Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The $13,000 parking space

UNCG students are getting lots of parking tickets, and they're pissed.

The Carolinian (UNCG's student-run newspaper) reports that some students who have been sold parking permits are unable to find spaces and are being ticketed when they park illegally.

The article seems to imply that the university has sold more B-lot spaces to resident students than it actually has. I don't know whether that's true -- but didn't Jim Bakker go to jail for doing something like that a few years back? I can understand the students' anger if it's so.

UNCG Parking director Kristy Bradley is quoted as saying that the cost of building a new parking space in a deck on campus is $13,000. And that's just initial capital outlay; when you figure in deck maintenance and administration I'll bet it's a lot more.

Which means that the $375 that the university charges for a yearly deck pass doesn't really cover the cost of parking; it just covers the initial building cost of the space for the 35-year life of the deck.

That may seem like a lot of money for a deck pass, but I think it's too little, and here's why.

Sophomore student Hannah Simms is quoted as saying,

"Resident students should have deck passes, because while day students may be here for eight hours . . . residents may not move their car for two months."
Two months? If Hannah is right, that means UNCG's parking rates are so low that students are willing to pay it simply to store unused vehicles.

UNCG does not have a parking problem. It has a pricing problem. The demand for parking spaces is artificially high because they are priced too cheaply. If the university charged for spaces at their true market value, students would find other ways to handle their transportation needs.

It can be done: I spent 2 years in Chapel Hill with a bicycle as my only vehicle (I was in my late 20's at the time). And even now I almost never drive a car to campus; when I do, I find free parking in College Hill.

Update: Sue points out in comments that scooters aren't for everbody, and she's right. But they're getting more popular, as this picture taken in front of my building shows.

Udate II: Councilwoman Sandy Carmany writes in the comments: "UNCG is participating in the funding of the local match money needed for GTA's University Connector service that will provide students alternate ways to get to the campus without having to drive and hunt for parking spaces." That's good news for students.

19 comments:

Sue said...

UNCG is educational home to a variety of students, and many are not young, residential "traditional" folks. I believe (having done 3 years there in the late 80s, early 90s, pre-deck), that a parking sticker there was merely a hunting permit. There were never parking spaces available during the graduate student crunch time, post 3:30 p.m., when women (and others, sure!) had to walk back in the dark to their distant cars. Face it, there's a difference between a 20-yo and a 40+ yo mother-of-two-or-more-who-worked-all-day when it comes to walking alone at night.

I paid more than $250 at that time per semester to park 3-6 hours a week on that campus. It's a hardship for many. Your scooter attitude is cavalier for many who transport children and drive long distances to work and then rush to UNCG for after-work classes (and grad students make up a significant amount of the tuition paid to UNCG and through the trickle-down effect, fund your salary). Scooters for all is not a practical or sensible option (scooters are dangerous on highways, if they're allowed at all) for many people.

My daugher went to App. As a freshman, she parked in a lot several miles away and endured a once-in-a-while bus to her dorm or classes because her car was used primarily for non-class events. That was proper for an overcrowded campus. And there's no easy alternative to schlep large amounts of stuff to and from Greensboro to Boone, is there? But App has a first-rate AppleCart for moving their students around campus; where is UNCG's? Why isn't parking permit $$ paying for something like that, which isn't a brand-new idea? My son graduated from UGA in 99 and they had a huge bus system for years; everyone used it. To my knowledge, UNCG hasn't instituted such a system (I admit to not having been there in a while) but A&T sorta as one, the Aggie Shuttle (which we'll be using for Converge and is one reason we chose that campus).

Sometimes, I agree completely with what you write. But not this time; your attitude is full of "move downtown and live close to where you work like I do," which is not the situation for the 14K students, I think, who go to UNCG. I hope your prof attitude towards students is kinder.

David Wharton said...

Sue, I don't think I said anything that can be construed as cavalier to students. On the contrary, I sympathized with those who paid for a parking permit but can't find a space!

I believe a market-based approach to parking would be helpful particularly to the non-traditional students you describe, who might be willing to pay a higher daily rate instead of a yearly rate.

Higher-priced parking would also discourage residential students who are currently taking up parking spaces, but not really using their cars, from acquiring spaces in the first place. That would free up more daily spaces for the non-traditional commuter students like you, who really do need them.

The market can be very good at distributing scarce resources to those who really need them.

The Carolinian article mentioned that UNCG plans to step up its park-and-ride system. I agree with you that that's a good thing.

