A walk through the Milton-Parc neighbourhood during the morning rush to class comes with countless stressors. When pushing past droves of slow walkers and dodging traffic on University Street, it can feel like the entire student body is travelling by foot, and they’re all in your way. However, according to a 2011 McGill Transportation Survey, 17 per cent of students travel to campus by car during the winter. And for them, commuting comes with a whole new set of challenges.
Melissa Paris St-Amour, U3 Environment, is no stranger to this reality. During the 2016-17 school year, she often drove her car between her home, downtown, and the MacDonald campus. St-Amour frequently faced many issues when driving to school, including navigating downtown traffic and hunting for street parking. Despite these difficulties, taking her car was often more convenient than traveling via public transit, with the closest metro station to her home being a 20-minute bus ride away.
“I used to take my car a lot, but [now] with all the construction, it’s almost impossible,” St-Amour said. “The traffic is insane. You never know which streets are blocked […and] it’s very slippery.”
Though convenient for students living in areas with limited public transit, driving in Montreal is no easy feat. Traffic conditions during rush hour can be hectic, and the roads can be downright dangerous in the wintertime. After moving to Laval, and closer to a metro station, St-Amour has stopped driving her car to school altogether.
“[Now], the nearest metro [station from my house] is Montmorency [in] Laval,” St-Amour said. “I prefer taking the metro, [as] it would take me about the same time [.…] It’s about 45 minutes [by metro], and 40 minutes with my car, but I have to [park and] pay for parking.”
Athar Qureshi, U3 Engineering, also commutes to school by car from time to time when he’s not biking or busing from his home in the Plateau. While he prefers biking to school, Qureshi drives if he needs to go somewhere else during the day. However, doing so comes with a large price.
“I live in the Mile End so, for me, it’s easy to commute to school,” Qureshi said. “I [mostly] bike because it’s faster than taking the bus […] I [also] pay $125 a month for two [parking] spots [in the Milton-Parc neighbourhood].”
Parking is another issue McGill students must take into consideration when deciding to drive to school. Getting a parking permit for one of McGill’s parking lots by McIntyre, Bronfman, Burnside, Education, and Sherbrooke 680 buildings are competitive for both students and staff. Permits are only issued to those who satisfy certain criteria, including those who live in an area where public transit is limited, are pregnant, or require parking due to extenuating circumstances. And, though Qureshi’s monthly fee seems steep, McGill parking lots are even higher. For students, permits add up to $571 per semester, or $200 per month.
In order to bypass these costs, commuters like Qureshi and St-Amour have to park off campus instead, meaning they need to get downtown earlier than the average student.
“[Students] who normally drive to school park in the ghetto,” Qureshi said. “[Spots start filling up] from 7 a.m. to 8 a.m., depending on where your classes are. If you’re parking in the ghetto, there’s free parking on the edge of every street.”
Students unwilling to compete with others for an off-campus parking spot or pay for expensive parking passes may consider alternative means.
“Lots of students I know that occasionally drive in will park their cars illegally in McGill parking lots,” Qureshi said. “McGill parking will give them citations but no actual fine. But every once in awhile the city cops come [and give] you a ticket. A lot of people will play this gamble. I myself have done that in the past and eventually I got a ticket, so I stopped.”
From hefty fines to long traffic lines, driving to school is a burdensome process that leaves many students wondering what their other travel options are.
“I don’t think commuting [by car] is ideal,” Qureshi said. “It can [take a lot of time] and parking can be competitive [….] But I don’t [really] have a choice.”