Parking on campus demystified

Photo Illustration by Roxana Ryan

Photo Illustration by Roxana Ryan

By Brittney Foreman

Andy Giger said he has heard of people with scores of unpaid parking tickets. Whether they have gotten in trouble or not, he said he doesn’t know.

According to the Parking Department Web site, a person with three or more unpaid citations may one day find his or her vehicle either immobilized or towed.

“I don’t think you can really convince me that this is a campus conducive to having a car here,” said Giger, senior in LAS.

Tamara Ingram, assistant coordinator of the Parking Department, said they don’t get a lot of people who get their vehicles towed or immobilized.

“We usually give them a warning and that takes care of it, all but a few,” Ingram said.

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    Giger, whose car has been towed before, said students lack information about parking in general.

    “A great thing would be a parking orientation, because I feel a lot of freshmen are underinformed about parking,” Giger said.

    Not enough space

    The Parking Department recognizes the discrepancy between the limited supply of parking and the excess demand for it, which explains the need to have rules and regulations for parking.

    Those rules and regulations may explain the large number of tickets some students receive when they are a few minutes late for an expired meter in front of IMPE or illegally parked in a University lot from 2 a.m. to 6 a.m.

    “If you run out of time, they’re going to get you,” said Miguel Martinez, of the parking enforcement officers.

    Martinez, University alumnus, said he sees the officers all the time.

    “They’re doing laps all day,” he said.

    Selina Varma, senior in ACES, said she’s received two parking tickets. She got one for being five or six minutes late to a meter in front of CRCE and the other for parking on the street overnight without a permit. Varma said it wouldn’t surprise her if the officers stood by meters waiting for time to run out.

    “Just the fact that I was literally five minutes late surprised me,” Varma said.

    Tom Skaggs, coordinator of campus parking, says the assumption that enforcement officers are out to get people is false.

    “That tends to be a myth and the reason I say that is because our officers, if by some chance a citation is written shortly after a meter expires, it is purely coincidence,” Skaggs said.

    He said the myth, a concept people have had for many years, was born out of frustration.

    “We do not instruct our officers to prey on any particular person … nor do they have any interest,” he said.

    Ingram said there are roughly 70,000 parking tickets given out each year.

    Skaggs said there is no quota for meter citations and that enforcement officers are professionals who take their jobs seriously.

    “It would be ridiculous to actually spend the time and sit around and wait for someone’s meter to expire,” he said.

    Despite issuing citations, there are things the Parking Department does to help students. From 7 a.m. Monday to 7 a.m. Saturday the department is available to help if a student or staff member locks his or her keys in a car, gets a flat tire, runs out of gas or needs a jump-start. This assistance is provided for free.

    Parking not free

    With around 2,000 meters on campus, according to Ingram, that gives the Parking Department about 2,000 locations from which to gather meter revenue. Some might wonder where the money goes.

    “It all goes right back into Parking,” said Pam Voitik, former interim director for the Parking Department. She said Parking is a self-funding organization and nonprofit.

    According to the department’s Web site, revenue generated from meters and citations goes toward building new facilities and decks, maintenance, snow removal and motorist assistance services.

    Students are not the only ones who pay for parking, though.

    Not only students, but faculty and staff can purchase parking permits. For faculty and staff, a permit costs $427 per year. Students can obtain a permit for $360 per nine months.

    Faye Elam-Taylor, medical insurance specialist for the benefits center, said she now has a space in the John Street garage after being on the waiting list for five years. She said she only uses a meter for quick trips to her office or to drop something off.

    Voitik said meters exist mostly to serve visitors to campus. She said the storage space is reserved for students. For employees there are many options available like the shuttle, car pooling and ride sharing. The shuttle costs $93.

    “I like to have the options that they give us,” Taylor said.

    She also said she’s heard of campuses where the parking situation is a lot worse.

    Voitik said the Parking Department at the University has about 15,000 parking spaces in lot space. According to a statistical abstract put out by the Division of Management, from 2006 to 2007 there were close to 18,000 staff members and about 40,000 students at the University.

    “If everybody brought a car to campus we could not physically park them all,” Voitik said. “That’s why we have … storage space for students, that’s why we have a bus system.”

    Parking at its peak?

    Parking space, at least in the core of campus, may only continue to become more scarce.

    Voitik said a number of transportation studies have been done to address how to maintain a safe environment on campus for pedestrians and bicyclists. She said the University has made a conscious decision to limit parking in the core of campus.

    As for the University implementing further decreases to parking space in the future, Voitik said it’s a possibility.

    “If you think about it, we have at 10 minutes (to) the hour … the potential to have 30,000 pedestrians crossing the street,” she said. “If you can eliminate the sources of conflict between those pedestrians and other modes of transportation, it makes the campus a safer environment.”

    Voitik said if you live on campus, most things are within walking distance. Either way, students may continue to bring their cars to campus.

    Dan Caughey, University alumnus, said because there is no grocery store on campus, students may be driven to bringing a car. However, Caughey only drives when he has to.

    “I only have a car for long trips,” he said. “I always walk to class.”

    Caughey said if he’s going to see his girlfriend in Urbana, he takes the bus.

    “I think we have a nice bus system here,” he said.

    A nice bus system still may not prevent students from exercising their choice to park whenever and wherever possible.

    An anonymous senior in Engineering just received a ticket not too long ago when he borrowed his friend’s car to run into McKinley Health Center. He said he must have been a minute or two late. He said he hasn’t told his friend about the ticket, which he paid.

    “He’d never let me drive his car again if he knew,” the student said, citing his silence as the reason why he did not want to give his name. “I actually plan to tell him some time before I graduate – ‘Hey I got a parking ticket, I just thought I should let you know.'”