Who’s really to blame for TRU’s parking problem?

TRUSU shrugs off blame and points the finger back at the university

Each day, students, staff and faculty drive past a full Lot N in search for a parking spot. They can’t afford a place in the premium or gated premium lots, and many are frustrated with the current system at TRU. But who is really responsible for the state of the university’s parking?

Glenn Read, TRU’s director of ancillary services, said TRUSU’s recommendation to open up staff lots to students played a part in the decision to do so.

“We decided to have a premium and a gated premium. That was – I don’t know if I can say it was specifically because of TRUSU’s recommendation – but they played a part in it, because they wanted fair and equitable access to parking. They thought that staff parking wasn’t a fair way to go, so we took a look at it. We gave them equal access to the locations,” Read said in October during a public parking update and information session.

Alex McLellan, university governance coordinator at TRUSU, said that yes, TRUSU did make the recommendation to open up staff lots, but that’s not quite the full story. He said the student union first got involved in trying to improve parking in January 2014.

“Parking fees went up from $3 a day to $4 a day to $5 a day,” McLellan said.

This rise in fees created an incentive for students and others to begin paying attention to what was going on with parking.

“This [fee increase] was part of the TRU transportation demand management strategy, which was supposed to be a broad approach in how we were going to deal with transportation more broadly. But basically, TRU had only moved forward a strategy of increasing parking fees,” McLellan said.

TRUSU replied to the increases and submitted three recommendations to the university as compromises to the current transportation demand management strategy, which focused on sustainability and maintaining revenue. TRUSU’s recommendations included half-day rates in the central lots on campus and a carpool lot.

“TRU responded and said, ‘We will implement $4-a-day in Lot N,’ which is the origin of how that lot is cheaper now, and they said they would pilot the half-day rate in Lot E, which is the gravel lot right by the entrance,” McLellan said.

With this change, some improvement was made but not all of the recommendations were taken or implemented in the manner suggested. McLellan said that this should have been the first red flag.

“The way TRU has responded to suggestions on parking is to pick and choose the pieces they want to implement and to do that according to their own logic,” McLellan said. “We contributed an idea that was built into a larger plan about how parking could work better for all stakeholders.”

McLellan said that once TRU received the union’s proposal there was no debate or further discussion. For example, their recommendation for half-day rates was piloted in a lot that was far away from the centre of campus, rather than in one of the central lots.

“They pick the items that they are willing to do, and they move them forward in the way that they want to move them forward,” McLellan said.

TRUSU followed up these initial recommendations by conducting the first student budget consultation and surveyed the student body to discover their key priorities. Parking was one of the top three priorities students identified.

This report provided TRUSU with evidence of students’ concerns. McLellan said issues around parking included affordability, use of revenue and a lack of rate options.

McLellan said he was told by senior TRU staff that no changes to parking would be made that didn’t maintain the same revenue generating system.

With that statement in mind, the 2015 student budget consultation made eight recommendations that attempted to maintain the revenue system and improve the parking system for students, staff and faculty. The recommendations included opening staff lots for everyone to use and creating flexible rate options.

“We included things in there like extending pay parking to evenings and weekends,” McLellan said. “Of course the student union didn’t actually want evening and weekend paid parking.”

TRUSU president Tatiana Gilbert said that specific recommendation was intended to be an alternative way to spread out the parking fee and make day rates cheaper.

“There’s no way student representatives would say ‘let’s increase parking, lets do something the student aren’t asking for.’ We’re students ourselves, why would we want to do anything like that. It just goes to show that they pick and choose what they want, and they also choose to show the community what we have asked for in a different way,” Gilbert said.

McLellan said these recommendations were submitted in good faith and were meant as a starting off point.

“We make a submission intending for there to be a debate, a conversation and we just get a formal response,” McLellan said. “It might be good for students in some cases, might not, but it’s certainly not in the systematic approach of making parking work for everyone.”

McLellan said that many of the conversations around parking now include pieces of this proposal, but many of these elements were never meant as standalone policies but rather a small part of a bigger plan.

“At the end of the day, no matter what we’ve been trying over the past three years, nothing has been working. We have reached out to administration, we have sent them petition signatures, we have tried everything in our physical power to make some positive change happen. But realistically, at the end of the day, the people that are able to change parking is the administration,” Gilbert said.