Since the university is so geographically compact, though, I don't forseee any need for an on-campus bus system. It's only a ten-minute walk from one end of campus to the other.

I don't advocate "scooters for all." But bicycles (or scooters) for residential students, or for those who live near campus, probably make a lot of sense.

I spent three years as an undergraduate with no car, and two as a graduate student. It just ain't that hard when you're young and single.

herb said...

I don't pay the 10 beans for Elon parking now because it's free after 5. Now that's a good price for parking!

UNCG's parking situation was horrendous when I was pursuing my undergrad. It was a crap shoot every day. I usually parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked. During my final few semesters when I paid for a pass because I was carrying 9-12 credits AND working full-time, I ended up paying for the parking deck a lot. I could never get close enough to the Bryan School to dash in and out so my bosses wouldn't miss me.

It's just as bad at night a friend, who did his master's there, told me.

During my undergrad, there were lots of nontraditional students, many married w/kids. If the school is going to be a magnet for nontraditional students, then it needs to have a reliable and quick system to get them to and from class so they can get back to work.

If they provided ice cream, that would help, too. :-)

David Wharton said...

"I usually parked in a nearby neighborhood and walked."

I think you made a good choice. When you figure the cost of a yearly parking permit, taking that walk to class saved you $4.00 per walk.

It amazes me how many students will pay $4 to avoid walking for 20 minutes!

Sue said...

David, if you're speaking solely about healthy young undergraduates ("traditional college underclasspeople" and not handicapped, nontraditional and full-time jobbers that make up a big percentage of the student population), then some of what you say is on target. However, I disagree completely with you on the "it's only a 10-minute walk" thing across campus. In the rain. In the slush, in the whatever... and you're focusing only on campus. The App and UGA systems I mentioned (and App's not much bigger than UNCG) also
1. Pick up and return people all over Boone in most majority-student apartment complexes and more
2. Schlep them to most major Boone businesses, including the mall, and back again, with TIMELY bus transport
3. Make not using a car for a student in Boone *practical*

UNCG is WAY out of date and worse, has done nothing in the past 10 years to improve. BTW, I recently rotated off the Board of Visitors and even though we raised lots of money and hired a consultant to raise more, not one word was said about parking, except that BOV members got free parking passes, specific parking directions for every meeting about reserved spaces AND got golf-cart transportation to and from their cars. I think that says that the University knows there's a problem.

IMO, UNCG is woefully behind the rest of the academic world in this arena and is doing nothing whatsoever to improve. The fault isn't with students' attitudes about walking in most part. The University is doing nothing to improve, to bring a message to students of alternatives, to make alternatives easier and more practical, and worst, is not making it feasible for the very older grad students they are so desperate for (they advertise, don't they?) to attend class or other events on campus. I fault UNCG student-centered attitudes like this for not encouraging the school to become a larger presence among the sweet 16. (note to sports fans: there are 16 schools in the UNC system; not every reference is to basketball)

David Wharton said...

The system you describe for App, getting students around town etc., sounds impressive, and is one UNCG might imitate.

But the trend for on-campus transportation at UNCG has been very much in the direction of encouraging walking. Big sections of College Ave. and McIver St. have been converted to pedestrian malls, precluding car and bus travel.

To my mind, this has been a very good thing for the campus. Those places are now full of life as students walk, talk, sit on benches, study, drink lattes, etc.

As to walking in rain and slush . . . that's why God made umbrellas and galoshes. I think we're not going to agree on this issue.

jimcaserta said...

I was at the University of Florida between 1994 and 2002. My first year I lived on campus, without a car. Having a car was a headache at least and recipe for trouble (DUI) at worst. The next year I moved off campus and tried taking the bus the 4 miles to class. I had an 8:30 class where if you turned your homework in 1 minute late, you got no credit. So three consecutive days of the bus being late, I bought a parking decal.

Now the parking situation is similar to UNCG (from what I've read) but on a different scale. UNCG has about 15,000 students, while UF has > 48,000. I don't know how many commuter decals UF sells, but it is close to 2X the total number of parking spaces, and the commuter lots are generally a 20 minute walk to most classes. There is a big park & ride lot (mostly used by off-campus freshman and sophmores) which is a 40 min walk, or 10 min by bus.

