UM addresses parking woes, student unhappiness

After making her daily hour-long commute, sophomore Gabriela Lins parks her car at a home across from campus and then spends another 10 minutes on her trek to class.

“The price of the UM parking permits has caused me to park off campus in order to save money,” Lins said.

She made this arrangement with a Coral Gables home owner before the start of freshman year and plans to continue parking for free off-campus for as long as possible.

Lins is one of many students who have opted for this more cost-effective route, but for those who purchase parking permits, it remains a wonder why students and some faculty members are paying a $458 price tag – a $14 increase over the price that UM had charged for the past three school years.

“When I first saw the prices of the parking permits for the blue, purple, and gray zones, I was shocked,” said Dana Kajan, a freshman commuter student.

Richard Sobaram, the director of the Department of Parking and Transportation at UM, said that parking prices generally rise with the cost of tuition.

“Because of inflation, our expenses goes up, everything goes up,” Sobaram said.

For three consecutive academic years, the university had chosen not to increase the price of parking because of the state of the economy, said Sobaram.

“The administration is always considering the faculty, staff and students, and how they’re going to feel about it,” Sobaram said. “I think they said, ‘No, we can’t do this in the middle of this tough time. Let us not raise parking permit prices.’”

Jonathan Diaz, chair of the Campus Relations Advisory Board, said that he didn’t even realize there had been an increase until someone brought it to his attention.

“When prices are already so high, a small increase like that doesn’t seem too harsh,” said Diaz, who sits on the Student Government executive board as part of his role.

Despite student complaints about a parking permit’s high cost, the $14 price increase this year turns out to be about $1.50 monthly when the additional cost is divided by the 10 months that classes are in session. Sobaram said that, while an extra $1.50 a month doesn’t dramatically affect permit holders, the increase makes a large difference to the Department of Parking and Transportation.

“We probably lost about $300,000 in revenue by not raising the permit prices over the last few years,” he said.

And while students complain about the cost, $458 is actually less than the total cost associated with providing parking, according to Sobaram.

“The amount of money we collect from parking permits and citation revenue at meters does not cover the entire cost of the operation. The university actually subsidizes parking. We should be charging more, in order to meet the costs of operating the shuttles and all that.”

Parking revenue funds services including the shuttle services, the maintenance of garages and parking lots (including signage and painting of white lines on lots), and the security guards and parking enforcement officers’ paychecks. Hurry ‘Cane Shuttles run on campus from 7 a.m. to midnight and go to locations like the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science campus, Sunset Place and Coconut Grove. According to Sobaram, the total cost to the university of providing this service costs more than $1 million.

“The parking operation is not a profitable operation. It doesn’t make money. It goes back into the operation,” Sobaram said. “Believe me, we’re not having a party on students’ dimes here.”

Diaz, a resident of the University Village, signed up for a gray parking permit this year. He feels like he’s paying a fair share for the permit, which is included in the apartment lease.

“I do feel like I’m getting something out of my investment in a parking pass,” Diaz said. “I get a guaranteed parking space in a particular section of campus, and I get access to all the other services that the Department of Parking provides, like the shuttles.”

The garages on campus also cost millions of dollars to build. Each parking space costs $15,000, totaling $1.5 million for a 100-space garage, Sobaram said. Therefore, last spring’s upgrade to Pavia Garage, which created 308 additional parking spaces, ran the university approximately $4.5 million. Sobaram said that additional costs for the Department of Parking and Transportation include projects like the resurfacing of lots at the School of Nursing, the baseball stadium and the tennis court as well as the replacement of bricks at the Palm Court behind the Ashe Building.

“We could cover it if we decided to stop running shuttles, but the university has decided that it’s a valuable service that we have to provide for the students,” Sobaram said. “We could cover it if we decided to raise permit prices by another 20 or 30 percent, but the university doesn’t think that’s a good thing to do.”

Sophomore Michael Recca said that it seems pointless for residents to bring cars to UM when students can’t park them anywhere convenient on campus.

“I guess this reveals the bigger, more important issue: we need more parking spaces,” said Recca, a resident who holds a blue permit for this school year. “If there were just more, the price wouldn’t be that big of a deal.”

While lack of parking is a common complaint amongst UM students, there is enough parking, according to Sobaram. He said that up to 800 parking spaces remain empty at the busiest times of any given day, as long as there are no special events happening on campus.

“At our peak, which is on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., we have 800 empty parking spaces,” he said.

Alison Scudds paid $700 last year as a freshman resident at UM to park her car on Red Road Commons, located about 1 mile from campus. She said she will appreciate the luxury of parking her car on campus as a sophomore this year.

“Obviously in a perfect world you wouldn’t have to take out a small fortune to park at a school which already costs so much, but to me a parking permit is one of my necessities like food and gas,” Scudds said.

Scudds said that she needed to bring her car to UM to drive to Kendall for practices with her cheerleading team.

For students who wish to park their cars on campus but are looking for a more affordable option, the green zone allows students to pay nearly half the price. Green zone permit holders pay $234 for the year to park at the Ponce de Leon Garage and then have the option of taking a shuttle to their classes.

“For my first year I bought a green permit because I couldn’t afford the other ones,” sophomore Constanza Schubert said. “This year I was able to get red using loan and scholarship money.”