Commuting to Campus

A deeper look into transportation options

Photo courtesy of Zeke Estes

It is no secret that college is expensive. Students are forced to take on a job—maybe multiple—just so they can pay for school. There’s tuition, textbooks, and if you live on campus, room and board. Even if you don’t live on campus, there are still costs for renting. To get to and from campus, most students rely on a car for transportation. While there are other options available, including public transportation, biking, or carpooling, driving is the easiest and most reliable. However, students are being penalized for driving themselves to class because it is far from the cheapest option—even with it being almost a necessity.

It is no secret that college is expensive. Students are forced to take on a job—maybe multiple—just so they can pay for school. There’s tuition, textbooks, and if you live on campus, room and board. Even if you don’t live on campus, there are still costs for renting. To get to and from campus, most students rely on a car for transportation. While there are other options available, including public transportation, biking, or carpooling, driving is the easiest and most reliable. However, students are being penalized for driving themselves to class because it is far from the cheapest option—even with it being almost a necessity.

Washington State University Vancouver is a commuter campus, meaning students are supposed to commute to school. Currently there is no on-campus housing, and even if there were, students who live within driving distance would most likely not pay the extra costs to live on campus. The university publically advertises the abundance of secondary options opposed to driving, such as carpooling, C-Tran, Lower Columbia CAP’s Rural Public Transportation Service, and biking or walking.

While carpooling is both efficient and eco-friendly, it is likely not an option for someone with children. A big percentage of WSU Vancouver students have children, and having to drop them off and pick them up from daycare or school on a daily basis would be nearly impossible for those who carpool; it would also require a lot of additional time—time students may not be able to give up. For those without children, this option might be more realistic, but the cost for a carpooling permit is still the same as a regular permit. You would save on gas, but do the savings outweigh the time being lost? With schoolwork, jobs, and extracurricular activities, most students already find it impossible to get the eight hours of sleep the human body needs, and carpooling would require students to wake up even earlier to pick up other people.

C-Tran’s #19 Salmon Creek bus route is another option available, but on the bus route, there are only two parking garages, which both fill up relatively quick on weekdays. The Salmon Creek Park and Ride has 472 parking spaces and the 99th St Transit Center has approximately 610 spaces. This may seem like a lot, but there are nearly 6 million people who ride the C-Tran annually, and many of them might be trying to get a parking space too. This means that if a student has an afternoon class, they might not be able to find a parking spot. Also, there is a 40 to 45-minute wait time in between buses, which could cause problems for students. Not to mention it will cost $62 for a monthly pass or $4.25 for a day pass—both significantly more than a campus parking permit.

The university promotes that CAP offers Rural Public Transportation, and when they say rural, they were not kidding. The hour-long ride only has four stops, including Longview, Kalama, Woodland, and Vancouver. If someone does make the commute from Longview, Kalama, or Woodland, then this is a great option—if they have about two hours to spare before school. The ride itself is an hour long, and then the student would get dropped off at C-Tran’s 99th St Transit Center, where the student would then have to catch a bus and hope the timing lines up. It becomes a greater issue if the student has any sort of extracurricular activity because this mode of transportation only runs back and forth six times a day, with the first pick up being at 6:35 a.m. and the final pickup being at 5:35 p.m.

The final option, biking or walking, is only an option for those who live within biking or walking distance from campus. Students who live within 10 or 15 miles from campus can take advantage of this option, while saving both gas money and the environment. But those who live outside of this range must drive or use one of the above options.

For those students who choose or need to drive to campus, you are looking at paying an extra $109-254 for the academic year. The 2017-2018 school year prices are the same as the previous year—but don’t forget to factor in tax. If a student chooses to go the cheapest route, the gray lot is about 0.5-miles away from campus and a literal up-hill battle. If a student chooses to take time to weigh out the options, it may be too late to purchase a parking permit in a lot closer to campus. The most expensive lot, the orange lot, sells out every year, according to campus Parking Supervisor Anne O’Neill.

With the recent uptick in enrollment, the lots will sell out even faster than before. However, if the student only has one class a day or needs to be on campus for a brief amount of time, there are two other options, one of which being a 3$ daily parking pass in the blue lot. At $3 per day, that would cost roughly $219 dollars per semester, taking into account holidays and excluding finals week.

The other option is using a meter. There are a few meters that offer free 30-minute parking, which is only good if a student is dropping by for a brief period of time because class periods are at least 50 minutes long. No additional change is accepted to add on extra time at these meters. There are other meters scattered throughout the parking lots on campus, and a few of them offer free 20-minute parking, but not all. These meters, while they do allow additional change to be fed for more time, have a maximum time limit of two hours. All meters downtown Vancouver cost $1.25 per hour, but with WSU Vancouver’s meters, a quarter only adds up to 10 minutes. For two hours, that will cost $3. When asked about this price difference, O’Neill said, “I can’t speak about that. I don’t know that information.”

As soon as the meter expires, someone with Parking Services is right there to write you a ticket. An overtime meter ticket costs $10, but is reduced to $5 if paid within 24 hours—if you get one of these tickets, definitely take advantage of this 24-hour window. While this may not seem like much, it adds up quickly. For the meters, there can be no grace period, said O’Neill. “The problem with meters is that they don’t lie. There’s either time left or there isn’t. What’s the grace period supposed to be—5 minutes? 10 minutes?” According to O’Neill, there are over 3,000 tickets written a year, which does include warnings. Do the workers at Parking Services seem ticket crazy? “That’s a subjective question,” said O’Neill. “If people parked in their right lots and paid for the meters, I wouldn’t be writing as many tickets. Am I writing too many tickets or are students parking incorrectly too much?”

It’s great that the university is promoting secondary options besides driving to campus, but a majority of them do not service a wide range of the commuting community. Those who run the school—those who get paid to go to campus—should reconsider the price of parking on campus for students, who do not get paid to go to campus. According to O’Neill, the money from parking permits goes toward repaving and line striping the lots. If the prices must remain the same, the school should include parking costs with tuition so that financial aid can help cover this additional cost. College is already expensive, and with additional costs like these, the university is asking for money out of pocket—money that might not be there.

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