more expensive,” he said. “That’s just not something we know our members are interested in.”
Parking has long been an issue at VIU’s Nanaimo campus, but last year the students’ union reported an unprecedentedly high number of complaints from students, challenges with infrastructure projects on areas formerly used for parking and high numbers of people, like in trades, needing to access campus. A student started a petition on Change.org, wanting the university to take the parking problem seriously and an updated transportation demand management strategy was expedited as a result of complaints.
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The strategy by Watt Consulting Group, released this week, makes 14 recommendations on how the university can move forward on transportation within the next five years.
It suggests, for example, looking at the feasibility of a shuttle bus between the Nanaimo and Cowichan Valley campus, more bike lockers and racks and even finding places where the university could create temporary parking or more spaces with small capital investments.
The study acknowledges not all measures will have public support, but found increasing rates by about 50 per cent by 2022 and a student transit pass or U-Pass offer opportunities to “meaningfully reduce single-occupant vehicle travel and improve campus parking conditions.”
Seventeen of 28 universities in B.C. have a student transit pass program in place and all have experienced “significant increases in transit ridership as a result. While VIU students showed general opposition to a U-Pass in a survey, about 25 per cent of respondents indicated they already use transit and the lower cost of the pass would be appreciated.
It also said long-term parking permits are low compared to other post-secondary institutions.
Richard Lewis, VIU’s director of facilities services and campus development, told the News Bulletin the strategy is an early step in gathering information. The university also held an open house with stakeholders and all the information will go to a special task force.
The group, which includes representatives from the students’ union, City of Nanaimo and Regional District of Nanaimo, meets in April and Lewis envisions them discussing each point raised and trying to prioritize them into short- and long-term recommendations.
“Hopefully through the discussion in the task force, we can get a good idea of what win-win solutions are out there that we can concentrate on addressing first,” said Lewis, who expects the task force’s recommendations by summer.
Bonner said overall there is a little disappointment in terms of some of the recommendations.
“Increasing the parking rates as a deterrent to get less students to buy parking passes and less students to commute to make more parking available is kind of redundant, it’s not necessary,” said Bonner, who feels it off loads costs on students and makes it more difficult to attend post-secondary, decreasing the accessibility of that education and is not at all sustainable.
“We will definitely resolve our concerns in that task force and hopefully that will provide different opportunities or different solutions on how to fix this very serious accessibility issue.”