Last Thursday, around 25 students gathered in the Presentation Room of the Student Centre to join the executives of the UTM Student Union. The UTMSU initiated a collective effort to spread awareness about increases in parking fees and strengthen student solidarity in efforts to lobby the motion.
Vickita Bhatt, president of UTMSU, presented the union’s strategy to approach the initiative. Students split into three groups to brainstorm with the UTMSU executives. Participants engaged in lobby document preparation, creative awareness campaigns, and outreach planning. Combining outreach projects and lobby efforts, the UTMSU wants to work with the administration to find alternate solutions to finance the university’s parking structure.
“How can we at UTM control the fate of all parking students when the power is in the hands of the UTM administration?” Bhatt asked participants. “The answer is the Erindale College Council. We want to see as many students at the ECC meeting as possible to hold your student representatives, professors, and senior administrators accountable.”
The ECC is one of the highest governing bodies at UTM. Comprised of faculty and students, the council in this situation makes amendments and ratifies motions regarding ancillary fees. This includes parking, residence, and meal plans. All major faculty members wield one vote. As such, administration and teaching staff greatly outnumber the student vote with 75 seats.
UTMSU seeks to fortify the student voice within the Erindale College Council. At the upcoming ECC meeting, members will vote on a motion to increase parking fees by five percent.
Due to the construction of two new buildings on campus, 440 parking spaces were lost. With a large increase in student enrolment, the administration chose to erect a parking structure to accommodate the need for space. The parking deck, with a projected price tag of $6.5 million, was financed with an amortization period of 10 years. With fewer parking spaces available, the university is not able to sell as many parking permits as previous years. To break even after five years, a rise in parking fees would be required to cover the costs (abiding by the guidelines of SARG, a committee that negotiates with Parking Services). Last year, fees were increased by three percent.
The last time an increase in fees was required was in 2006 when the CCT parking garage was constructed. Since then, fees have either decreased or remained constant.
“There is money in the budget to provide the level of service that is helpful for students. I feel that the level of service that they are providing with the current budget is not conducive to what students want,” Bhatt said. “The parking deck should not have been built if they couldn’t fund it. I don’t think students should have to pay for something that is a planning oversight.”
At the organizing meeting, students and UTMSU executives discussed potential points of negotiation. Among the ideas that came up, many were interested in the concept of reforming SARG guidelines and, furthermore, extending the amortization period to pay off the mortgage.
Taking sustainable concepts into consideration, students discussed proposing a change in the design of the parking lot. They suggested that parking on a diagonal would allow for more parking spaces, and therefore greater revenue from parking permits.
“You need to put something in the lobby document that will convince them [the administration] that there is an alternative,” suggested James Boutilier, an ECC member and student. “If there isn’t an alternative way to fund the parking structure, they have no choice but to vote in favour of the increase.”
The UTMSU urges students to attend the ECC meeting to hold the council fiscally responsible.
“I wanted more people to come out to today’s meeting,” said Munib Sajjad, UTMSU VP External. “We’ll be holding another meeting soon to collect more opinions for the lobby document and get more people involved.”
The Erindale College Council meeting will be held on January 26 at 3:15 p.m. in the Council Chambers of the Davis Building. Students who are interested can find more information about ECC on the UTM website.