Congestion on Campus: the future of UCR parking and TAPS’ push for alternative transportation

TAPS’ Demand Specialist, VP of Internal Affairs and students discuss UCR parking

Last November, the Highlander spoke with Andy Plumley, assistant vice chancellor of Auxiliary Services, regarding student concerns of restricted parking on campus. Three months later, new information has become available which illustrates the significance of congestion on campus and the possible solutions conveyed by the administration of UCR’s Transportation and Parking Services (TAPS).

In an interview with Jose Cortez-Hernandez, ASUCR’s vice president of internal affairs, commuting students, and correspondence with TAPS’ Transportation and Demand Specialist Tara Pueschel, the future of UCR parking and possible solutions are discussed.

Plumley stated last quarter that TAPS was developing a new “minimum 1200-space parking garage” in Lot 13 to alleviate the congestion caused by the development of the new Dundee-Glasgow halls. The parking structure was not said to be without cost, however, as Plumley clarified that even though TAPS has already “raised permit prices the past two years a big six-plus percent,” students will now be “looking at probably a two-ish percent (increase) depending on what the cost of the parking structure will be.”

In an interview with TAPS Advisory Committee member Jose Cortez-Hernandez, ASUCR Vice President of Internal Affairs, the prospect of an expedited parking garage seemed less certain. “They were brainstorming building a parking garage somewhere but that’s at least three years from ever really happening.” In regards to the costs of the project, Cortez-Hernandez says that “for the expenses associated with that, we don’t really have a way to cover it right now.” Cortez-Hernandez called attention to the present issue affecting residents in Pentland Hills. “Now that they’ve closed down the Aberdeen-Inverness lot all the Gold parkers that would park there are moving to the Pentland lot.” Cortez-Hernandez calls the lot “the new Lot 30” before asking, “Why are these people paying an extra $200 for the same spaces I could get if I just got a Gold pass?”

A core component of TAPS’ decision-making process is the conduction of TAPS Advisory Committee meetings, where students, faculty and administration representatives meet to review policies, prices and plans for the future of transportation and parking on campus. The issue, Cortez-Hernandez says, is that “meetings are not as frequent as they should be,” citing that the committee is “supposed to meet bi-weekly. How many times have we actually met? I’ve been a part of two meetings this entire year.” With the lack of advisory meetings, Cortez-Hernandez says that when it comes to the pressing issues, “right now it feels like people don’t know, especially on the administrative side.”

In correspondence with TAPS’ Transportation Demand Specialist Tara Pueschel, she provides an inside look at TAPS’ view of these issues. Pueschel says that her role “is to promote/educate the campus community on sustainable transportation options … develop promotions and provide transportation resources for students/staff.” Regarding the measures, TAPS is currently taking in account UCR’s increasing student population, she states that a “parking structure is currently in the development stages and we are in process of reviewing firms to plan a design build.” She goes on to say that TAPS is “estimating that the building would cost approx. $30 million to construct and are targeting a late 2020 or early 2021 opening.” The building will be paid for by “the money from the permit increases.”

As reported last fall, UCR admitted 33,218 students, a seven percent increase from the previous year and with an increasing number of prospective students many have taken to social media to express their concerns. In an anonymous survey, students reported how parking has influenced their ability to study or make it to class on time: “Campus parking has negatively impeded my experience as a student here at UCR. I have frequently been late to classes when commuting from work and have had to work overtime to pay for my parking pass. If I, as a student, am paying $600 a year for a parking pass, I should at least be able to find a parking spot relatively easily. Instead, I am stuck circling the parking lot for at least 45 minutes, thus causing me to waste precious gas and study time.”

Other students report that they “have to show up at least an hour earlier to class to compensate for the lack of parking, which is an hour I could have spent studying,” and “I’m late for class or skip the class in general because I’m too late due to the fact that I was looking for parking for 30+ minutes.”

The concern is not exclusive to students, with many faculty members expressing their concerns in a TAPS-organized survey with comments ranging from “TAPS is very obviously a money-making scheme with little regard for the needs of students,” to “the formulas used for parking utilization are not connected to reality.”

Looking at the statistics regarding TAPS’ 2016-2017 fiscal year, the overselling of permits can be quantified in addition to the demand for parking based on each lot. The most common passes on campus, the Gold Commuter passes, are 203 percent oversold, with 6,374 permits for 3,142 spaces. In a survey done by TAPS to determine how full the lots were on average, the Gold permit’s Lot 30 clocked in with an oversell ratio of 2.43 and an average utilization of nearly 90 percent.

Gold passes are not the only oversold group, as Blue and Gold Plus permits had been selling with 2,728 permits for 2,576 spaces, with Lot 13 in this grouping being the most oversold at 144 percent. In addition, another 1,865 non-lot specific permits were sold during this same period, increasing the number of vehicles in each lot within the same space limit at different times.

The Highlander reviewed a primary source of TAPS’ income – parking citations. In 2018, Plumley told The Highlander that TAPS is “getting no money from anywhere except from parking fees” and “parking fees pay for more than just parking. We just spent close to a million dollars on new roads.” Within the 2015-2017 fiscal years, TAPS issued 26,080 parking citations, valued at more than half a million dollars. Given the duration of each quarter within the 2016-2017 fiscal year alone, TAPS issued more than 90 parking citations each day on average.

Another primary source of income is the cost of a parking pass, with Gold Permits which cost upwards of $350 annually yielding an estimated $2.5 million in revenue and Blue Permits costing $516 annually yielding an estimated $1.4 million.

TAPS has advocated for the utilization of alternative transportation instead of driving to campus lots, with Plumley stating last fall that “If you’re no further than a mile, walk, bike, do something, don’t bring your car,” and Pueschel says that “TAPS will continue to subsidize 100% of RTA passes to students, staff, and faculty and will further promote transit as the preferred mode of travel to campus.”

Pueschel also said that TAPS “will break ground on the new Mobility Hub in spring, 2019 which will provide a new gateway to center of campus. New bus bays will offer better loading/unloading zones and therefore will be able to increase number of buses coming to campus.” Another prospective resource cited by Pueschel is a “potential pilot carpool program for undergrads which would coincide with the construction of the new parking structure.”

With the possibility of a costly large-scale parking garage within the next few years and an ever-expanding student population, transparency has become an issue for the advisory committee’s members. Pueschel assures that TAPS is “gathering data for an annual report that we can distribute to the public on our operations, projects, etc,” and that the auxiliary service wants to “increase transparency so people will know what we are doing with their money.” Cortez-Hernandez affirms that this information on parking “should be public,” with the future of parking dependent upon the coming projects enacted by the department.

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