Stranded on campus

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September 16, 2010

11:32 PM

It’s no news to students that the parking situation at the College of William and Mary is poor, and that paying the cost of a parking decal will make you poor. But, according to a recent review of parking charges at various Virginia universities, parking passes at the College may be some of the lowest priced. In no way, however, should this be seen as an endorsement. The parking and transit system at the College, and in the City of Williamsburg as a whole, while reasonably priced, remains wildly inefficient. It’s time something was done to improve it.

It is understandable why parking would be a problem here, and it’s understandable why the cost of parking has dramatically increased in recent years. The College is located in a less urban area than many other Virginia colleges, so parking options are necessarily harder to come by. The largest improvement to campus parking, the parking garage on Ukrop Way, was also an expensive one, costing $13.5 million. The price of parking decals, which before the garage averaged to about $80, have obviously risen to cover that cost, and they will remain more expensive, at least until the debt is paid off.

That increase we can support, if only begrudgingly. It’s better that the cost of this building be paid by those opting into the parking system — as opposed to increasing tuition, forcing even those without a car on campus to pay for the benefit. But the cost, while understandable, is still exorbitant.

The simple fact is that the service provided is not nearly worth the cost. Students should not be forced to pay over $300 to park on campus, unless they get a service worth that amount. But other options like, riding public transit or even biking, remain so abysmal as to prop up the College’s otherwise overinflated parking system.

There are ways to alleviate the current strain. The first would be to introduce a tiered system of parking passes. At the majority of schools surveyed, students had the option of choosing between several differently priced packages, which allowed them to park in either greater or fewer areas of the campus, depending on the cost. No such system is in place at the College. Allowing students to pay according to their prospective uses would make parking cheaper to many students, as well as ensure that available parking is used effectively.

The zip car system should also be expanded, and partially subsidized by the College. Zip cars are an innovative option for those students with only occasional need for a car, but at their current price are not cost-effective for most students. To whatever degree the College is able to make zip cars a cheaper alternative for students, it should.

Much of this burden also falls on the city. Even small improvements could potentially make a significant difference. For example, improving bike routes on major roads like Monticello Avenue, for those living off campus, would help to encourage biking to class.

But most importantly, the Williamsburg public transit system must be improved. The city’s current policy is that, until students start using it, there remains no reason to improve it. This answer is blatant circular logic. As long as public transit remains ineffective, it will go unused. Blaming students and residents for not using it is merely the rote response of city councilmen who would rather not be bothered fixing a system that is quite obviously broken.

Buses should run more frequently than every half an hour; the trolley is a step in this direction, but it needs a more reliable time schedule. Routes should be expanded to ensure students can reach campus in a reasonable amount of time. In short, it should be a system responsive to resident’s needs. Currently, it is not.

Implementing just a few of these changes would go a long way toward improving transportation both on campus and in the city on whole, but until we force those in charge to realize that need, nothing will change. Don’t let relatively cheaper parking passes fool you; we still have a ways to go.

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