Fast forward to 2000, no new parking spots, but probably 5,000 new students - most off-campus. The city and UF combined to completely improve the bus system, taking it from buses scheduled for every 30 or 60 minutes to 10 or 15, and keeping them on-time. The bus system was and is packed. Both the city and UF put money in, as the city would need to invest less in roads, and UF less in parking. UF contributed from the fees (taxes) collected in addition to tuition - at $100-200/student-semester, that makes for almost $20 million student govt budget. Walking is good, but you need to consider how far away students live from campus. My point is that buses do work when you put the $ into them, but don't when they are an afterthought.

Rick said...

I think Hannah Simms quote is probably the most telling of that article. Students are given UNCG parking deck passes to store their cars instead of to "non-traditional" (as Sue appropriately calls them) who would arguably get more value out of the spaces; yet, this is somehow all UNCG's fault? Students (who are simply paying for storage) are not at least partially to blame for this situation?

As I ask in my own post, where isn't parking a problem at urban instiutions of higher education? Even Sue paints App State's "more accommodating" Apple Cart situation in less-than rosey hues with her report that her daughter "endured a once-in-a-while bus". I guess you're never going to satisfy all the people all of the time.

There is a bus system. Campus Commons (or whatever the heck the name of that student housing complex across the street from Greensboro College is) buses kids back and forth all day. There are also buses to and from the across-from-Coliseum parking lot. I know this because I'm usually right behind one when my wife drives me in to work in the morning...my own little way I deal with UNCG's parking problem.

I guess I could have plenty to complain about. I'm a staff member. I "deal with parking" year-round. And year after year I can't help but notice that the uproar seems to get really loud in August (and sometimes January), but then sorta tapers off in some other direction. Maybe things will be different this year since 1) the all-important fountain has been repaired and 2) on-campus construction is more contained than spread out. But like I said, I've been here for years. I've seen the carpool-less Friday Afternoon Mass Exodus. I've seen the single occupancy traffic jams at Holden/Spring Garden. I think Freshman should have to hike miles to get to their cars for non-class purposes; in fact, I'd almost go so old-school as to argue that they shouldn't even have passes to begin with.

Darkmoon said...

I'm not so sure about the whole 10 minute walk thing. I've never walked UNCG completely, but I remember when I was a freshman at University of Washington, and then the later years at Washington State University. The first is a Tier 1 school, and the second was a Tier 2. Both had vast campuses, and while there was campus transportation, pretty much everyone walked to class.

If you had the lousy scheduling as I did, you would have to book across that vast campus in 10 minutes.

If I could do it, I don't see why anyone else couldn't on a smaller campus. It's not like having UofMichigan's multi-campus classes.

And no you don't have to have a scooter, but a motorcycle would still save on gas and parking. :) Sucks in the rain/snow whatever but I've done it before.

Sue said...

To clarify: Rick wrote, "Even Sue paints App State's "more accommodating" Apple Cart situation in less-than rosey hues with her report that her daughter "endured a once-in-a-while bus"." That comment was for the freshman parking lot, six miles from campus and NOT for the Applecart which is a great and well-used system.

UNCG has a huge number of grad students who desperately need that parking deck for safety and for timing, but I'm not sure that the single quoted student in David's original post is representative. (At UGA, for example, we bought our son a parking space. Can you do that at UNCG? Why not? Are they patrolling the deck? Are they ticketing unmoved cars? If not, then they're OK with it or it's not as big a problem as the single quoted student observed.)

At A&T, almost every parking space I see is reserved for staff (who pay extra for it and if I were staff, I'd be tempted to endure the cost for the convenience). Consequently, we (and other civic groups) do not schedule meetings there during the academic year.

It seems that our universities have counted on student ticket money as a line-item for their budget but if those revenues are taken away, will they still ticket cars so gleefully?

Several years ago, when Bob Tomlinson was director of resident life at UNCG and my next-door neighbor, he told me a sad story. After MONTHS of planning for freshman orientation, the only thing many parents took home with them was a parking ticket while they unloaded their students. Their initial reaction to UNCG? You figure it out. It made the entire University look bad because no common sense plans were made by the campus police for what were obviously parents and they ruined all the frosh orientation plans.

It's the attitude, David, that I am trying to address. THere's a known problem and everyone bitches for a while and then endures it. Is that what UNCG wants to be known as?

Sandy Carmany said...

In planning Greensboro's University Connector service, we looked at Chapel Hill's bus/transit system which is totally free for all riders (students or residents). UNC-CH is contributing heavily to the town's bus system to make this possible. They have park-and-ride lots scattered in strategic locations all around the town on major road corridors to allow students to park cars and ride the frequent buses to the campus. The whole point is to eliminate the need to construct additional parking lots/decks on campus.

