Dear University of Lethbridge: You Dun Goofed Up

Originally posted on Facebook 09/08/2016. Felt it was important to post here for context.

To the University of Lethbridge Administration and the City of Lethbridge

It is that time again. New students roam blindly around the city, the hunt for textbooks is on, and the push for students to spend money has begun. Unfortunately, the parking nightmare has also begun.

At the time of writing this, Lots E, M and N have 956, 656, and 665 students respectively waiting for parking. That is 2277 students (25% of the student population) without parking. (Or, if we assume each student is on all three lists, and divide by 3, that is 759 students.) If there are 9,150 students (according to 2011 numbers), that is approximately 8% of the student body.

Recently, the UofL began its destination project. To do that, it closed two parking lots to accommodate the construction despite the increased enrolment we now face. (The extra money certainly helps, but the strain on the UofL’s resources has had drastic, negative results.) The expensive parking passes that were available sold out in hours. They were then oversold, so those who were fortunate enough to get the opportunity to pay for those expensive passes are not guaranteed to get a parking spot. This translates into hundreds of students risking a parking violation.

The City of Lethbridge and the University of Lethbridge foresaw this. Tickets are now almost double. And if a driver gets more than one, they run the risk of having their vehicle towed. Fair enough. Do something illegal, and you get a ticket. However, considering the alternatives, it is schadenfreude — pleasure (money, in this case) derived from the misfortune of others. It is opportunistic and exploitive. As my grandmother would say, it is biting the hands that feed you.

Now, I get it. It is just parking. There are buses, bikes, etc. However, there are one or two things you have overlooked:

1 – Time – While many students can take an hour-long bus ride or walk for 30 minutes, others cannot. One student I know has 6 classes this semester, two little kids (with soccer games and doctors appointments), and a husband trying to support her. Another student with a chronic illness often has to leave suddenly to go to the hospital. I go to school full-time, work, run my own business, and have all the other responsibilities that come with being an adult. Most of us work full-time and go to school full-time. Students in these situations do not want to drive. They NEED a vehicle and the convenience that comes with it. If they do not, they are forced to sacrifice groceries for grades. How do you tell your child they cannot have breakfast anymore?

2 – Studying/Homework – All classes require homework, studying, practice, studio time, and other work outside of class. When we walk or ride several hours every week, we cannot spend that time working on class material. (And we know what happens to students who don’t study or complete assignments). Some of us spend upwards of 15 hours on the bus every week. That is 60 hours a month! What could you do with 60 hours a month? Fine arts and new media students are frequently recording, in studio, rehearsals, setting up sets, etc. until well after midnight. They have to have parking because transit stops running long before that. For these students, shuttles and ride sharing doesn’t work either. How can they be expected to complete their studies, performance requirements, or put on successful events without the opportunity to do these things?

3 – Money – Students must pay exuberant prices for parking passes, almost $300 for a bus pass, or risk $50 a day to get back and forth to school. These are the same people who are unemployed, under-employed, live on student loans, and borrow from their parents to pay thousands of dollars annually for their degree. This does not include all the regular expenses that come with standard, daily living. Many of us already spent thousands on a vehicle with the assumption that it would make life easier. Now, we have to spend even more to get a bus pass. Where is that money supposed to come from? For many of us, it comes from our grocery, rent, or utility budget. Sure, scholarships and bursaries are an option, but how happy would donors be to find out that a large portion of their money goes to parking, transportation, and tickets? That is not why they gave students that money.

4 – Out-of-Town students – If they cannot get to the university, they cannot get an education. Currently, some students skip classes to keep costs and risks down. Others drive to the city, park somewhere they hope is safe, and ride a bus to the university. This costs them grades, time, and money. How long until other places start cracking down on parking? How long until they are forced to drop out due to low grades? You are essentially preventing an entire segment of the student body from getting the education they have paid for when they should have priority. Does it matter to the UofL and the City of Lethbridge? How do people and businesses in the surrounding neighbourhoods feel about students constantly filling up their parking? Many have already complained.

5 – Stress – My first day of classes were very stressful. I did not get any information I needed such as the free parking BBQ, how to schedule classes efficiently, where the testing centre actually is, study rooms, the FB used textbook group, etc. What I got is what all students get on their first day: Accosted by companies all trying to sell me something, information on the latest fun events, co-op education, MLM schemes, and other topics that, while informative (in some cases), did not help with day-to-day classes. Add to this the stress of transportation, payments, and textbooks, and the start of every semester is a nightmare. Do not forget the constant pressure students get to have good grades and a job. I am in my mid-30s and still get the talk. Daily. People wonder why students commit suicide or develop mental illnesses at an alarming rate. How could they not?

6 – Safety – Many students are at the university late at night. To protect students and prevent crime, security officers have graciously offered to walk students to their vehicles. How far are they supposed to go? Nine or ten blocks to the first spot we could find to park without getting towed? Are they going to wait with us at the bus stop? What about transferring to another bus or walking from our local bus stop? What about all the wages spent doing this? What happens if a student walks out only to discover the city towed their vehicle earlier in the day, and it has their phone in it? What if they are attacked in the process? Who is responsible? I refuse to bring up the ridiculousness of trying to ride a bike in this city.

