First World problem or price gouging?

Students in Fredericton are protesting the price of parking passes, saying an unpaved, potholed lot behind the Aitken Centre at the University of New Brunswick is frequently the only place to deposit their vehicles. 

Students have nicknamed the lot "Narnia," after the magical land created by C.S. Lewis, because of its far-flung location. For years, students have complained about fender-benders and bottlenecks in the lot during peak hours.

More than 300 students at St. Thomas University, UNB and New Brunswick Community College — the three schools share parking — have signed a petition started in early November by student Destiny Davidson of STU. 

Destiny Davidson

St. Thomas University student Destiny Davidson, who started the petition, says it's unacceptable that students are charged 'for a service we're not receiving.' She hopes to either get the lot paved, or the fees reduced, for the 2018-19 academic year. (Maria Jose Burgos / CBC)

"There's an issue with people getting boxed in, cars getting hit, parking too close, diagonally, any which way," said Davidson. "There are so many craters and potholes." 

"People's cars are being damaged because the area isn't paved and the rocks are flying up and hitting people's windshields."

While one could, theoretically, snag a good spot by arriving earlier on campus, Davidson said, students shouldn't have to show up hours before their classes to find parking.

"As students, we pay $113 for one semester to park in a gravel pit and encounter all of these issues," she said.

More passes than spaces

According to UNB spokesperson David Stonehouse, there are about 3,900 parking spaces on campus. In 2016-17 the school sold about 4,270 passes. 

"While last year more passes were sold at UNB than the total number of spaces on campus — less than 10 per cent — it is not uncommon to have more passes than spaces," Stonehouse said. "Keep in mind not all parking pass-holders are not on campus every day, and not every pass is for the full academic or calendar year but for shorter periods."

He said the school is conducting a review of on-campus parking.

"Preliminary work on the parking review suggests that spaces are available on campus, even at peak times."

NBCC Fredericton

A student makes her way to the parking lot behind the Aitken Centre, which is used by students at NBCC, STU, and UNB. (Maria Jose Burgos / CBC)

UNB says on its website that a one-term permit for a student costs $76, a two-term permit $113, a 10-month permit $135, and a three-term permit $163.

"A parking permit is no guarantee you will have a spot close to your classroom or place of work," says a notice on the website.

UNB said it is policy that the university has no legal or contractual obligation to provide parking and assumes no responsibility for any damages to vehicles.

The notice suggested that vacancies are often available at the BMO Centre lot below Tibbits East, the Aitken Centre lot, or the parking lot off University Avenue next to the Lady Beaverbrook Rink or the Currie Center.

'Totally unacceptable'

Considering some students can't afford a car, Davidson said, she's aware some might see complaints about a 15-minute walk to class as a First World problem.

"I guess in a way it is," she said, but added that a $113 fee is a "big deal" on a student budget. Improvements to the lot "would make it more justifiable to pay the high price."

Gravel parking lot

The gravel lot behind the Aitken Centre is used by students at two universities and the community college in Fredericton. A notice posted on UNB Fredericton’s website says 'a parking permit is no guarantee you will have a spot close to your classroom or place of work.' (Maria Jose Burgos / CBC)

The petition asks that the school either pave the Aitken Centre lot, or lower the fee for student parking passes, by the next academic year. A week and a half after the petition went live, more than 300 students had signed.

"Cutting the fee in half would make sense to me," Davidson said. "We're paying for a service that we're not getting."

"It's totally unacceptable."