The Daily Tar Heel

Serving the students and the University community since 1893

Wednesday December 7th

Students seek spot in transportation talks

Lack representative despite high costs

As a sophomore in 2010, Deanna Santoro filled out and submitted an application to join the Chapel Hill transportation board.

After an interview, she was approved. Only the Town Council could stop her.

Board members

Members of the transportation board are listed below. None are students.

  • Jonathan DeHart
  • Whit Rummel
  • Carol Hazard
  • Sarah McIntee
  • Augustus Cho, chairman
  • Matthew Scheer, vice chairman
  • Mirta Mihovilovic
  • Laurin Easthom, Town Council liaison
  • Steve Spade, transportation department

And it did.

In an email, the council told her she was denied without providing a reason, Santoro said.

“I was not asked to even appear before the council when they made their decision,” she said.

Santoro said her experience — and those of other students — is symptomatic of a chronic underrepresentation of students on the board, one that is becoming more disheartening as students pay a higher percentage of the Chapel Hill transit system’s costs.

Under the five-year transportation plan passed Thursday by the Board of Trustees, students will pay about 40 percent of the system’s costs — an increase of about 10 percent from the current system.

But none of the transportation board’s nine members are students. The board has two vacancies.

Augustus Cho, chairman of the board, said the board deals with all aspects of the town, not just University issues — and that might be why the council hasn’t approved student members.

“Sometimes, students try to come into the force with a UNC agenda and that’s just too limiting,” Cho said. “The responsibility of a board member affects all taxpaying residents of Chapel Hill.”

Santoro said Andrew Lu, a student who applied directly after her, was also rejected.

“We didn’t even get a chance to talk to the town council or discuss it with them,” Santoro said.

Concerns about the lack of student representation on the board surfaced after the Board of Trustees voted in favor of implementing a five-year overhaul of the University’s transportation system Thursday.

The plan looks to offset an expected $6.1 million in added operational costs by increasing the student transportation fee by $14 annually, beginning this fall. The plan will also institute a series of other new fees and permit costs.

Outgoing student body president Hogan Medlin, who cast the sole dissenting vote on the measure at the board’s meeting Thursday, said the fee increase is another reason students deserve a vote on the Chapel Hill transportation board.

With a seat on the board, Medlin said students would have more of a voice about routes and bus schedule times.

Dakota Williams, student body treasurer, said students should embrace the higher fees and advocate for better representation.

“If we’re paying 41 percent … there is no excuse for a student not to be on that board,” he said.

“Those decisions need to be made by the people who are paying for them, which is students more than ever,” he added.

At the beginning of each meeting, Santoro said the transportation board addresses member issues.

“They go around and say, ‘Is there anything you experienced this week using the transit system that the board needs to know?’” she said.

Since no students sit on the board, some problems go unanswered, she said.

“If they’re not taking student routes, then those issues don’t come to light,” she said. “There’s an overwhelming student presence that is not reflected in the town government at all.”

The position requires a three-year commitment to semimonthly meetings.

“Some of these issues are long-term problems that require long-term obligations,” Cho said.

Santoro said while the council might have had legitimate reasons for blocking her appointment, the lack of student representation on the board remains an issue.

“The town has repeatedly and consistently said ‘no,’” she said. “People heard about me applying and Andrew trying, and they’ve been discouraged to try to apply.”

Jeff McCracken, chief of police and director of the Department of Public Safety, said students should “absolutely” have input on the board.

“I’ve had discussions with the town about that, and we’re doing what we can to facilitate that and I’m sure it will happen,” he said.

“We’ll be working to see if we can get somebody on there.”

Cho said he is open to having students serve on the board.

“I would welcome their input and I would welcome any other organizational input,” he said.

Contact the University Editor at university@dailytarheel.com.

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