7 – Educational Opportunities – Every year, the UofL and the City of Lethbridge hosts various guest lectures and other educational opportunities. The university frequently informs students of these events and encourages them to attend. I have personally attended many of these events, and can say they were worth the time. I quite enjoy them, even if they are not related to my degree. However, with no parking, many students are now unable to attend. What is the point of these events if many of us cannot attend? What about those who need additional help from professors, labs, or tutors? How does that work now that many of us cannot get back and forth?

8 – Campus Life – The UofL consistently informs students about the importance of work-life balance, how much getting involved and making friends helps with your education, and why it is important to feel like you belong. How do you think those of us who can no longer join in feel? Do you think we feel more like a source of income, or a valued student? Does it matter?

9 – Supporting UofL Teams – If many of us can no longer get back and forth to the UofL without dealing with a poor bussing system or no parking, how likely do you think we are to attend games, concerts, and art shows to show our support for fellow students? It is not worth it. I, personally, will not attend or volunteer for any events that help the university until this matter has been addressed and students are made a priority. And while we are on the topic, we should talk about events.

10 – Fine Arts Events – One of the biggest complaints the public has when coming (or not coming) to concerts and other fine arts events are the university’s poor parking and accessibility. This is particularly an issue for seniors, who make up a large part of their audience. Parking options that were available in previous years are, now, no longer available. This includes lot K and the small lots along Coulee Trail, which are now 24 hour reserved. One hour parking is not long enough for visitors. This has caused severe drops in attendance, and therefore, had negative impact on the university, the fine arts faculty, and the students, not to mention the loss of these important programs to the surrounding community. For some seniors, for instance, this is a rare and important treat.

11 – Investing in the UofL – When I am at the university for 12+ hours daily, I buy coffee, food, supplies from the bookstore, etc. Many other students do the same. Considering how much revenue students generate for the UofL and the City of Lethbridge, this should be taken into consideration when making decisions about the student body.

12 – Black Market – Anyone who has taken microeconomics will tell you that, when you cap something, it creates a black market. Currently, some students have re-sold parking passes for up to three times what they were originally sold for. Exactly how does this benefit anyone except the student who sold the pass? Yes, you can eliminate the ability to re-sell passes, but that does not solve the issue. There are ways around almost any system.

Did anyone think about this issue? Did you not realize that an increase in enrolment, the loss of two parking lots, and an increase in parking penalties would create chaos? Please do not tell me you spent years planning a new building, but failed to address parking and other issues caused by construction. The UofL and the City of Lethbridge are filled with brilliant, caring people. This leads me to conclude that you, as an organization, simply did not care, and those who did were silenced or ignored. Is that really how this works? If it isn’t, please explain and humbly accept my apology. Are there any plans to deal with these issues once the new building opens and there are additional staff and students at the UofL?

Since I am not one to complain without offering some solutions, I have a few ideas:

1 – Temporary parking – Make agreements with other organizations, make more parking lots/parkades, or open parking to the student body. It does not matter to me which one you choose.

2 – Shuttles – What about shuttles from local towns and various meeting points around town? I am sure there are property owners who would be pleased to earn money off a parking lot until they can rent out their commercial spaces. Maybe it is feasible, maybe it is not, but we could find out.

3 – Offset class times – Most classes are at 9:30 am. Why not segment parking passes into days, evenings, and weekends, offer more classes on the evenings and weekends and spread out class schedules to ease the strain on the current resources? If I could take all of my classes on evenings and weekends, I could work during the day. You would get more money for parking, students would be happier, and everyone wins. There were so many students in the PE building yesterday, several suffered with panic attacks and anxiety, so fewer students at a time would be welcomed.

4 – Improved bus systems – While the bus drivers are terrific, the system is poor at best. During peak times, the buses to the university are full. They only run every half hour or hour, which makes them difficult to use. Why not work with Lethbridge Transit to design an affordable system that works for everyone? Again, shuttles. What about asking the students with bus passes what times they need a bus and adjusting the system accordingly? I am sure Breeze cards generate a wealth of data that could help with this.

5 – Pass sharing – What about a system that allows students to share passes to avoid the issues associated with overselling? If someone only goes to school Tuesdays and Thursdays, I would happily pay half the cost of the pass since I only need a pass Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Again, the UofL is filled with brilliant people. I am sure someone could design something.

6 – Graduated Parking Permits – Offer permits, with assigned spots and times, at a scaling rate (the closest the most expensive, etc). Then, leave lot N open on a first-come, first-served basis at a discounted rate. This would generate the same amount of money, encourage others to take the bus/walk, give everyone a chance to get a parking spot, and help eliminate empty spaces.

7 – Ride Share or Carpool – A system that would connect students and allow them to get/give rides to those who need it. Perhaps an app that updates instantly for convenience and ease.

8 – Changes to the Bus System and Bus Pass Program – UPass, increased frequency, and route changes are needed to make the public transit system accessible and usable to many students here.

Screwing students over with higher parking fines is not a solution. When you have failed to offer alternatives, it is an opportunistic venture. And as a member of the student body, I am asking for you to provide the education, in the kind of environment, we were promised before we sent in our application letters.

Thank you for your time in this matter,

Angie Nikoleychuk
B.A. Psych/B.Mgt Marketing (hopefully, someday)

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