The politics of parking

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Parking lots are an essential aspect of infrastructure that many of us make use of daily.

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After all, we all need a place to store our vehicles. However, on university campuses, this fundamental need comes at a cost. The parking permit system employed by university campuses obliges individuals to pay for a pass to park their vehicles on campus. A reality that students at UNB Saint John know all too well.

Although, this expense is a necessary evil. It is done to discourage outside parties from parking on campus which ensures that there is always parking space available for staff, faculty, and students. The money paid for parking passes is also dedicated to parking lot upkeep. Thus, everyone from the students to the deans pays into this system to help preserve our precious parking lots.

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What’s happening

Recently, this arrangement has come under fire from UNB Saint John students. Ever since construction workers broke ground on the site of the UNB Saint John’s new Health and Social Innovation Centre, parking space on the campus has been limited.

That is because the ongoing construction project has taken away two staff parking lots. These lots made up a total of eighty-five spaces. The old parking lots will not be returning either because the grounds they occupied will be covered by the new health facility. To compensate for the lack of staff parking, what was once a student parking lot has been restricted to staff use only.

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The lot that has been redesignated for staff use is directly adjacent to the G. Forbes Elliot Athletics Centre and is composed of approximately one hundred and eighty-nine parking spaces. Prior to its redesignation, this was a prime student parking lot because of its close proximity to the school.

Now, there are less student parking spaces available close to the campus than there were before. Due to this shortage, students have been forced to herd their vehicles far back in the parking lot behind the G. Forbes Elliot Athletics Centre.

Since they pay for use of these spaces, many students are now frustrated by their relative inability to access convenient and practical parking that is close to their classes. Students,  around campus have described the situation as, “horrendous”, “unfair”, and just downright “bad.”

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The politics

So, seeking to shine light on the current parking situation, David Gillespie, UNB Saint John’s Director of Environmental Health, Safety & Security, was asked for his insight on the matter. As one of the main officials responsible for overseeing parking on campus, he was able to illuminate why the parking arrangement on campus is the way it is.

Gillespie explained that “UNBSJ has approximately fifteen hundred parking billets” and that the campus “usually [operates] at about eighty-percent capacity on our busiest of days.” This means that even on the most populated days on campus, there will always be parking spaces available even if those spaces aren’t necessarily convenient for the student population. 

Now, some students may make the argument that they are entitled to a conveniently placed parking space on campus since they pay for permits to park on campus. In response to this reasonable complaint, Gillespie noted that “your permit does not guarantee a parking space, [but] you will always find one here – it just may not be what you call convenient.”

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In fact, he highlighted that “from the furthest corner of the parking lots, it is a three minute walk to be indoors and a seven minute walk to the farthest building.” Thus, in the grand scheme of things, this inconvenience is not that immense. Although, in all fairness, three to seven minutes can make the difference between making it to class on time or being late.

However, this does raise the question of why more parking spaces cannot be built closer to the campus to accommodate for this inconvenience. In response to this question, Gillespie explained that “the parking ideology is to continue to move parking away from the campus center for a multitude of reasons including pedestrian safety.”

UNB is also opposed to razing more green space around campus for student parking since it desires to be environmentally conscious. So, while it is frustrating that more parking cannot be erected for students, the convenience of closer student parking is not worth the potential environmental cost. This is something the whole student body should be able to agree on.

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Many students spoken to around campus have also said that they feel parking on campus is overpriced. When asked about this concern, Gillespie illuminated the reality that “parking at UNB Saint John is well below market value given that the City of Saint John is between $88-$167/month depending on walking distance and UNB Saint John [parking] is between $17.50-$48/month depending on the length of the term purchased.”

So, from a fiscal perspective, students are receiving a sweetheart deal for campus parking. Granted, given that students also have a number of other expenses due to how costly post-secondary education can be, this arrangement is still not ideal. However, it seems that the current pricing is the best that can be done to accommodate for students since it is below market value.

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Evidently, parking is an institution that is considerably more complex than what meets the eye. Factors ranging from environmental concerns to practicality must be taken into account when constructing and zoning parking lots. This makes it hard for one to spite UNB for failing to provide convenient parking. Although, this does not soften the blow for students. Between having to walk a considerable distance to get to and from one’s car to having to pay to park on campus in the first place, parking on campus is not ideal for students. Sadly though, it seems there is little that can be done at this time to provide students with parking closer to campus. 

Matthew is a first year Bachelor of Arts student and an overall academic weapon. He's a big book and chess guy and his diet consists of exclusively toast and coffee. He claims he knows where Waldo is. Check in with him for the inside scoop.