Photo by Anna Meassick | Students parking at Wickford Junction must organize their day to the bus schedule.
The University of Rhode Island officially opened parking at off-campus locations, such as Wickford Junction, in response to the loss of parking spots due to construction across campus. However, the project has been off to a slow start. Approximately 50 students have taken the offer so far, according to Abigail Rider, vice president of administration and finance.
The program allows on-campus residents and commuters who turn in their permit to receive a $130 refund and a free RIPTA U-Pass, good for unlimited statewide travel. These students can park for free at the Wickford Junction parking garage in addition to free parking on-campus from 4:30 p.m. to 7 a.m. on weekdays and all day on weekends. Students that live off-campus who take the offer can park for free in a designated area at Schneider Electric in West Kingston and take a shuttle bus to and from campus on weekdays.
In addition to promoting sustainability, the program is part of the University’s transportation master plan: an effort to reduce the amount of vehicles coming to campus to make room for upcoming facilities such as the Brookside Apartments and the new engineering building.
“As we continue the Brookside Project and Bliss Hall starts, we’re going to have to take the rest of the dairy barn lot offline,” Rider said. “That’s another 200 spaces. We think that with the Schneider parking, what we have on campus right now, and the option for residents to park at Wickford Junction, it will be tight, but sufficient.”
Rider also thinks that many students that can benefit from the program are not taking advantage of it.
“A big majority of the students who bring their cars to campus are from Rhode Island,” Rider said. “You’d think well maybe it’d be the out-of-states, they drive here and love their cars, but actually the vast majority are Rhode Islanders and therefore many of them could take advantage of the RIPTA UPass.”
“We, in effect, added a new RIPTA bus-line. That’s something that’s not free,” Rider said. “We’re doing that and the reason is because we wanted to make sure if we’re going to say to people ‘look, it’d really be terrific if leave your car at home’ and that there really is another way to get here.”
Rider also explained why the University is not simply building more on-campus parking lots.
“A lot of land that was being banked for future growth in the form of parking lots is now being used,” Rider said. “And so the immediate solution of course is ‘oh just build another parking lot’ with people pointing vaguely in the direction of the Ryan Center or beyond. But in fact there are two things down there: our athletic fields and our watershed. So we don’t have unlimited expansion out to the railroad tracks for parking.”
According to Rider, RIPTA was hoping “the UPass use would be higher than it has been.” However, RIPTA will continue to promote the deal and remains optimistic.
“We’re excited to be partnering with URI about this and hope that more students leave their comfort zone with their cars,” said Barbara Polichetti, director of public affairs for RIPTA. “There’s a nationwide love affair with the automobile, and we hope people will step out of their comfort zone and see if [the program] works for them”
When asked about concerns about the reliability of RIPTA buses, Polichetti responded, “Our buses are very reliable. One thing people forget about bus transportation is that we are not rail, and do not have a designated railway free of traffic. They do travel in traffic, and it can affect your bus time. People unfairly compare bus performance with rail performance, but compared to other bus companies, we are very reliable.”
Student reaction to the new plan has been mixed. Sophomore Amelia Lusi, a commuter, prefers to park on-campus.
“[Parking on campus] just made more sense to me,” said Lusi. “That’s what I know and I’m used to that.”
“I didn’t take the Wickford Junction deal because I already paid my, what, $290 for my parking pass, so I feel like there should be enough parking for everyone,” said Anthony Olivieri, a freshman resident. “And for that I use my car a lot, I don’t want to have to take the RIPTA to North Kingstown and go out of my way to school. It’d mean more commuting for us. And we also already pay thousands of dollars in tuition.”
David Fraioli, a freshman who also lives on campus, claims this solution does not address the problem of a growing student population.
“We already didn’t have enough parking as it was, and I understand that we have a growing population and a need for more dorms, but the more dorms we’ll have, the more cars we’ll have, and the bigger the issue will be.”
Sophomore Declan O’Donnell was offered the new RIPTA service when he was unable to buy a parking permit. Although O’Donnell has yet to use the new bus service and parks his personal car at a friend’s house, he said “I like having the ability to bring my car there [Wickford Junction] for free. And I can take the bus around the state for free.”
When asked if he would take the UPass offer again next semester, O’Donnell responded; “I’m probably going to live off campus next semester, so I’d rather park in the lot. I’m not going to go twenty minutes out my way to park at Wickford Junction to commute.”