Rick said...

Honestly, I don't think UNCG knows what it wants to be known as. Or maybe I should rephrase and say that oftentimes UNCG wants to be everything to everybody.

While I was being somewhat glib in my last post, in a roundabout way it does sorta address one way UNCG is trying to deal with the parking issue: Provide more on-line opportunities; reduce the number of trips to campus. (Didja know you can renew your library books online?) Especially to it's graduate student body. MBAs and other departments have a large online presence.

But ultimately I just don't think there's an apathetic attitude towards the parking situation at UNCG. Parking Services has an informative website, with a carpool club. Why isn't that club larger? UNCG staff and SGA are represented in the Parking Services Committee; it isn't like UNCG is turning a deaf ear to anyone. The University of Florida example Jim outlines above sounds like a remarkable merger of campus/community involvement. So if it takes the entire city to solve one university's parking problem, once again I ask: Is UNCG soley to blame for the current parking situation?

Sandy Carmany said...

To finish my thought, UNCG is participating in the funding of the local match money needed for GTA's University Connector service that will provide students alternate ways to get to the campus without having to drive and hunt for parking spaces.

Woody Cavenaugh said...

This whole problem could be helped to some degree if Freshmen living on campus couldn't buy a pass and park on campus.

I suspect it isn't this way because of lost money. It doesn't matter one way or the other if you park on campus or not as long as you buy a parking pass.

The fee structure is set by the University Board of Governors (or similar sounding layer of beurocracy). Parking Services (Contracted by UNCG, not a part of UNCG) simply does what they are mandated.

I think if they kick the resident freshmen vehicles out, and jack up the price so the "storage crowd", would find storage elsewhere, then most of the rest could reasonably park. Not everyone would be happy of course, but as long as most people are happy then all is well.

I commute daily from another county, if they charge it, I must pay it.

Sue said...

I'm happily surprised by Sandy's comments about UNC-CH's town bus system and am jealous as well. In a word, how come it's taken THIS long for UNCG to begin to get on track?

Woody, I don't agree that freshmen shouldn't have cars (with no other transportation system, how do they get to work?). They could have a remote lot like most other universities have for freshmen. UNCG is not acting like a leader in this community and frankly, that's very sad. It's not Pat Sullivan alone; it's all the UNCG leadership over the past 25 years that have failed the students and the community by not seeing what's going on in other areas and emulating the best of it in the area of community and transportation.

Anonymous said...

Having seen the parking fees for the entire UNC system, living in Gboro and seen (plus used) the lots myself, I think UNCG has the highest costing lowest quality lots in the 16 campus system. UNCG is actually used as justification for other campuses raising parking fees - UNCG charges more, and their parking sucks. Ours is better, so we should charge more for a better product. It is kind of a joke, actually.

Gate Keeper

David Wharton said...

Gee, Gate, I thought you were a free-market kind of guy. Don't you agree that the market should determine pricing of a commodity like parking?

If the price of a commodity is kept artificially low, people who don't really need it will hoard it so that it won't be available to people that really do need it -- like Hannah Simms, quoted above.

But really. If parking is so bad at UNCG, how is it that I can *always* find a free space within a 10-minute walk of campus?

Anonymous said...

I base my comments on price, the quality of surface lots, and the number of spaces. Isn't that free market? Campuses with better parking than UNCG are charging less - students at UNCG should be mad.

A 10 minute walk is good at UNCG, but if you compare to some others (NOT Chapel Hill or State) the overall number of spaces and quality is poor in comparison. The parking decks have helped in recent years, though.

Personally, I think UNC system faculty should park free on campus as a benefit, but that is just me.

GK.

David Wharton said...

Hayek says the market has more information than the planners do, and there's more to market pricing than the things you mention.

UNCG is now landlocked -- it has no direction in which to expand. That means building new spaces is very expensive because they must be put in decks. Buying nearby real estate for satellite parking is probably prohibitively expensive because of its central location. This may not be the case at other schools.

Students and faculty are currently paying a subsidized rate for spaces -- that is, they are paying less than they cost to build and maintain. This contributes to the scarcity of spaces.

Again, I'm surprised Gate that you're calling for a top-down, centralized planning solution to a market problem that many urban universities face all the time.

Check out this article.