August 5, 2020

By ANDREW SOULSBY

Drug deals, break and enters, thefts and students avoiding expensive parking permits are some of the things you’ll find at government-owned carpool lots.

“It scares me,” said Don Willis, director of Safety and Security Services at Conestoga College, as he explained some of the dangers of parking off campus.

At the beginning of the month, an email sent to every student at Conestoga advised them to remain alert when approaching their cars in these potentially dangerous areas. Willis said these areas are often used by opportunity seekers, knowing the owners of the cars won’t be back until much later.

Although the off campus parking lots are “not my responsibility,” Willis does worry about the students who use them. Through various channels, such as police constables, Willis has learned of several thefts in these lots including a laptop that was stolen from a student’s car.

For Doon and Cambridge campus students who return to their off-campus parked cars at night, the situation is especially precarious.

The carpool lot located at Fountain Street and Homer Watson Boulevard has one light, a payphone and a sign warning drivers to park at their own risk.

The Ministry of Transportation believes this level of security is sufficient.

The MTO “provides free carpool parking lots near dozens of highway interchanges throughout Ontario to serve commuters,” said Emna Dhahak, senior bilingual media liaison officer at the MTO.

“The lot located at the Highway 401 and Homer Watson Boulevard interchange is a very active lot and is equipped with our standard sentinel lighting. There is no charge for use of these unsupervised lots.”

She advised people with information about crimes occurring in these lots to contact police. However, therein lies another problem.

According to Olaf Heinzel, public affairs co-ordinator at the Waterloo Regional Police Service, incidents at carpool lots “is not a city issue,” because they are owned by the MTO, a provincial body, therefore they are patrolled by the OPP.

Const. Barb Kirkness of the Cambridge OPP disagreed. “We don’t do carpool lots,” saying the OPP’s jurisdiction is solely on highways and their respective ramps. “They’re not our responsibility.”

However, Kirkness said they patrol these lots on occasion and she would “send an email out to the detachment,” asking officers to increase the frequency of these patrols.

In September, Willis said he will try to deter students from parking off campus by advertising the safety of parking at Conestoga, where he says thefts are a rare occurrence. Students are not only paying for parking close to the school, they’re paying for “peace of mind,” he said.