New parking director has new goals, ‘feels pain’ of students

Seven months after Richard Sobaram began his new job, his main priority is to improve the parking situation on campus.

Sobaram, the new director of Parking and Transportation Services at the University of Miami, replaced Charles W. McConnell, who held the position for four years.

Sobaram previously worked 17 years as the security coordinator for residence halls, regulating student check-ins after hours.

As a UM alum, Sobaram said he understands how upset students get over parking. He hopes that students can realize that the department has their best interests in mind, despite problems they may encounter.

“I’ve been there in their position, and I feel their pain,” he said. “I received many tickets as a student.”

Although students complain about finding parking, Sobaram said there are more than 1,000 available spaces around campus.

The newly expanded Walsh Serpentine Lot, which reopened this August, rarely fills up across from the BankUnited Center.

This location will replace the temporary lot beside the UM School of Business as soon as new dormitory construction gets underway. A new walkway and bus stop were built in front of the Walsh Serpentine Lot for convenience.

Last year, the shuttle buses served over 800,000 passengers. Sobaram plans to receive feedback on its service.

Senior public relations major Meghan McKinsey finds the shuttle program troublesome.

“On Tuesdays and Thursdays, I have class in the Flipse Building and class at the communication school, but the Hurry ‘Cane takes 30 minutes between classes,” she said. “You can’t really count on it to be reliable.”

Most commuters tend to park in the main academic areas of Allen Hall, the Whitten Learning Center, the Memorial classrooms and the Pavia parking garage. Times between 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. attract the most traffic on campus and aggravate drivers.

Student Government President Brandon Gross and Sobaram formed the Department of Transportation Advisory Board at the beginning of the semester to receive student input, hoping to improve the parking situation on campus.

“We never had one of these [boards] before, and as soon as Richard and I had a meeting, we knew it would be a good idea,” Gross said. “Students aren’t informed about some issues with parking, but other things are valid complaints that we can approach.”

The department worked jointly with the general council and the departments of Risk Management, Business Services and Environment Health and Services. Together they spearheaded a public transportation program for employees; the UBike effort, which sold bikes to students and paved new paths; and brought Zipcars to campus, a membership-based rental car service.

UM also has prohibited freshmen from parking on campus this year, another step toward freeing more spots. That move freed up about 400 spaces in the Dickinson West Parking Lot, near Stanford Residential College and the Wellness Center, where most freshmen park. The lot is now divided into spaces for both commuters and residents.

Not everyone is happy about this change.

“I’d rather work out inside the Wellness Center and not walk a mile before I get there,” said senior Rudy Tomarchio, a broadcast journalism major. “By the time you even want to think about parking there, you’ve already given up on getting to class at a reasonable time and you’re going straight to the Rat to drown it out.”

Sobaram said educating students has become the primary goal of the department since he arrived in late March.

“I’m not naïve enough to think that somehow that’s going to solve all of our problems but, at the very least, when you ask them ‘did you know that you had this option,’ they can say ‘yes, but I chose to drive around for 40 minutes,'” he said.