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 by Chelsea Coupal

I lived in residence my first year of university. My second year, I moved off campus, which forced me to find a way to arrive to school on time. Since I’m not a big bicycler, bus rider, or car pooler—I hate the environment—I started driving to school. Since I had to find somewhere to park, I thought, incorrectly, “I should purchase a parking pass.”

I purchased an “M” pass, the plain jane of parking permits. It costs $390.36 for the school year, which breaks down to $32.53 per month, according to the university’s parking services website. This permit doesn’t give you an electric plug-in. It doesn’t give you access to a parkade—those permits cost $900 a year. The “M” pass gives you just a slice of plain space.

Parking passes used to be considerably cheaper. Five years ago, the price of parking passes increased by almost 72 per cent. The cost of purchasing a pass for a plain stall jumped from $17.46 per month to $30 per month. A university spokesperson said the increase was required to maintain the level of services. Still, it seems like an awfully sudden big jump. An incremental increase, at least, would have been less painful.

Parking permits are costlier now. And the parking lots are bigger. In recent years, the university has expanded its parking lots. Lot 15, the main lot near the Riddell Centre, has reached enormous proportions. It’s seeped and extended so far, I’m certain it reaches the Ring Road now. In the same way the city is expanding its fringes wider and wider with new housing subdivisions, the university is expanding its perimeter parking lots, creating  spaces that are further and further from the campus’s core.

My second year of university, none of my classes started before 10:30 a.m. By the time I rolled into Lot 15, mid-morning, the first hundred rows of parking spaces were already occupied. There were the metered spaces, then the plug-in “Z” spaces, then the “M” spaces, which forced me to park near the back of the lot—near the Ring Road. Every day, I walked block after block after block after block, until arriving inside that warm grease-food sanctuary, the Riddell Centre.

In September, the walked seemed pleasant enough—full of fresh fall sunshine, fire-coloured leaves, and satisfying crunch-crunch sounds underfoot. But by January, the walk seemed, well, the opposite of pleasant. Hellish, actually.  My January walks were icy and long and grouchy-cold.

Near the end of the year, it finally occurred to me. I paid for those walks. I paid hundreds of dollars for them. The next year I made a decision: no parking pass.

Now—and for the last two years—I park along a residential street across from the university.  Hundreds of other U of R students do, too. These Hillsdale streets—McNiven Avenue, Martin Street, and Darke Crescent, among others—are always solidly lined with vehicles. Although signs dotting the streets claim there’s a two hour parking limit, I’ve never received a ticket.

Hillsdale residents are likely as unhappy about the situation as students are. Every day, their streets are crowded with vehicles. The long lines of parked cars must make it difficult for residents backing out of their driveways to spot moving vehicles. And since many of the streets allow parking along both sides, the driving pathway is extremely narrow. Some drivers prefer to pull over and wait for oncoming vehicles to pass, rather than attempt to squeeze by them.

The walk to school is still long, I admit. But it’s comparable to the days when I parked at the back of Lot 15. My walk is long, but it’s free. If I ever receive a ticket, I’ll happily pay the $15 fine. One or two $15 parking tickets are still far less than I would have paid to park on campus.

I graduate in April. If I ever return to the university, I’ll keep parking on the street, unless the university lowers its prices for parking permits, or until it develops and expands its existing lots, the ones nearer to campus. 

I don’t mind parking far away. As long as it’s free.


Check out the video I shot of vehicles along McNiven Avenue: