Plan to Run Out of Gas Without Campus Allies

Like that small scratch on the roof of your mouth, parking at the University of Utah is a constant irritant.

While many more students have complained about it this year than in the past, it is an annual issue of frustration superseding even the annoyance of overpriced textbooks and the evils of university food services.

Most administrators and student leaders give this issue lip service. They complain with the rest of us, but then say their hands are tied.

Not this year.

Ben Lowe, president of the Associated Students of the University of Utah, has his staff wandering campus getting students to sign on the bottom line.

That bottom line is a petition calling for U President Bernie Machen to create a parking task force comprised of administrators, student leaders and representatives from Parking and Transportation Services.

Machen is warm to this idea, but whether a task force will result in any improvement in the parking situation is only wishful thinking at this point.

It sounds good on the face of it, though. Lowe talks about setting strict deadlines for proposals to improve the situation. He talks about initial improvements leading to more long-term solutions. What those initial improvements or long-term solutions are, Lowe really doesn’t know just yet. He wants to sit down and talk with the power brokers on campus.

If Machen creates the task force?which the president said is likely, though he has yet to make an official decision?Lowe will have a nice victory under his belt.

It will, at the very least, give the appearance that the administration?both from ASUU and the U?realizes that the current parking situation needs to change, that students have legitimate concerns and that the administration is committed to do something about it.

If anything more comes out of a parking task force, Lowe will probably not be around to see it, not because he won’t put in the effort?he plans to make parking the big push of his administration?but because the U, like all institutions of higher learning, moves about as fast as that ketchup from the glass bottle.

A committee can accomplish its objectives, but at the U, it takes quite a few shakes of the bottle and maybe even the use of the butter knife.

Lowe is aware of this, though he probably expects to accomplish more than I have eluded to. He wants students to know that any parking fixes will take time and, at least right now, a parking structure is about as possible as a Jazz championship.

The time to create long standing change is where Lowe will run into trouble. Students would be overjoyed to see a task force set up, but while they would hold out hope, most would be skeptical that it would accomplish anything. Really, how many university committees or task forces accomplish anything?

If Lowe wants to succeed in the area of parking, he will need a few quick strikes to keep students’ attention. Two years ago, then-ASUU President Ben McAdams successfully changed A lots to U lots and U lots to E lots after 3 p.m. Lowe needs to accomplish something of this nature, but it is easier to say than do.

McAdams’ slight change, that does not affect the vast majority of U students, is the only substantial positive alteration to the parking rules in recent times.

The U has made some negative changes, however. The U has lost 1,200 parking spots in the last year while increasing the price of all of its parking passes.

Sounds like an ideal example of supply and demand?right, business students? The supply decreases, while the demand stays the same, so therefore the price goes up. The only problem is that the amount of parking permits sold (demand) has little to do with the amount of spaces available (supply). The U places no cap on the amount of passes students purchase. So supply hasn’t decreased and demand stayed relatively the same. The price went up when it should have remained constant, using a standard business model.

While the situation is obviously more complicated than this, the economics of the parking situation make no sense.

This is an example of one area where a parking task force could have a constructive dialogue leading to a worthwhile improvement.

But for this to take place, more people than Lowe have to take an interest in fixing this economic oddity.

Lowe has one ally.

Alma Allred, the U’s director of parking services, is lucky that he doesn’t have a well known face, or he would be one of the most hated people on this campus. But, in actuality, he is one of the students’ most ardent supporters. Years of complaints coupled with his own efforts to find a space probably have given him a little sympathy.

However, Allred has been in his position for a number of years. He can tell you the issues surrounding parking have not changed only intensified, and he has yet to find a solution that he can get the university administration to buy into.

After Allred, Lowe doesn’t have any obvious supporters. By this, I mean people who will fight for real change. This doesn’t mean they don’t exist, but he will have to find serious people who will actually attend the meetings and who really want change to take place.

Lowe will find his most ardent opposition in the faculty ranks, a body that is hard to circumvent when they get their backs up. Talk of increasing the amount faculty have to pay to get a parking permit would undoubtedly lead to a few ticked off professors.

Faculty can buy A passes for $180, while the best pass a student can purchase is a U Pass, costing $120.

Lowe said one possible option (this is not a proposal, just an option) would be to allow anyone to buy an A Pass, which would make the price of such a pass skyrocket, while decreasing the cost of the U and E Pass. Using this basic business principle (if you haven’t guessed by now, Lowe is an accounting student), parking would be cheaper for students. Now try to convince faculty members that they should pay $500 for their pass instead of $180 and see how many buy it.

Lowe and the soon-to-be created parking task force have major obstacles to not only overcome, but also to obliterate.

Parking on this campus is controlled by politics, and while the task force would be a nice first step, student leaders don’t have the political clout to make real change. Hopefully, they can find someone in central administration?maybe even Machen himself?to help forward their cause.

Until that happens, students will continue to tongue that annoying scratch on the roofs of their mouths.

Matt welcomes feedback at: [email protected] or send letters to the editor at: mailto:[email protected]”>[email protected].