Transportation ideas discussed

Senate reviews IC, Panhel, IFC influence, effectiveness

On Monday, the Student Senate discussed the possibility of a car-sharing program at RPI. Possible changes to the Rensselaer Union that would affect the Senate as a whole were also discussed. None of these changes have been put into effect yet; both discussions were meant to gauge the thoughts of senators on the issues at stake and provide feedback for those heading the committees in charge of the projects.

The meeting started off with Grand Marshal Chuck Carletta ’14 announcing two replacement Class of 2014 senators, Clinton Mathai ’14 and Ernesto Villasenor ’14. During the opening minutes of the meeting, Shoshana Rubinstein ’16 also updated the Senate on the awards event discussed the previous week. Rubinstein said that “the event is no longer going to be administration-focused” and will instead focus on the Union. The event will be held with Union After Dark next semester. Carletta said the awards would likely be given to those with “outstanding commitment to RPI.”

Tina Gilliland ’15 then led a discussion on the feasibility and need for a car-sharing program at RPI. Looking into car-sharing has been one of the Facilities and Services Committee’s main initiatives this semester. Gilliland pointed out that car-sharing is different from rental cars; car-sharing programs often include gas and insurance. Car-sharing programs also tend to be self-service, commonly operated by mobile smart phones, as opposed to rental cars which require renters to go in and talk to people at the office every time. Students would become members of the program through an annual fee and would be provided a card, which can be used to unlock and use the vehicle they get from the company.

The senators started out by discussing what groups of students might benefit from car-sharing. Some of the groups named included underclassmen without cars, international students, and students from further away. Potential reasons students may use the cars include people whose cars have broken down, people with a health appointment or job interview at a distance not feasible to reach by bus, and students taking classes at other colleges in the Capital District.

The senators also discussed possible benefits to students, such as enabling students to go to activities, shopping, or anything else on a different schedule not coverd by the bus or other systems already in place. Car-sharing would give students more responsibility as well as a chance to experience surrounding areas. Rubinstein pointed out that the Union gives out free tickets to concerts, but does not provide free transportation. A car-sharing program might enable students to attend such concerts and other similar events. Students needing to transport many items for a student organizations could also use car-sharing to make the job easier. The senators also asked themselves if car-sharing was a program that should be pursued. Greg Niguidula ’15 felt that students would use it if it existed. Next, the senators discussed colleges that already had a program in place, and how the program was working. Most experiences recounted were from senators’ visits to friends or from friends’ stories. The majority of the responses were positive, though John Spangenberger ’15 noted that a car his friend had borrowed had not been cleaned since the previous use.

Senators then discussed what such a program might look like at RPI. Marcus Flowers ’16 felt that an optimal drop-off/pick-up point would be near the Union. People would still likely walk up to ECAV if that meant that their trip would take less time and go where they wanted to go. Chase Krivo ’14 and Niguidula noted that parking permits on campus might pose a problem to students in a car-share program. Parking permits allow students to only park in certain parking lots between business hours. Graduate student Kristin Lee, whose undergraduate college had a car-share program, said she felt multiple pick-up/drop-off locations would be beneficial. She also noted that the age restrictions should be watched; in Boston, where Lee completed her undergrad, the minimum age was twenty-one. According to Spangenberger, some car-share companies allow students at affiliated universities to become a member at eighteen. The program is often open to faculty and staff. Director of the Union Joe Cassidy pointed out the advantage of faculty and staff being able to use the car-sharing program; one program, known as Zip Car, has locations available throughout the country. Faculty, staff, and students traveling to other locations would be able to easily and cheaply rent a car. Rubinstein also discussed the difficulties of getting rides when needed, and felt that the questions she and many other students would ask is, “How much I’m willing to ask to get a free ride versus how much I’m willing to pay to be guaranteed a ride.”

