I’ve heard many students complain that UFV is a “commuter campus”— an image they want to shed. And in the past I have also read suggestions to scrap (or at least greatly curtail) the U-Pass program by students who feel they aren’t getting value out of it. The sad fact of the matter is that we can’t have it both ways. Either we accept and embrace UFV’s nature as a commuter campus and make all necessary provisions for those commuters, or we reject it and drive away students who would gladly attend if only they had the means to get here.
You see, I do not own a car, I do not have a driver’s license, and I do not live in Abbotsford. In the Fraser Valley community, both on campus and off, the culture and infrastructure is very much centred around automobile users. In Chilliwack, where I live, there is shockingly little provision made for pedestrians. Even something as simple as sidewalks are lacking in many areas. Little snubs like these probably go over the heads of motorists, but to myself and other pedestrians, it feels like we are second-class citizens who are not needed or wanted in our community. I could go on, but suffice it to say, the local bus system is the only thing that allows me to get around. Without the U-Pass subsidizing my transit use, attending university would be considerably more difficult and expensive, and I would be forced to rethink attending at all.
The problem is, for a university that allegedly serves the entire Fraser Valley region, UFV’s facilities and programs are heavily centralized at the Abbotsford campus. To some extent, this is understandable, since Abbotsford is the largest city in the Fraser Valley, and the local campus is within reach of the most students. Yet this focus on Abbotsford places an unequal burden on students who commute long distance, or who do so using public transit. Since most classes and extracurricular activities require that we make the journey to and from the Abbotsford campus, we are subject to additional loss of time and energy, which means we have less of it to do productive work, or get a decent night’s sleep (for those taking morning classes). This also creates a barrier for those who would otherwise be willing to participate in university culture, since the long commute to and from the event counters any satisfaction we might get from it.
I hope that the UFV community as whole would be willing to lend assistance to those less conveniently situated than the average student. Thankfully, it appears that the Student Union Society is doing just that. Things like building in-house fitness facilities and programs at Chilliwack, and adding an additional shuttle to the Langley-Abbotsford route go a long way towards showing that commuter students are valued members of the UFV community, and this makes our lives just a little bit more pleasant. I hope that this attention to the experience beyond Abbotsford continues with more and increasingly diverse facilities, courses, services, and events.
Being a commuter campus is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we are willing to make it work for all of us.