Students who commute struggle with parking on UNL campus
Video and story by Jordan Kranse, NewsNetNebraska
On a Monday at 11 a.m., Elliot Janssen, a sophomore at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, arrives on campus for his class at 11:30. At 11:10, he pulls in his regular parking lot, the C lot west of Memorial Stadium. After almost 10 minutes and three passes through the large lot without finding any spots, he moves on to a lot on the north side of the stadium. There, he quickly finds a spot and starts walking to class around 11:20. The whole process takes much longer than Janssen would prefer.
“I feel like every day I get to campus like half an hour early, and I’m just trolling around the commuter lots trying to find a spot for 20 minutes maybe,” he said. “Usually there’s like four or five cars doing the same thing.”
Many commuter students, faculty and staff have had troubles with parking on the UNL City Campus. First, theres’s the expensive prices of parking passes, then there’s simply finding a spot in time for class. However, UNL Parking and Transit Services is doing what they can to help.
Commuters have several options for passes when parking on campus: reserved, non-reserved, garage and perimeter. According to UNL Parking and Transit Services, there are around 10,600 spots available to commuting students, staff and faculty. Passes for commuters range from $207 to $873 for the school year.
“We fund about 93 to 95 percent of our expenses,” said Dan Carpenter, the director of Parking and Transit Services. “Permits are our hardest source of revenue.”
Carpenter that their other sources of income include meters and special events, but estimates that permits make up about 65 to 70 percent of their revenue. Much of their income goes to paying for the school’s transit service, StarTran, and paying off the parking structures recently built on campus.
A majority of students who commute purchase non-reserved, or Area C, passes; 3,140 were sold in 2014 according to records from Parking and Transit Services. This is the cheapest and most convenient option for students. The idea behind non-reserved lots is students will cycle in and out of the lots all day, opening up new spots. These passes are oversold to maximize parking capacity on campus.
“Not everyone’s parking, not everyone has the same class schedule,” Carpenter said. “There are periods of peak demand where there are more students on campus, but you always have an ingress and an egress of students.”
Carpenter said because of the temporary nature of the parking, non-reserved passes are oversold by 35 percent. Overselling passes is necessary to make the rotation system work well, so lots are as close to full as possible.
“Those [lots] were designed to maximize,” Carpenter said. “But we still don’t have the entire inventory filled.”
Carpenter said availability in the lots changes throughout the year as students settle into their classes.
“You’ve got a constant fluctuation of demand in the first few weeks, but then by the fourth or fifth week things start to slow down,” Carpenter said. “As you get closer to the end of the semester, there’s a lot of people that stop going to classes…As the semester goes along, you see that it’s much easier to access parking.”
Problems with parking
Janssen said he often struggles with finding a parking spot, usually having to look in two or more lots before finding one. Hunting for a spot has made him late to class on occasion.
While the oversell of spots may look efficient on paper, it’s not always the most convenient situation for students. Students’ concerns about parking can actually work against the system.
“I feel like people have the mindset that when they find a spot, they’re going to keep it for a long time,” Janssen said. “I think they’re thinking that if people have a break in their day…they’ll go home and leave the lot for a while, but I know a lot of people just stay on campus because they’re afraid of losing their spot.”
Carpenter said part of the problem is that many students expect to park in the most convenient spot, which is not guaranteed by the non-reserved passes.
“I can honestly say we still have parking availability. It’s just not where…you know, people always want to park the closest, so they drive to the closer lots and then after the peak times, they have to move out,” he said. “Sometimes they don’t always move out to the areas where we still have space.”
Another complaint the parking office receives is about the high prices of the permits. A C lot pass costs $396 for the school year. While the number of passes sold each year is proof that students are willing to pay, they do have some frustration with them.
“I can see why they’re that expensive, because paying to park every single day would add up to be that much,” Janssen said. “But I feel like if I’m going to pay that money, I should be guaranteed to find a spot easily every single day and get to class on time every single day, and that’s not always the case.”
Carpenter said because permit sales are Parking and Transit Service’s primary form of revenue, the prices are adjusted to help satisfy their expenses.
As of right now, there are no plans to change any lots or add more garages. The parking system was evaluated in 2011 and 2012 to make sure it could accommodate Chancellor Harvey Perlman’s goal to increase enrollment to 30,000 students. According to Carpenter, vacancy rate for parking on City Campus was between 30 and 40 percent at that time. Some parking has changed since then, but Carpenter says there is still a fairly high vacancy rate.
“We are well built for accommodating the 30,000 students,” he said. “If the master plan starts kicking in and building buildings and taking up surface lots, that’ll stress the parking inventory, but as of now, we’re good for future growth.”
Carpenter said using the bus system on campus is one of the best solutions to problems with parking. Bus passes are free to students, and faculty and staff can purchase a school-year pass for $90.
“That would save us on costs to build parking structures and we’ve already got the system set up, we’re already paying StarTran to operate,“ Carpenter said.
Mark Nealeigh, a staff member at the Glenn Korff School of music and a graduate student, rides the bus to campus four or five days a week. Nealeigh had a parking pass for two years before switching to the bus. He made the switch because he and his wife were down to one car, but also found that he made the same trip for much cheaper.
“It takes about same amount of time to get from my house to campus as it would to find a parking place and walk into the building,” he said.
He said while parking may be more convenient sometimes, he’s had no problem with taking the bus.
“They’re typically on time and on schedule,” he said. “It would be nice if they ran into the evening, but for what I need during the work day, it works.”
Unfortunately, Carpenter said many students, faculty and staff don’t utilize the bus system.
“I think there’s a convenience issue with riding the bus,“ he said. “That would be ideal if that growth would increase as an alternative to building.”
Carpenter said another service they offer for students that struggle with parking is the parking office itself. Whenever a student can’t find a spot, they can call the office. Parking services does frequent surveys of lots and can tell students which lots have available spaces.
“If you have questions, contact us. We’ll help you find parking,” he said. “It’s what we’re here to do.”
For more information about parking campus, visit parking.unl.edu/.