Recent proposal to charge a fee for nighttime parking on campus draws criticism

By Aviva Luttrell

(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)
(Robert Rigo/Daily Collegian)

A recent proposal to change evening parking regulations at the University of Massachusetts has drawn criticism from a number of organizations on campus.

The proposal, made through the Parking and Transportation Advisory Board, asks the University to consider implementing a parking fee between 5 and 10 p.m. Currently, most lots, with the exception of 24-hour restricted zones, are free to park in during the evening.

Director of Transportation Services Jeri Baker explained that Parking Services is 100 percent self-funded and with growing expenses, the department must find a way to increase revenue. However, a number of UMass students feel the change will negatively impact the campus community.

According to Baker, Parking Services is responsible for multiple recurring expenses, including snow removal in all lots, electricity in the parking garage and various types of repairs. It also pays Transit Services $600,000 to aid in running its services and the money received from all parking tickets goes toward a student scholarship fund, not to parking.

This year has been particularly expensive, she said, with the cost of snow removal amounting to about $700,000. She added that a typical winter costs between $400,000 and $600,000.

Furthermore, Baker said the parking garage, which is nearly 50 years old, was due for a condition assessment this year.

“Parking Services paid an outside engineer $80,000 to come in and check every space, every crack. Every mold in that building was checked, every seam,” she said. “We just got the report back and it’s in fairly good structural condition. It does need about $2.6 million worth of work to keep it viable for the future.”

Baker said the garage also needs a new access and revenue control system, which she explained is the complex term for the gates that let guests in and out of the structure. According to Baker, that software will cost about $800,000, but will allow guests in the Campus Center Hotel to use their room keys to get in and out of the garage.

But Baker said Parking Services must also take other financial burdens into consideration.

According to the University’s master plan, Parking Services will be responsible for building three new garages in the next five to 25 years. The going rate, she said, is about $30,000 per space and Parking Services plans to build an 800-space garage in the near future. With a total cost of $24 million paid back over 25 years, the department would owe $2.2 million a year.

“We simply don’t have the funds that we need to have to operate as a fiscally responsible department,” Baker said. “This proposal is to help Parking Services collect the revenue that it needs to collect.”

If the proposal is passed, students, faculty and staff will have the option to pay either a $3 nightly fee or purchase a $36 annual pass, which would allow them to park on campus every night after 5 p.m.

Students who already have a daytime parking pass would be exempt from the new regulations and could use their permit to park anywhere on campus, with the exception of 24-hour restricted zones.

Baker said if the proposal passes, Parking Services will install pay stations in all large lots on campus and will also expand its pay-by-cell option so guests can pre-pay before arriving. Parking will also be based on license plate number rather than parking spot so that people can move their cars across campus and avoid having to pay multiple times.

However, some are concerned that the change will negatively impact graduate students and those attending nighttime events at UMass. Last week, Baker met with student representatives from several campus organizations to discuss the proposal.

“To have us pick up another bill on top of already very strained wages, I just feel that that was just asking too much,” said Armanthia Duncan, access and equity coordinator for the Graduate Student Senate.

Baker said she has two options to increase revenue – to charge students more for daytime parking permits or to implement the nighttime fee. However, Duncan and others questioned why Baker hasn’t pursued a third option – asking the University to offset some of the costs.

Koni Denham, director of the Center for Education Policy and Advocacy, said UMass benefits from events that take place in the evening, such as those held at the Fine Arts Center and Mullins Center.

“Why shouldn’t the University make that contribution as well?” she asked.

Maija Hall, director of policy and legislation at CEPA, echoed Duncan and Denham.

“This fee is designed to increase revenue for Parking Services … but I do think that their revenue can come from other sources and the burden doesn’t have to be on students, faculty and staff,” she said.

Baker explained why Parking Services doesn’t receive funding from UMass.

“In most public universities, parking is run as an auxiliary enterprise and is considered an optional fee,” she said. “Some states have laws that require public universities to run as self-supporting departments. It makes sense to only charge those that use the service instead of making everyone pay.”

Hall added that she was put off by Baker’s suggestion during last week’s meeting for students to use public transportation rather than drive to campus.

“There are certain people with disabilities. That’s a kind of able-bodied privilege perspective,” Hall said. “Certain disabilities are personal to them and they may not choose to use the services allocated to them by the University. In those instances, you may need to drive your car.”

Anais Surkin, co-chair of the Graduate Employee Organization, added that buses are often unreliable or inaccessible at night, particularly for those who live outside of Amherst.

“People live places where you might have to take two or three buses,” she said.

Baker, however, believes the change will be beneficial to students.

She said Parking Services can work to reserve lots for groups visiting the University, creating a more controlled parking situation. She also said that by increasing revenue streams, she will be able to hold down costs for everyone.

According to Baker, the proposal is currently under consideration by the administration.

Colby Sears contributed to this report.  Aviva Luttrell can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @AvivaLuttrell.