The senators discussed some questions and concerns that students would likely have, such as how far in advance students would have to sign up for a car, how much the program would cost students outside of the fees paid in the program, how far they could take the car, and what kinds of cars they might get. Niguidula noted that many different types of cars are generally available through car-sharing programs. With many car sharing programs also comes the potential for electric or hybrid vehicles to provide environmental-friendly options to drivers. Also discussed were some of the questions students might have about the workings of the car-share program. Cars usually come with a gas card that drivers use. They pay for gas using their PIN from the car-sharing company. If the program is instituted at RPI, it would likely start with a small pilot program. Carletta will be looking at the Senate survey results soon.

Frank Abissi ’15 led a discussion on parts of the Union Constitution. Abissi is heading the Union Constitution Committee. Some of the possible changes would affect Senate. Currently, there are two greek senators, one representing the Interfraternity Council; the other, the Panhellenic Council. There are also two independent senators from the Independent Council. Abissi reported that the Union Constitution Committee suggested that the IC be dissolved and both IC Senator positions be removed from the Senate. The committee further recommended that the two greek senator positions also be eliminated.

Michael Han ’16 noted that a change was made last year regarding IC and greek senators. Abissi clarified the change last year. Prior to last year, the IFC and Panhel senators had alternating voting rights each semester. One person from IC represented the council. Last year, the change was made to give both the IFC and Panhel senators voting rights. An additional IC representative was added.

Carletta, who is greek, said that he felt like the greek and IC senators are lobbyists. As an example, he pointed out that many students are athletes, yet no senator exists to represent athletes. Kyle Keraga ’15 reminded everyone that “removing a Senate seat is not removing the voice of that group.” Senate meetings are open to all, so students concerned about a particular issue could go to senate meetings and voice their opinions. Some senators were worried that removing the greek and IC senators might cause conflict, especially among greeks. Abissi noted that class senators represent the whole class, including greeks and independents. The last issue that concerned mostly greeks was the Student Peer Alcohol Monitoring program.

Abissi brought the subject back to the central issue: the possibility of eliminating IC. He said that no issues affect just independents. Additionally, the IC was created at a time when most students were greek to provide activities and a voice for independents. Now that the campus is mostly independent, and now that the Union provides so many clubs and services to students, the IC is not needed.

Some of the senators discussed the possibility of adding specific liaison positions to the Senate, which would require altering by-laws. These would be nonvoting positions. Lisa Decrescente ’15 said that she felt that the Panhellenic Council benefited more from her going to senate meetings than Senate benefited from her Panhel updates. Some of the senators again stressed that anyone could come to senate meetings and have a voice despite not being able to vote.

Committee reports were given briefly before the meeting adjourned. Niguidula, chair of the Rules and Elections Committee, said that R&E had met with RCOS, but no one was interested in working on an electronic voting system. Rubinstein said that her committee, the Student Government Communications Committee, was working on a semester review. The Academic Affairs Committee, headed by Spangenberger, was working on evaluations of BIOL-1010. Spangenberger spoke with Dr. Mehad Hanna about obtaining the results from a survey on BIOL-1010, with no luck.

Abissi, who is also the Senate-Executive Board Liaison, said that the E-Board had approved Statler & Waldorf to print an issue. The E-Board also held a long discussion on the Union reserves and the Board voted to purchase and install ID scanners on the Union and the Playhouse. Abissi briefly summarized what the Union Constitution Committee had worked on during the previous meeting.

Gilliland gave a brief description of FSC, including current projects. Keraga said that the Student Life Committee was working on improving Health Center services and working on getting a taxi service that RPI students could use. They also recently obtained survey results from a Residence Life survey. Gabe Perez ’16, chair of the Web Technologies Group, mentioned Concerto and a customizable Union events calendar. DeCrescente said that the Greek Lip Sync would be a fun event. Lee said that the Graduate Council had met with department staff to discuss possible improvements in graduate student life.

The Student Senate meets at 6 pm on Mondays in Union Room 3202. All meetings are open to the public.