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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Parked in Neutral: Does Anyone Care?

I am not in charge of parking. And frankly, I have never wanted to write about it. But when students are unhappy about things I do want them to come to me. This year I have heard from more students with parking concerns than in the past. This may be because of the limited parking to construction. It may also be because we stopped notifying students in the fall when we hosted community events - and the associated parking - on campus. That was done to reduce email clutter, but we have since resumed notifying students. But there doesn't seem to be any particularly good place to complain about parking on campus. That's because no one is in charge of parking, really - and no one wants to be.

TUPD, of course, is charged with formally managing parking through their Parking Services area. They do a terrific job. But just as Residential Life manages a residency requirement it doesn't own, TUPD is saddled with responding to parking concerns they don't control. Clearly they oversee traffic issues, issuing parking permits, and writing tickets. When it comes to enforcing parking policies, writing tickets is really done on behalf of those who have permits. When non-students park on campus students want them ticketed, which means our own students without permits will also be ticketed.

There is apathy from the staff and faculty about student parking. These groups are here to enlighten and broaden the minds of students, not worry about parking. Besides, most went to schools where parking was scarcer and cost more. I went to a school where you had to take a bus to the parking lot. Add to it our reasonable fees, generally enough availability, and decent proximity, and this issue just doesn't get traction. Plus, faculty don't always feel the love for students who park in their spaces.

The student worker in my office, Mai, researched some urban schools to see what students are paying elsewhere. (Here it's $73 per year.) That is similar to TCU in Forth Worth and Rollins in Orlando, and $20 less than Georgetown in DC. At American University, also in DC, students pay $988. Other annual rates include Wash U in St. Louis at $480, Marquette in Milwaukee is $452, SMU is $270, and on the higher end, Penn in Philly costs $1,725. Ouch. In Chicago at Northwestern, Loyola, and the University of Chicago, you can expect to pay about $500 per year or more. UT dorm garages are $743 per year and commuters pay $602.

Some commuting students are especially consumed by parking issues, particularly when outsiders take their spaces. The naturalization ceremonies here, as well of the hosting of schools for educational programs and commencements in Laurie Auditorium, are ways for us to be part of the community. We want to not be insular, but a handful of times each year there is a cost to breaking the bubble. It is important in terms of community relations. While they sometimes claim in exasperation that they pay $40K per year to park here, students, in reality, pay at most the $73 fee. But in paying their tuition they reason, convincingly, that they should be able to get to class.

For off-campus students, paying $38 a semester seems pretty reasonable. But students try to save money, and most days Alamo Stadium offers a free and convenient alternative. There was a piece about this in the Trinitonian this week and Pete Perez of TUPD did a nice job explaining that this is a privilege. In fact, use of the Alamo Stadium lot was painstakingly negotiated with the San Antonio Independent School District.  TUPD is in charge of making sure the lot is cleared by the agreed upon times. The arrangement allows for free, easy parking, but with a few restrictions (during football games and track meets). But it is their property, not ours.

Millsaps in Jackson and Rhodes in Memphis don't charge for parking. The costs are likely buried somewhere in the operating budget, but it does show there are different ways to do this. Where students do pay, such as here at Trinity, the revenue from permits and tickets goes, in part, to pay the people who give out the permits and tickets. So why do it? Well, it is more than that. Paving and striping lots comes from these revenues.

But we don't even know who should discuss such options here.

Perhaps as close as we come to having an entity that oversees traffic and parking is the committee, aptly named the Traffic and Parking Committee. That committee mainly hears ticket appeals. The committee has student, faculty, and staff representation. They probably don't want to be the heavies, though, when it comes to parking. Likewise, if ASR addresses parking with the administration they may get eye-rolling. But maybe the Faculty Senate, the Staff Engagement Committee, ASR, and the Traffic Committee need to come together to discuss issues and make recommendations, or at least decide to whom people should complain.

Again, I am happily not in charge of addressing campus parking concerns. No one is, it appears, and no one wants to be. It is a no-win, uninteresting, and tedious undertaking that makes people crazy. And there-in lies the problem.


Raj said...

Hi Dean Tuttle,

I've reacted as "nope" because, as you pointed out in the blog post itself, TU Parking is a very boring and uninteresting topic. Thanks for writing about it, though.

I look forward to a more entertaining blog post next week!

I love you,

David Tuttle said...

Thanks for the clarification. I can be quite sensitive you know. Let me know when you and the bros are in town sometime.