For many students, a lack of transportation that fits around their schedule might have entirely prohibited their ability to vote Tuesday. For the second year in a row, Student Council partnered with University Parking and Transportation and CAR2Vote — a local, independent, nonpartisan service — to provide transportation to student who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to vote.
One shuttle service, provided by Parking and Transportation, used SafeRide vans to take predominantly first-year students from the Observatory Hill dining hall to University Hall, the poll location for most of the on-Grounds housing. For students living off-Grounds or on-Grounds but outside of the University Hall precinct, a separate shuttle service was provided from Ruppell Drive behind the Commerce School to the polls at Venable Elementary and Buford Middle School.
In addition to the shuttle service, CAR2Vote and their team of volunteers were on call all while the polls were open to take University students unable to make the shuttle — as well as Charlottesville and Albemarle residents unaffiliated with the University — to their polling location.
“My work as a community activist has taught me that far too often transportation is the missing link in providing services and getting people to services and things that they want to do to participate fully in our society,” said Gail Wiley, one of the founders of CAR2Vote. “That can be anyone from a University student who doesn’t have ready transportation to our elderly who can no longer drive to those experiencing poverty who don’t have reliable transportation.”
“We have to prepare for calls to come from anywhere at any time,” Wiley added. “So we organize ourselves to provide the coverage and then we hope that there’s the need. We have drivers on call to pick up anybody from anywhere at any time.“
Student Council was able to cover the cost of the shuttles this year thanks to a donation from the Center for Politics, and they hope to establish funding for the near future to ensure the University’s ability to provide students with rides to the polls.
“When we initially started this effort last year we were told it is a one-time thing, it’s just because it’s such a big presidential election, this is not going to be something that we’re going to see institutionalized,” said Elizabeth Parker, a fourth-year College student and co-chair of Legislative Affairs for Student Council. “I was really pleased to sit down this year with Parking and Transportation and the head of Parking and Transportation told me we want to see this tradition, we want to do something that’s part of the fabric of the University in terms of engagement for years to come. “
Last year, 1,053 students took advantage of the shuttle to University Hall, and Parker anticipated approximately 600 students would use the same service this year, with better publicization working to combat the voter apathy from a midterm election.
“Although it is a gubernatorial election I think students are very keenly aware of the fact that the Governor of Virginia picks the Board of Visitors,” Parker said. “So there’s extra incentive to vote in this election if you want to control things like tuition, free speech on Grounds and other overarching issues in higher education.”
Wiley and Parker both see this partnership between Student Council and CAR2Vote as the beginning of an annual offering to help boost student engagement.
“If this is the second year, all we need is one or two more years and it becomes a tradition at U.Va. I hope we do become a tradition and institution,” Wiley said. “Mostly I have faith in the students organizing whatever the need is, however that morphs and changes over time and I'm just glad to be a part of that.”