On the morning of July 20, Virginia Tech students noticed a message regarding parking on campus and were outraged. Many fought for change immediately.
“As a Hokie alum, I am disappointed with what’s going on,” said Alexis Abell, a recently graduated senior. “The new parking situation doesn't seem fair to students or the town of Blacksburg.”
Virginia Tech decided to change its parking hours, requiring a permit to park on campus from 7 a.m.-10 p.m. seven days a week. While this decision was later modified to exclude weekends, many people are still calling for a change back to the original hours, requiring a pass until only 5 p.m on weekdays.
Taren Woelk, a recently graduated senior, received this news from the Virginia Tech Memes for chicken parm teens Facebook page, and immediately started a petition to reverse the decision. Within hours, it received thousands of signatures, and Virginia Tech slightly revised the parking decision to exclude weekends from these restrictions.
“I was definitely impressed with how quick people reacted to it,” Woelk said. “I was surprised that Virginia Tech did it so fast because they have a tendency to pretend that they can’t see things that are going on.”
Woelk, a former Blacksburg Transit driver, is concerned that this decision hurts drivers as well as the residents of Blacksburg.
“The original decision would have totally killed the farmers market, and with the new change it still kills weekday life downtown because people would not be able to park in the Squires lot, and now there’s a bigger (COVID-19) risk towards bus drivers as well as a lot more pressure on them,” Woelk said.
In a tweet, Virginia Tech stated, “By charging everyone that utilizes our services, we can strive to keep parking costs down for all.”
However, many Hokies who want the decision reversed cite high parking costs as the main issue.
“With COVID-19, people have even less money, so why would they make it impossible to go to the gym or the library, which we already have to pay for in fees unless we spend another 300-400 dollars on a parking pass?” said Taryn Hollis, a junior human nutrition, foods, and exercise major.
Keri Friedman, a senior studying natural resources conservation, has to work a full-time job and recently moved to Christiansburg because of high rent prices in Blacksburg.
“I think that the university is really screwing us over on this one,” Friedman said. “They are creating a problem so they can sell a solution and make big bucks off of students — many of whom have lost summer employment opportunities due to the virus.”
With Blacksburg Transit, now reducing bus capacity due to the pandemic, people are concerned if they have any realistic options to get to campus.
“What am I going to do if the bus is at capacity when I need to get on, miss my class?” Friedman said. “No professor will take that as an excuse, and now I don’t know how I’ll even afford to get to and from the campus of a university to whom I pay out-of-state tuition to attend.”
Many students were relatively fine with the original rules: no pass required after 5 p.m. It allowed people with evening classes to drive to campus without worrying about having to catch a bus, which is limited at night.
“It doesn’t feel like the university cares about my safety,” said Claire Hudson, a senior public relations major. “With the buses on reduced service, and [the inability to drive to campus anymore], I’m concerned that I’ll have to walk more than a mile home at night after my evening classes.”
The original rules also allowed many students to drive to campus to attend student organization meetings, many of which are held in the evening.
Hayleen Medina, a senior marketing major and president of the Japanese Cultural Association at Virginia Tech feels that these changes will only cause headaches for her organization.
“Even though the question of student organizations being able to hold meetings in the fall is still unclear, these restrictions would make our events even more out of reach for those who are unable to purchase a permit,” Medina said. “Our members and officers would have to carpool, take the bus, or be forced to walk. The transportation of props, decorations, or other supplies for events would also be restricted.”
Some may argue that these changes are in place to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. However, not only are they indefinite, but some say that it would lead to more safety concerns.
“By forcing people to buy parking passes to go on campus, people who don’t have the money will come into contact with a lot more people and surfaces [on public transport] than if they had just driven themselves like last year.” Hollis said. “If their true desire is to keep the Virginia Tech community safe and provide adequate services, the parking time should be adjusted back to free parking after 5 p.m.”
With the university’s handling of the pandemic, rising costs in tuition and the new parking changes, many Hokies are feeling betrayed by the school that they are having an increasingly harder time to love.
“It’s their responsibility to be there for us and to support us, but all they have been doing is taking advantage of us every chance they can get in order to line someone’s pockets,” Friedman said.
On its website, Virginia Tech cited that parking services must be self-funded. Woelk, who created the petition, argues that this burden should not be on our shoulders.
“The issue of parking services being required to be self-funded is an issue to fight the state on, not the students,” Woelk said.
As of the writing of this article, the petition to change the parking hours back to normal has more than 6,000 signatures. In a recent update from the Virginia Tech Daily, “All employees, students, and visitors will need to display a permit or pay a daily fee to park on the Blacksburg campus beginning Aug. 3, 7 a.m. - 10 p.m., Monday through Friday.”
“By charging all those who utilize parking services on campus, regardless of what time of day, Virginia Tech will actually be better able to keep parking costs down,” university spokesperson Mark Owczarski said in a statement made to the Roanoke Times. While Virginia Tech has released their Fall 2020 plans for parking, it is unclear whether they will move to restore this basic, limited freedom to its students.