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News For U: Parking Prices Increase at the U

Online Managing Editor Andrew Christiansen sits down with Emma to talk about why parking permits increased by 15%, where the money goes and reactions from students.
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)
Mary Allen
(Design by Mary Allen | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

Kicking off the newest season, News for U host Emma Ratkovic speaks with the Daily Utah Chronicle’s Online Managing Editor, Andrew Christiansen, about his new story covering the U’s increasing parking prices. You can read the full story here.

Emma Ratkovic: Hello, and welcome back to News for U, the Daily Utah Chronicle’s news podcast. I’m your host, Emma Ratkovic. Today I’m meeting with Online Managing Editor Andrew Christiansen. Hi, Andrew, thank you so much for joining us today.

Andrew Christiansen: Thanks for having me, Emma.

Emma Ratkovic: So, Andrew just wrote a story covering the increased price of parking at the University of Utah. Andrew, can you tell us a little bit about yourself to start?

Andrew Christiansen: Yeah, as you mentioned, I’m the online managing editor at the Chrony. So basically, I’m the person who gives almost all online stories the last look and edit before publishing them on our website, and last year I was the assistant news editor for the Chrony, and I still write for news sometimes, like with this story. Yeah, I’m a senior at the U majoring in journalism and writing and rhetoric studies.

Emma Ratkovic: In your story, you mentioned that the U’s parking permit has increased to $172.50, topping Utah’s public universities by almost $100. Can you talk a little bit about the research you did to find out this information?

Andrew Christiansen: Yeah, I basically just searched the websites for parking permits for all Utah public universities and gathered it in a spreadsheet. I think it’s important to note that, you know, some of these public universities have several different types of parking permits for different on-campus housing, and those are all different kinds of prices. I decided to only track kind of standard permit prices for students who live off campus. I think I expected the U to be the most expensive or at least near the top, but I was pretty surprised by like how much it was — like you mentioned, over $100 to the next highest — which is Utah Valley University and then if you’re talking about the yearly pass for spring and fall semesters, the U’s parking permit is about $200 more than the next highest.

Emma Ratkovic: So, what appears to be the primary cause of these differences according to your research?

Andrew Christiansen: I mean, it’s it’s hard to know exactly. But I think one of the biggest things is just that the U is easily basically the biggest and like most well-known university in the state, so I think that definitely plays a role and in recent years, I know that the U is kind of continually broke, you know, freshman enrollment records and stuff. So, you’re just going to get more students are trying to park their cars on campus, and that’s going to increase demand, and if you have increased demand, then you know, Commuter Services feels like they can, you know, charge a higher price for parking because they know that people are going to buy those parking permits no matter what. I guess another factor is also just the kind of strategy of the U, which — I think this is something that we’ll get into, but you know, increasing parking permit prices to try to incentivize using public transportation to get to school, rather than parking, and kind of hoping to steer some people away from parking and using their cars to get to campus and use public transportation instead.

Emma Ratkovic: What is a garage permit? Because I noticed you said it was $414 for the permit. What does that give students and staff access to, rather than the standard one?

Andrew Christiansen: Yeah, basically, there’s I think there’s three parking garages, at least for students on campus. And I mean, you get to park in a garage, you get covered parking, so you’re not, like, affected by, you know, whatever your part — your car sitting out in the sun all day or from other weather and I assume it’s probably a little bit more secure than their parking lots. But I don’t think it’s really anything different than that, so I think it’s definitely surprising to me that it’s probably about, like, $250 more than a regular parking permit. But you only those are the only benefits that you kind of get from it.

Emma Ratkovic: In your story, you spoke with Nicole Tatom, interim director for Commuter Services. Did she mention why the U does not offer annual U parking permits?

Andrew Christiansen: This is something that I don’t think I included in the story, but they used to sell one a few years back, but the price wasn’t really discounted, it was just the equivalent of buying two individual semester parking permits. A couple of, you know, other Utah public universities do offer discounted yearly passes. It’s kind of interesting that the U doesn’t do that. Basically, what she told me is that, like, they discontinued the annual pass during COVID, because lots of customers would request refunds, you know, like three-quarters of the way through that academic year. So now they just, I don’t know, found it simpler, just do like, you know, by semester as far as parking permits go.

Emma Ratkovic: And then according to Tatom, the 15% rise is necessary to pay for operational expenses, such as creating and maintaining parking, repaying debt on parking structures and operating the campus shuttle services. She also mentioned that the price increase is because of higher demand. In reference to other years, is there more demand for parking at the U? And what factors play into further demand for parking?

