The University of Washington is not commuter-friendly
Despite being a prominent university with over 45,000 enrolled students, it lacks accessible resources for its commuter population.
By Chloe Sarmiento
According to the University of Washington 2022 Transportation Survey, 43% of the student population lives off-campus.
Being a commuter student is by no means easy. There are many cons to commuting, including feeling socially disconnected from the college lifestyle, adjusting your sleep schedule to accommodate for the travel time, and having to financially compensate for different factors, like parking or transit fare. The biggest push that students may face in favor of commuting versus living on campus is being able to save money.

The traditional definition of a commuter student is one who does not live in an institution-owned residence on campus. This entails those living with their parents and those living in housing near the campus. A majority of the University of Washington (UW) students live on campus, but students living off-campus live an average distance of 8.77 miles away from the university, according to the report.
Annual Cost Breakdown For The University of Washington
For the 2022-23 academic year
  • Resident Tuition + Fees
  • Non-Resident Tuition + Fees
Fees include: Building Fee, Facilities Renovation Fee, IMA Bond Fee, Operating Fee, Services and Activities Fee, Technology Fee, and U-PASS

Although commuting to school may be a substantial barrier for students, the UW does not put in any effort to make it more accessible.

The designated student commuter lot is "Parking Lot E18," as it is the cheapest at $7.25 a day. However, the lot is nearly a mile away from the central point of campus. For any lot closer to campus, like the Central Plaza Garage under Meany Hall, students can expect to pay a date rate of $18.75.

During the 2019-20 school year, parking at E18 was cheaper, at $6.75, and it continues to rise each year. Continuing the trend, on March 10, 2022, The University of Washington Board of Regents approved a 4% increase in UW Seattle parking rates for the 2022-23 fiscal year.

Moreover, those who take public transit, like the King County Metro Bus System or the Sound Transit Light Rail, often save money from the U-PASS included in their tuition and loaded directly onto their student identification card.

The U-PASS allows for transportation opportunities across regional buses, commuter trains, light rail, and water taxis, granting them unrestricted access to unlimited rides.

However, commutes using public transit often double travel times, considering the frequent stops it has to make until its destination, and also isn't the safest option.

The Sound Transit Light Rail was involved in 92 different collisions from 2015-2021, according to the Federal Transit Administration. The data also included 21 injuries and deaths.

The 15th Ave. and 45th St. bus stop in Seattle, Thursday, June 1, 2023. (Photo by Chloe Sarmiento)
The 15th Ave. and 42nd St. bus stop in Seattle on Thursday, June 1, 2023. King County Metro bus on Route 20 pictured in the back has stops along the University District near UW, but does not stop through campus. (Photo / Chloe Sarmiento)
47.6% of UW students use motorized transportation at least once a week to get to school, according to the report.
The E18 parking lot remains mostly full of cars in Seattle on Thursday, June 1, 2023. The lot is open to commuters, but often closes during game days, leaving commuters having to find somewhere else to park during those times. (Photo / Chloe Sarmiento)
Second-year psychology major, Shaun Jumawan, commutes from Auburn. Auburn is about 30 miles away from UW and the commute takes Jumawan around 40 minutes one-way.

He frequently parks at the E18 commuter lot, but emphasizes the far walk from the lot to campus. Jumawan mentioned that having classes on west campus requires taking a bus, due to how far it is from the lot.

"The walk from an E18 isn't the best. It's pretty far away from the school," Jumawan said. "Also, walking in the morning, [when] you have an 8:30 a.m. class, and you're tired, is not great"
A four-way crosswalk next to The Hans Rosling Center for Population Health on west campus in Seattle on Thursday, June 1, 2023. The building is 1.2 miles away from the E18 lot and is nearly a 20-minute walk or 13-minute bus trip. (Photo / Chloe Sarmiento)
Associated Students of The University of Washington (ASUW) President, Timothy Billing, was unable to speak in person but discussed UW commuter student advocacy over email.

"When it comes to what ASUW does, we do not have a specific program or office dedicated for commuter students... We have an undergraduate transfer student advocacy committee that helps focus on Transfer student issues that also impact commuter students," Billing said. "One recommendation they had was to create a Transfer Student Office within ASUW to advocate for Transfer Students. In my opinion, it would also make sense to include a position dedicated to commuter students. Creating an office is a multiple-year process so it is something that will need more work."

Billing also noted that frequent complaints from commuters include having to still pay for the UPASS despite solely driving to campus, the lack of showers and lockers in the Intramural Activities Building (IMA), and that the Commuter & Transfer Commons (CTC) closed too early.
Shreya Lakshmi, a second-year global health major at UW, struggles with balancing a long commute to campus and a socially thriving college experience.
Lakshmi commutes to campus from Woodinville, which is about 17 miles away from the university.
Her commute starts with her mother dropping her off at UW Bothell and from there she rides the entire 372 bus line to UW Seattle. This adds about an hour to Lakshmi's daily routine. Her current schedule includes a morning class and an afternoon class, leaving a block of time in-between lectures. During this time, she tries to find ways to fill the time, as it isn't feasible to go home and go back to campus.

"I frequently try to visit the CTC," Lakshmi said. "I don't know of any other resources beyond that."
The truth is, there aren't any other resources at UW other than the CTC.

Other schools, like Seattle University and Wentworth Institute of Technology provide meal plans, designated showers, commuter networking events, and more for their commuter population.

Lakshmi also described her disconnect from campus life, sharing that the Registered Student Organizations (RSO) often run late into the evening and don't consider that commuter students don't feel safe taking public transit during those times. In turn, this leaves students feeling like they're missing out on the "college experience" and disconnects them socially from their school.
When it comes to clubs, some I can't do because they go way too late, and I can't commute home as it's just not safe for me during that time.
—Shreya Lakshmi
Inside the King County Metro bus on Route 372 in Seattle on Thursday, June 1, 2023. The 372 is one of the only routes that travels through the UW campus. (Photo / Chloe Sarmiento)
Commuter resources at UW are mainly coordinated by First Year Programs (FYP). The goal of FYP at UW is to help incoming students with their transition to the school and provide resources for students to academically thrive.

Vy Nguyen, an employee under FYP, explained that the only resource available to commuter students is the CTC. She agreed that commuting at UW is not the most accessible nor is it an ideal situation, given the lack of resources.

"As for other commuter resources, I don't really know a ton," Nguyen said. "It definitely is hard as a commuter student and I know that UW can do better."
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