Parking Revolves Around Permit

At the center of the parking problem is the permit. The slip of plastic hanging from your rear-view mirror that lets the bike ticketer know you are in the right area.

Students look at their parking pass as a commodity, an exchange of money for a service, and when that service is not provided, it becomes frustrating.

“I felt like I was cheated out of my money this year,” said Rachel Burbidge, a second year communication student who bought a U Pass. “If I would have known they are closing all of the lots for the Olympics, I wouldn’t have bought a permit.”

For the U, the permit is also a commodity, an item sold that does more than allow a student to park in a spot, it provides the financial underpinning of the entire parking and shuttle bus systems.

The $3.7 million generated from permit sales this year is by far the largest source of income for parking services, and that amount has increased dramatically since 1997.

That year, Alma Allred, director of parking services, stood before the University of Utah’s Board of Trustees and asked to raise the cost of all permits by 50 percent in a five-year span. The Trustees approved the plan, and parking services reached its goal this year.

The U Pass, the most popular option for students, cost $88 in 1997, it now costs $120.

During the same five-year period, the number of available spots decreased. Last year alone, the U lost nearly 1,000 parking stalls due to new construction projects.

Travis Scoresby has noticed.

The transfer student, now in his first year at the U, has a hard time finding a spot.

He bought the U Pass, but only on Fridays does he park in a U lot.

“If I knew it was going to be like this, I would have bought an economy parking pass. They should build more parking. They should let us know where the money goes. It doesn’t take that much to maintain the parking lots,” said the health promotion major.

But the revenue from permit sales doesn’t only pay for parking lot maintenance.

Stephen Olshek, the administrative manager of parking services, said permits pay for processing tickets, administrative budgets, the debt on health sciences parking terraces and most of the shuttle system. The remaining profits go into the bond fund that helps keep all U auxiliaries, such as the bookstore, Union building and residential halls, afloat.

The permit price increase is linked to new services.

Allred wanted to raise parking permit fees by 50 percent to pay for increased shuttle service and to lease 400 parking stalls from the Latter-day Saint Institute of Religion, once it opens its new parking structure sometime next year.

While the amount of parking decreased, the permit costs increased due to expanded shuttle services, Olshek said.

“The shuttles are the key incremental service that has been offered, and unfortunately it was not independently funded by other parts of parking services,” he said.

Olshek said if students want their permit fees to solely go toward new parking, the U would have to locate an alternative funding source for shuttles, namely increasing the transportation fee.

Each semester, the U charges students for transportation based on a sliding scale depending on the amount of credit hours a student takes. For a resident student taking 12 credit hours, it is a little more than $10. This fee generates $1.2 million in a year that goes toward paying for the free bus service provided by UTA and the shuttles.

Allred said the U has other ways to generate revenue, though whether they would work politically or not is the question.

The U artificially keeps the price of A passes down by ensuring that only faculty can purchase the pass.

“A case could be made for that, since there is a limit on who can buy it,” Allred said.

Students then supplement the costs of faculty by paying higher prices for the U and E passes than they would under a normal market-based system.

Student Body President Ben Lowe said if the U made the parking situation more like the average market by allowing everyone to buy any pass, the amount for an A Pass would skyrocket to upwards of $500, while the cost for a U and E Pass might even drop. Another option would be revamping the permit structure by getting rid of the A, U and E designations and creating one universal pass.

Allred said he is open to both options, but becomes skeptical about any changes due to the lengthy process of altering campus policies.

“Part of the problem is that it is an auxiliary. It is supposed to be run as a business, but you don’t find businesses run by a committee,” Allred said. “In that system, the people who have the most power get what they need.”

For a change in the permit structure to take place, Allred would have to secure the support of the Parking Advisory Committee, a group of students, faculty and staff that keeps an eye on parking services.

If that committee approves the change, the Academic Senate and the Staff Advisory Council must then indicate their support.

The president’s cabinet will also have a say before it reaches the Trustees.

“So many people have their fingers in the pie,” Allred said.

Lowe is more optimistic.

After being prodded by the student government, U President Bernie Machen created a parking task force to look at these issues.

Lowe said he wants to discuss possible changes to the permit structure once meetings commence in the next few weeks.

Any changes would take months if not years, Lowe said.

Until then, the permit will remain at the center of parking service’s budget and the conundrum that is the campus parking situation.