Andrew Christiansen: Yeah, I mean, I think there definitely is, at least that’s what Tatom told me that there definitely is a higher demand for parking. And it’s hard to exactly I guess quantify, like, how much demand there is, but I think, you know, definitely how many permits they’re selling, and that kind of increasing over the last couple of years. And then, like I was talking about before, just like more enrollment, that’s increasing every year. So if you have more students, you’re just automatically going to have more people that are driving to school and buying parking permits. So I think that’s been the biggest kind of way to quantify that there’s been higher demand for parking.

Emma Ratkovic: With the football season underway, will this impact permit spaces on the U campus?

Andrew Christiansen: Definitely not as much as it did for the opening game against Florida, because that was on a Thursday, so lots more students have classes, and it was a little bit of a mess, because you know, you had to, like, you weren’t able to park in your regular parking spaces around campus and that was only for the football game. But you know, I think the rest of the games are on Saturdays, so it won’t affect this as much. Tatom told me that students who have class on that day will still be allowed to park for their class during the football game.

Emma Ratkovic: You state that Commuter Services expect more individuals to choose public transit, as a result of the rise in parking permit costs. Is it reasonable to anticipate that students and employees have access to public transit, and what are the justifications for this?

Andrew Christiansen: It’s complex, I see both sides of it. I did do some kind of additional research for this interview, where there is some research out there that kind of supports the idea that if you increase parking costs, it’s going to cause less people that drive. I think that’s what the U was hoping for with this — instead of driving, using public transportation. And, you know, I do think there’s a pretty good public transportation system for people to get up to the U, especially since it’s free to all U students. But I also think it’s hard for people to you know, first of all, make that transition to using public transportation if they’re not used to that if they didn’t do it growing up. And I mean, yeah, I guess for example, like someone I talked to, for the story, who lives in Cottonwood Heights said it’s not worth their time to use public transportation, because I think it takes two hours, both ways each day, and she’s having to go to campus like Monday through Friday, so it’s 10 hours a week that she’ll be using public transportation. And for her, you know, since she has a really busy schedule, with school and work, those are hours that she can use towards, you know, working more, or whatever it is. So, I think it’s a really hard thing to balance out, but it would certainly benefit the university if more people use public transportation.

Emma Ratkovic: Tatom said that the U’s parking prices at the time were still substantially less expensive than most other Pac-12 institutions, according to a comparison assessment of Pac-12 institutions for the Fall 2021 semester. Did you further research this claim? And what were your findings? And is this still a true statement given that this comparison was made in the fall of 2021?

Andrew Christiansen: Yeah, so I couldn’t find a kind of current in-depth kind of comparison analysis of parking permit prices across Pac-12 universities. But I mean, I think it’s safe to say it’s probably around the same as it was a couple of years ago, because parking definitely hasn’t gotten cheaper at any of those universities in the last couple of years, and has probably increased a little bit. But just looking up, I looked up a couple of Pac-12 schools’ parking permit prices for this semester, and it varies quite a lot. I saw some pretty high prices. But I also saw some ones that are, I mean, still pretty high, like the University of Oregon, I think it was $345 per [term], so a decent amount more than the U. And Arizona State University, it was even more expensive. But yeah, I mean, I think the most important thing, because it’s definitely relevant to compare it to different Pac-12 universities. But, like, if you’re a student considering going to college in Utah, you’re thinking about how parking permit prices compares to other Utah public universities, you’re probably not thinking about, how does it compare to different Pac-12 universities, so … it’s definitely relevant, but, I think the most relevant thing is how much more parking permit cost of the U then other Utah public universities.

Emma Ratkovic: Many students have explained that they are unable to find parking near their classes — or at all — with the given parking permit spaces. What is Commuter Services doing to ensure that students have access to permit parking spaces even during peak times?

Andrew Christiansen: I think it’s hard because as the school has grown, and even just post-pandemic, you just get more and more students who are enrolled and more and more students who are buying parking permits. I guess one thing they kind of keep track of is — Tatom told me that they kind of conduct empty stall counts on campus to make sure that there’s enough parking availability, even at peak time. So, what she told me is that when they do those kinds of assessments, there are still parking spots available. So that tells them that there’s still parking spots that can be found, but just from my own experience, or even talking with lots of students for the story, I think it’s such a common experience to — and frustration — to, you know, buy a parking permit, that doesn’t even guarantee you a spot, especially if you have a class that is a little bit later in the day or something where it’s not a super early class, so everyone else is parked. It’s definitely something that I think needs to be addressed more directly in the future. It’ll be interesting to see how they do handle with that, in the future.

