Parking lots of annoyance

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By Gina Puzzuoli

It’s a story of pains, trains and automobiles.

Cash-strapped students are surprised by the steep transportation and parking costs needed to attend school on a daily basis; especially since they already pay more than $5,000 in tuition fees.

“As far as I’m concerned, parking is a perk for students. Those who can afford to park will, and those who can’t, won’t,” said John Corallo, director of ancillary services, who is also responsible for the supervision of parking facilities and fees.

This response perks the ire of students who have already expressed their dissatisfaction with the parking situation on campus.

A 2002 Ryerson survey, conducted under the guidance of the Canadian Undergraduate Survey Consortium, found that 80 per cent of undergrads thought student parking needed improvement.

“I wouldn’t drive because of traffic, but mostly because of the high cost of parking,” said third-year ITM student Ali Wadee as he rode the GO train in from Brampton.

According to geographical statistics on the Ryerson Web site, Wadee is one of 5,838 students who come from the outlying regions of Durham, Halton, Peel and York. These students are at a significant financial disadvantage because of parking and related transportation costs.

Rick Dunlop, who works in construction and parks at the Victoria Street lot every day, said he has no problems paying the parking bill at the end of the day.

“I don’t think it’s too bad here, but we [construction workers] are making a lot of money,” he said.

The same cannot be said of most students. Those who must commute can reach the university by car, GO Transit, or the TTC. For some, taking transit is not an option because of inconvenient bus and train schedules, long commuting hours, and a lack of easy access to routes. Personal considerations such as physical disabilities or children may also make driving the best alternative.

Terry Marks, who works in the Office for University Advancement, is in that situation. “I need to get to work on time and I sometimes keep off-regular work hours, plus I have a child,” Marks said.

If public transit isn’t an option, students are forced to find parking downtown. However, finding affordable parking is a fool’s errand. Private parking lots around the school offer minimum rates of $8 from 6 a.m. – 6 p.m., with additional charges thereafter. Assuming a student will attend school five days a week for the entire academic year, from September to April, this cost comes to a surprising minimum of $1,120. It should be noted that this amount does not cover related expenses such as gas, wear-and-tear on the vehicle, and the high insurance costs that come with being under the age of 25.

To park on campus at the various Ryerson-owned and operated lots, students are expected to pay $1,113.20 (tax included) for a parking permit. This permit only spans the academic year and doesn’t take into account the fact that a student may not be parking at school five days a week, or parking for the full 12 hours.

The Victoria Street lot, situated next to the bookstore, has 626 parking spaces in it. Assuming they are all sold to students, at a bare minimum the complex would generate $696,863 a year.

Corallo could not specify how much money the lots make, or exactly where it goes. He would only say that the money collected is used to “pay for the mortgages on Ryerson buildings.”

According to the University’s financial statements, Ryerson’s two main mortgages in buildings are for the International Living and Learning Centre and Pitman Hall.

In 2002, Ryerson paid $300,000 for the mortgage on the International Living and Learning Centre on Mutual Street. Last year, Ryerson paid $500,000 in accordance with the mortgage agreement, and will pay the same amount until it has finished paying off the $6,500,000 debt on the student residence.

Pitman Hall’s mortgage doesn’t take effect until Nov. 1, 2010. Once the mortgage kicks in, Ryerson will have to make semi-annual payments in order to cover the $26,500,000 debt on the residence, which was named after Ryerson’s former president Walter Pitman.

Corallo’s assistant Elizabeth Yousif stressed that although the cost may seem high, it is relatively competitive with other lots because it allows “unrestricted access seven days a week.”

A quick cost-comparison to the University of Toronto Web site lists a reserved surface spot at the St. George campus at approximately $595 for the academic year. That’s almost half the yearly cost of parking at Ryerson.

When asked about the cost discrepancy between the schools, Ryerson President Claude Lajeunesse said “if you compare [Ryerson to other universities], in some cases these institutions don’t have the type of debt Ryerson has, so we try to cover that.”

He added that Ryerson is a downtown campus with easy access to subway, but didn’t see the U of T in the same light.

“But the U of T is not in the middle of Toronto,” Lajeunesse said. “If you think that’s downtown, I won’t argue with you on that.

“They have more space than we do, they have more land than we do, we’re very crammed and we’re setting our prices in line with the surrounding prices.”

Lajeunesse said if Ryerson didn’t use the parking fees and other money it makes from its ancillary services (parking, residences, cafeterias) it would have to dip into its other sources of revenue. Last year, Ryerson made a $2,285,000 profit from its ancillary services, and it was transferred to pay off debts.

“But if we don’t use that [parking lot fees], then we’ll have to use other types of income that we have and I’d rather have parking support itself rather than have the university use some of its other money to support parking.

“If your ancillary doesn’t break even, that means that you have to use other revenues to support ancillaries.”

If you’re not interested in paying Ryerson’s debt, and walking just won’t do, GO Transit may be the best alternative. The GO offers a student rate on monthly passes and a 10-ride pass. A monthly pass allows unrestricted travel to and from a pre-determined stop and a 10-ride pass allows a student 10 trips to and from their pre-determined stop.

Depending on the point of departure and arrival, these passes can cost between $80-$140. This amount comes to $560-$980 for the academic year, a significant consideration for students on a tight budget.

This calculation doesn’t take into account the additional cost incurred if the TTC is used to travel from your GO stop to the campus. A student monthly pass on the TTC is only available through RyeSAC at a cost of $87, which comes to $522 for the academic year.

What do all these numbers mean? Simple: students who use both GO Transit and the TTC can budget for an additional $1,082 to $1,502 in commuting costs.

However, there is some good news. Students who apply for OSAP can include a small portion of travel costs on their application. Depending on conditions, up to $66 a month can be claimed.

Despite all the protests over cost, a dismissive attitude seems prevalent when questions are raised. “People complain all the time, but they’d complain if it was $2 to park,” said a parking attendant at the Victoria Street lot who didn’t want to be named.

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