My first year, I needed help moving my things out of my dorm for winter break. The end of my exams lined up awkwardly with my family’s schedule, so my mother was the only one able to help haul my suitcases and IKEA bags of clothes and books to the car. I lived on the third floor of Dillard, which had no elevator available. In addition, the gates were up in the circular driveway around Gooch-Dillard, so there was no place to park other than the stadium. I really didn’t want to make my mother — who had been having sciatic nerve pain for the past month — brave the hill up to Dillard, three flights of stairs and then back again with all of my things. We opted to park at Runk, but we were given a warning ticket by the University 15 minutes before 5 p.m. — the standard time for parking to become unmetered. Though we didn’t have to pay that particular time, we would incur a fee the next time we were caught in a similar situation.
Getting ticketed by a University that charges over $30,000 annually is infuriating — especially when only parking to run a brief errand. Students should be able to enjoy the privilege of parking their cars on the campus they pay a large amount of money to access. While there isn’t room for every upperclassman on Grounds to park their car in a garage, the garages close to dorms like Bond and Bice already operate on a lottery system. In addition, students who receive a spot through the lottery are then required to pay $576 for a permit. Students shouldn’t have to pay this hefty sum for a permit after having to go through a lottery system — the University is just using the parking system to profit more off the student body. Even students who live off Grounds can’t park during business hours for short periods of time — Central Grounds Garage, for example, is also metered, despite being right next to the bookstore where many students might only run a short errand to. The parking rates at the University make Grounds inaccessible to off-Grounds students and inescapable for on-Grounds students.
The issue becomes more and more present now in the age of COVID-19. Students who live off Grounds aren’t spending most of their day on Grounds as they typically might have when in-person class was in session. Many students might only be on Grounds for a single in-person class or to pick up food from a dining hall with their meal plan. These situations require transport to Grounds from a student's off-Grounds housing, but the typical ways of transportation are modified and less accessible. The University must abolish parking fees on Grounds — at least during the COVID-19 pandemic — so students can access Grounds safely.
Currently, University Transit Service buses are only allowing 20 people on at a time, so space is at a premium. Space on the UTS buses should be reserved for those who don’t already have access to a personal vehicle. Driving a personal vehicle is much safer and more isolated than using public transportation, so students who have access to their own cars should be able to use them when they need to come to Grounds. Making this obviously safer choice becomes difficult when there is simply no place for students to park without incurring fees. Even if the fees aren’t necessarily exorbitant, parking on Grounds once or twice a week can add up over time. Driving to Grounds is not practical without accessible parking for many students trying to stay safe during the pandemic.
Further, the UTS buses aren’t only used by University students — they’re also used by employees of the University Medical Center. The Redline and the Blueline both commute to the hospital during usual business hours, and many healthcare workers bus from garages or parking lots where they hold parking permits to the hospital. While these lines are primarily for healthcare workers, some students still hold parking passes in garages they service, such as Emmet/Ivy Garage. Students are interacting with healthcare workers on the UTS buses in these areas, which can pose a potential hazard to both communities. The rates for parking at Emmet/Ivy garage are lower than parking at garages closer to upperclassman housing, such as Bice or Bond. This essentially encourages students who don’t want to pay the high rates for closer parking to take the UTS system to and from their car's parking location, which associates them more with vulnerable communities like the University’s healthcare workers.
Outside of the UTS buses, many students who live off Grounds might choose to walk if there is no parking available. The Corner — which many students live near — is constantly crowded. It’s also not entirely filled with University students — the general population of Charlottesville also interacts with the different shops and restaurants on the Corner. The actions University students take can directly affect the local community in areas like this. Reducing day-to-day student foot traffic will allow students without vehicles to maintain their physical distance with others, even in areas that can become bottle-necked or crowded during the day. It is the University’s responsibility to limit the impact the University has on the local community’s infection rates. Allowing students to isolate themselves by driving to Grounds as opposed to walking will help minimize the University’s interaction with the local Charlottesville community.
The University should abolish parking fees on Grounds during the pandemic, and eventually, for good. The AFC, Central Grounds Garage and Culbreth Garage should be accessible to students so they can easily get on and off Grounds as quickly and safely as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic. Students who do not want to incur many parking fees are forced to spend more time walking through Grounds or crowding UTS buses, when they could be travelling on and off Grounds efficiently and safely. In the future, the University should consider making parking free and accessible for all students at the University. We pay tuition to access Grounds — our ability to do so should not be constrained.
Allison Haszard is an Opinion Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Cavalier Daily. Columns represent the views of the authors alone.