Emma Ratkovic: Numerous students were interviewed for your piece to get their thoughts on the university’s parking permit costs. What types of incentives might support raising the cost of parking permits?

Andrew Christiansen: I talked to lots of students and some of which I didn’t include in the story, but I think everyone was, except for a couple, were very frustrated, because they think that the price is way too high. And then on top of that, it doesn’t even guarantee them a spot. But I think, from the perspective of Commuter Services, their hope is just that this will — and I guess it’s important note too, this isn’t the first time that they’ve increased parking permit prices in the last five years. I think it’s been somewhere around like $40 to $50 that they’ve increased. So their hope is that that will incentivize the use of public transportation more which is, of course, free to students. One student I talked to said she prefers to take public transit to get to the U, even though she lives in South Jordan, which is pretty far away, but she prefers it because it’s free, she doesn’t have to focus on driving and she said, it doesn’t take her much longer. Kind of from her perspective too, thinking about environmentally, of trying to get less people that drive on the road, and you know, they’re contributing to air pollution. She’s like, it kind of makes sense to increase the price because if they’re choosing not to utilize public transportation that’s free to them, maybe they should have to pay more.

Emma Ratkovic: And the U intends to develop an app soon, that will allow students to see open and available parking spots to cut down on the time they currently spend trying to find one. Do you have any information on when this app will be available?

Andrew Christiansen: Yes, so, I asked Tatom about this yesterday, and she told me that they still don’t have an estimated timeframe for that yet, but she did kind of have an interesting more in-depth answer about — she said that President Taylor Randall is still considering whether to use these funds to build additional parking on campus or if they should invest funds into traffic-demand management initiatives, policy changes, incentivizing public transit ridership, as well as investment to the app that provides real time occupancy data to drivers. So that sounds like they’re, they’re still not really exactly sure of where the direction they’re gonna go to in the future. But that’s definitely a possible, at least partial solution.

Emma Ratkovic: Do you have any final thoughts or comments on this piece?

Andrew Christiansen: The number one thing is, it’s probably one of the favorite stories I’ve written for the Chrony just because it’s a topic that I think basically every student has opinions about, even if they don’t [drive]. There’s plenty, you know, students who do drive to campus and they have opinions about them never being able to find parking or that the prices are too high, and even if you don’t drive yourself, you probably know someone who does. So it’s really interesting to just kind of gauge students’ opinions on this, because I think everyone kind of has something to say about it, and you know, from both sides of the equation with with students and Commuter Services, they realized that it’s an issue, something has to be done about it. So it’ll be interesting to, to kind of follow this issue and see what’s done about it in the future. And this definitely won’t be the last Chrony story about parking this semester.

Emma Ratkovic: Okay. Thank you so much for joining us on this episode, Andrew!

Andrew Christiansen: Thanks for having me.

Emma Ratkovic: This is Emma, and thank you for tuning in to this week’s episode of News for U. Make sure to tune in next time!


Transcribed by

Producer: Graham Jones — [email protected] | @grahamcool8

Host: Emma Ratkovic [email protected] | @eratkovic_news

Guest: Andrew Christiansen — [email protected] | @andrewwriter01

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About the Contributors
Graham Jones
Graham Jones, Arts Writer, News For U Producer
Graham Jones was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to Utah to study film. Despite his passion for cinema, Graham joined the Chronicle to engage with the University of Utah community and pursue his love for journalism. Outside of the student media office, Graham can be found buried deep into the pages of a graphic novel or lip-syncing to the greatest hits of the 60s, 70s and 80s.
Emma Ratkovic
Emma Ratkovic, News For U host
Emma is from Park City and is studying journalism and Spanish. She was an investigative writer for a year before doing full-time podcasting for the News For U and Uncovered Podcasts. She has also done work for the Park City Prospector, TownLift, and the University of Utah's Humanities Radio. She also runs an independent podcast called What's The Dilemma, which is available on most streaming platforms. She loves writing, producing, traveling, music, exercise, and hiking through the mountains of beautiful Utah.
Mary Allen
Mary Allen, Design Director
(she/her) Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Mary is thrilled to be here at the University of Utah studying graphic design. She feels very lucky to get to rub shoulders with the talented people that make up the team here at the Chronicle and is learning a lot from them every day. Other than making things look cute, Mary’s passions include music, pickleball, Diet Coke, wildlife protection, and the Boston Red Sox.

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