UBC's decision to stay open on snowy days frustrates commuter students

UBC’s decision to keep classes open for part of last week despite snowfall has sparked criticisms among many commuter students.

Last week, Metro Vancouver was hit by one of the largest snowfalls in recent memory, creating major delays for transit across the Lower Mainland. That made getting to campus extremely difficult for commuters, many of whom didn’t even attempt to make it to class.

“Basically, I didn’t even try going to school,” said third-year English and history student Sara Finnegan.

“My closest SkyTrain stations [is] Lougheed, so it takes me an hour and a half to get to campus on a good day. Around 9 a.m. there was a massive line just to get into the station, let alone get on a train.”

According to UBC’s 2017 transportation report, transit accounts for 52 per cent of all trips to campus. The number of transit trips taken to campus each year has grown over 300 per cent over the last two decades.

For many of those commuters, the build-up of snow made it nearly impossible for them to get to campus. In other parts of the Lower Mainland such as Surrey, the snow had already built up by Monday morning.

“Where I live, we had more than two feet of snow so we were very surprised UBC decided not to cancel," said Jag Mangat, a commuter student.

“I feel like UBC should consider the weather in places outside of Vancouver, ... I know a lot of people that did not go since their parents would not let them drive from Surrey.”

UBC did decide to cancel classes on February 12, which was announced the evening before. But many students were annoyed that the decision for the following day wasn’t announced until the morning of.

“The other thing about that is [that] so many of [UBC's] students are coming from so far away, they really need to be telling us before 6 a.m.,” said Scott Russel, a second-year masters candidate.

“This has to be a night before decision.”

According to UBC’s snow day policy, the school must share a decision on whether it will cancel classes by 6 a.m. that day. But for commuters like Mangat who commute over an hour on a regular day, that’s too late to make it to an 8 a.m. class if the roads are rough.

Dr. Pamela Ratner, the Vice Provost and AVP Enrolment and Academic Facilities, says the decision on whether to cancel classes involves a variety of factors including transit, organizational capacity and staff feedback.

“...The primary factor we always think about first is student, faculty, and staff safety – this is by far the most important consideration for us,” she said in a statement to The Ubyssey.

“Ultimately, any decisions around cancellation of classes is made following input from a variety of staff from across the university who can provide specific insight about each of these factors.”

Commuters interviewed for this article stressed that more transparency and better communication should be a priority for the school in case of bad weather next winter.

“If the university administration can be more transparent and involved with its students in making decisions like these, I think that the community would become more cohesive and cooperative,” said Aaron Tronaes, a third-year arts student.

“There is always a human element that policies are unable to take into account, and I think involving genuinely concerned students in the decision, whether it be through a poll or consultations, would be a good step forward."