Last year, former Student Body President Hogan Medlin and his executive board told Department of Public Safety officials that the five-year transportation plan was unacceptable and burdensome to students but say they were repeatedly ignored. Last week, students proved that these concerns were more than just talk by rejecting a proposed $14.50 increase to the student transportation fee. DPS needs to accept that rejection and find a revenue model that fairly incorporates student concerns.
Faced with a looming $6.1 million funding shortfall in 2015-16, brought on by ballooning debt loads and a $2.6 million increase in Chapel Hill Transit funding, DPS developed a five-year revenue model that was contingent upon heavy increases in student fees and parking permits. Despite very heavy opposition last year from Medlin and the Graduate and Professional Student Federation, the plan was rubber stamped by the Board of Trustees in March. Medlin was the lone dissenting vote.
Seven months later, students have turned from talk to action, trimming DPS’ first increase request by nearly 50 percent to $8.74.
While DPS officials may be “surprised” by this act, given Student Body President Mary Cooper’s near silence on the issue, it should come as no surprise to those who have been listening. Despite what DPS Chief Jeff McCracken may want to believe, the recent fee cut upholds a long-standing student commitment to defend student concerns.
Cooper needs to do a better job of communicating this fact to administrators or students are going to pay the price. If a harder line is not drawn, students will likely see larger fee increases next year, in addition to the inevitable tuition hikes.
The five-year transportation plan approved last year was controversial from the start. The plan calls for a new student night parking fee initiated in 2014-15 and new staff and faculty park-and-ride lot permits. It also increases the percent of Chapel Hill Transit costs paid by students from 33 percent to 46 percent by 2015.
Students are being forced to pay a larger share because DPS wants to cut its current parking subsidy of $1.5 million by $500,000. Subsidizing public transit through parking is a progressive policy that promotes public transportation without unduly burdening students. At a university with little parking, promoting public transportation should be a goal rather than a burden, but DPS seems to have a different point of view.
A lot is at risk with this change. Without the full $14.50 increase this year, UNC officials said Chapel Hill could be forced to cut lines and reduce operating hours, despite claims by DPS that the approved increase of $8.74 would maintain current services.
While it’s unclear if UNC’s contract with Chapel Hill Transit would allow such a reduction, what is clear is that DPS needs to begin considering other funding options, as student opposition to the plan is unlikely to subside in the near future. Extending the current parking subsidy would be a good place to start.