By Jennifer Lugo – Collegiate Staff
Citing safety concerns, Grand Rapids Community College administrators revised the college’s vehicle transportation policy.
Beginning this academic year, staff and students no longer have the option of using the college’s 15-passenger vans for any reason.
GRCC Communications Director Leah Nixon said a committee completed a comprehensive review of the van program and shared it with the president’s cabinet.
“Based on the research data, President Ender and the cabinet made the decision to discontinue use of 15-passenger vans for any student transportation,” Nixon said.
Tina Hoxie, Associate Provost and Dean of Student Affairs, said safety comes first.
“In reviewing this policy, they began to look at all the things we should consider when providing the 15-passenger vans in terms of safety, and then made the decision that we would no longer use them for safety purposes,” Hoxie said.
Lisa Freiburger, Vice President of Finance and Administration, explained that the college will still utilize af of the vans, while selling some of the older ones that aren’t as efficient.
“As we continue to watch across the country, potential issues, concerns, and warnings about 15-passenger vans, we really just want to err on the side of caution,” Freiburger said.
The remaining vans will not be used by students, including sports teams and GRCC will no longer be servicing them. Instead, they will be used for maintenance and other purposes around the college.
Some student organizations think this puts limitations on what students can do and are worried about increasing travel costs and wanted to know what other options exist.
“I think it makes it difficult for clubs and staff to transport things without the use of those vans,” said Sarah Vansolkema, president of the ‘Stand-Out’ committee said. “Cost of transportation for faculty groups and clubs will cost more now and I’m sure the money for those things (is) already enough.”
Student Alliance brought up carpooling and vehicle renting. If carpooling, organizations can turn in gas receipts and transportation could be paid for out of the organization or club’s funds. Car rentals can be tricky,though, as most rental places have a minimum age of 25 to rent a vehicle.
GRCC has partnered with Great Lakes Motorcoach, Compass Motor Coach, Dean Transportation and Cardinal Charters & Tours to provide service to staff and students.
“If a student organization wants to take a trip, we would look to coordinate bus transportation, air transportation or train transportation,” Hoxie said. This includes all groups including athletic, performing arts and other organizations. The funds would have to be accounted for from the group’s budget.
If student groups need help with the additional costs of these services, they can ask Student Life.
“Certainly the Student Life office will work this year with student organizations that they find that there’s a circumstance where they need assistance with additional fundraisers,” Hoxie said. “All student organizations have access to those (extra) allocated funds.”
Hoxie explained that not many student groups took advantage of the vans in the past, but the performing arts groups did.
There is more of an impact in the performing arts groups than in student organizations, as they have utilized the vans more through their having large groups like choirs. Kevin Dobreff, the head of the music department at GRCC, feels conflicted by the change .
“I completely support the decision of the college, the board of trustees and the president to decommission the fleet of 15-passenger vans because of the safety issue,” Dobreff said. “However it puts us in a difficult position to request additional funding to support our recruitment efforts that require… our ensembles (to) travel to local high schools.”
The ensembles that travel have larger groups of students, and that’s not including staff.
“The college choir has anywhere from 50-80 students,” Dobreff said.
It will be difficult to find funding for these groups, requiring more fundraising.
Freiburger understands that there may very well be extra costs involved with the new forms of transportation.
“We really need to get through a year to determine what that cost will be moving forward and we will adjust budgets appropriately,” Freiburger said. “It is not a cost savings measure at all. My guess is that it will probably wind up costing the institution a lot more. But then again, safety is paramount, so that’s okay.”
“We live in a state where weather is an issue a larger number of months than we’d like it to be,” Hoxie said. and so again, it’s that ability of people being qualified to use the vans in all weather conditions and then what do we do to make sure that students are safe,” Hoxie said.
To Hoxie, using smaller vehicles, trains, buses, and planes are just safer routes.
“When you weigh cost versus safety, safety should win out,” Hoxie said.