Blogs are opinion pieces and reflect their author’s views

It’s not easy being green…

Written by: Herb Emery

It’s not easy being green…

There is a lot of excitement in Fredericton and on campus at UNB with the election of a Green Party Member of Parliament.  Voters in the riding have signaled that addressing the climate emergency is of high importance when you consider the combined Liberal and Green party vote shares.  That Green carried the day means that we need to do more than the Federal Liberal Government’s Backstop Carbon Price.

But addressing the climate emergency is just one problem that we as a society need to tackle.  There are two other prominent policies affecting students at UNB – the high cost of education including tuition and inconvenient on campus parking.  We have a teachable moment.

Compared to 30 years ago when I was an undergraduate student in Ontario and today, Canadian university students have a high rate of car ownership and generally drive to campus much more than in the past. Some of this reflects that as tuition costs went up, more students chose to attend universities close to where they went to high school and commute from home rather than rent or pay for residence accommodation.

It’s hard to imagine a worse asset for a student to own than a car.  It depreciates in value and is often debt financed meaning inflexible monthly payments.  There are costs of insurance, maintenance, fuel and of course parking.  And the fuel they use is gasoline from which we must transition away.  And students in big cities have done this as they have been much more forward thinking in their use of transit, bicycles and living walking distance to where they go to class.

To address the climate emergency, improve affordability of the investment in university education and solve the campus parking problem we need to help students transition away from their dependence on their cars and embrace alternative ways to live.  Students aren’t really impacted by income taxes so we need another way to help them with this transition.

I would start this revolution by immediately raising the price for parking on campus at UNB and not incrementally like the Liberal carbon pricing scheme, but abruptly to force the transition as Green Party leader Elizabeth May advocates.  I assume that STU will recognize the importance of harmonizing its parking policies with UNB’s given what is at stake.

At UNB, the daily rate for parking in a surface lot is $5 per day.  If you parked every day of the four month teaching term, say 20 days per month, the cost of parking for a student or faculty member for the teaching terms, or 8 months, would be around $800.  If a student pays for an 8 month parking permit, in 2019 that cost was $119.  A faculty member pays $180 for an 8 month parking pass.  I think you can see that parking at UNB for pass holders is pretty cheap and encourages dependence on cars.

At the University of Calgary where I used to work, the daily rate for parking ranges from $8 to $22.50 depending on the lot location. Two terms of parking on campus have permit cost of about $1100 plus GST, and around $560 plus GST for more distant “park and ride” lots with access to transit. For students in residence, parking in a surface lot for two terms will cost you $880 plus GST.  At the University of Calgary, all students have a low cost transit pass as part of their student fees, but even at these rates, there are daily line ups for convenient parking and wait lists for permits.

So to solve our three problems by getting students to give up their cars, or at least not bring them to campus as a good start, we need to go even higher on parking fees than we see at the University of Calgary.  Daily rates of $20 and $3200 per year for a UNB parking permit might do the trick.  If this works, and we see less need or demand for on campus parking, then we can rip up the lots and plant trees or other flora to act as a carbon sink.  Note, if this works, then students will not have to pay these high parking costs and they can use the money they would otherwise spend on parking to stimulate better transit service to the campus or pay for higher rent apartments closer to campus.

If you are worried that those parking rates are regressive, meaning a bigger burden on lower income students, then let’s charge UNB Faculty higher parking prices than that.  Do not under any circumstances use those monies to transfer to students to dull the pain of parking costs or you will undo the incentive for behavioral change. Instead, use the increased parking revenues to fund research and development into alternative fuels and modes of transportation for Fredericton.

What I heard from the leader of the Green Party in this election is that dealing with the climate emergency requires leadership and it requires dramatic and immediate societal change.  We can’t let the inaction of others stand in our way of making the changes the globe needs us to make.  We need to wean ourselves off of our fossil fuel dependence today to spur the changes in alternative energy sources, transportation infrastructure and locations where we can sustainably live.  And don’t use the threats that students will choose to go elsewhere where parking is cheaper and more convenient, or Faculty who threaten to leave for Universities that pay more and charge less for parking.  We need to remind them to make the right choices for solving these problems.

It’s time for our educated young voters to show leadership in this way and demand that UNB raise the cost of parking on campus to $20 a day, or $3200 per year.  No one said it was going to be easy being Green but we can do this and we don’t need to wait for the government.


Herb Emery is a Research Fellow at The School of Public Policy