When parking permits prices for academic year 2013-2014 were announced in May, there were plenty of comments — seen on Twitter and heard elsewhere — from those annoyed about another annual price increase. That's understandable. No one likes paying more, especially when they don’t understand why a product or service costs what it does.
So, why does it cost so much to park on campus?
- State funding is not used to pay for parking facilities;
- Tuition dollars do not supplement parking;
- Collected citation fines cannot supplement construction or maintenance of parking facilities;
- Therefore, parking has to be self-supporting which is done through the sale of permits to those who wish to use parking facilities on campus.
What do Permit fees pay for?
Almost all of it goes toward design and construction new parking decks, maintenance and debt service (paying back construction bonds) of existing decks/lots, with a small percentage going toward traffic control staffing and support of the CATS Campus Shuttle.
Primary factor that determines permit price: cost of new deck construction and replacing flat lots with decks
It’s expensive to design, construct and maintain new parking decks necessary to accommodate enrollment and demand. Existing surface lots make way for new buildings and residence halls; those spaces must be replaced with decks. Decks are far better use of land than paving large swaths of acreage, but they cost a lot more to erect and maintain. In the past 10 years, UNC Charlotte has had to build five of them: East Deck III (2003), Union Deck (2006), North Deck (2011), CRI Deck I (2012), and South Village Deck (2013).
Permit prices are determined by how much will be needed to support a ten-year financial plan that will pay for parking that accommodates enrollment increases.
As demand goes up, so must prices. Other factors include:
- loss of parking lots to new building (academic and housing);
- cost of infrastructure: emergency blue lights, utility lines, cameras, etc.
If these were the only factors considered, rates would actually be much higher. The financial impact on students, faculty and staff is taken into account, too. Prices are kept as low as fiscal responsibility will allow.
Increase in Permit Price (based on 20 year debt service of principal and interest on construction bonds)
- The current financial model projects increase of approximately $40 per full-time permit, per year. This year, permit prices increased by $35.
- Business Services and the University make every effort to keep permit price increases in line with what’s needed to sustain current and planned parking facilities.
Lot versus deck cost breakdown
Design and construction of surface Lots is $2,000-$3,000 per space, depending on land condition. For deck spaces, that number can be four to six times higher to build, and three times more to maintain.
- Union Deck - actual cost per space: $13,192
- North Deck, - actual cost per space: $10,294
- CRI I - actual cost per space $13,594
- South Village Deck - final cost per space TBD, projected cost: $17,594
Assuming that all surface lots will someday be converted to deck space, as outlined in the UNC Charlotte Master Plan, the numbers look like this:
- Estimated cost to convert all Campus surface lots to decks: $119,476,000
- Additional annual maintenance cost is estimated at $913,640
More permits are sold than there are spaces
A permit allows you to legally park on campus; it does not come with a space specifically assigned to you, nor does it promise convenience. In fact, at times of peak demand, parking spots near the campus core are few-to-nonexistent. This is particularly true during the first two weeks of classes when parking availability is most strained. That’s because nearly every student — residents, commuters, full-time, part-time, night and online class takers — need to conduct business on campus, like paying tuition, checking in with financial aid, meeting with advisors, buying books and parking permits, etc. Add to that a full roster of faculty and staff people and lots of extra visitors, and it’s easy to see why vying for close-by parking gets uncomfortably competitive. In direct correlation, complaints about parking rise at that time too, along with the oft-heard suggestion that permits should be sold in direct proportion to the campus space count.
But if permits were sold on a one-decal-to-one-space system, thousands of students and staff would be denied the privilege to park while lots and decks would be half empty much of the time. That’s because the majority of permit holders — who are commuter students — occupy a space less than 6 hours a day. Not everyone has classes or works here every day. Spaces turn over constantly in a university environment.
It's true that parking in Lots 5, 7, 19, and 23, and decks East II & III, Union and West fill up early on Mondays through Thursdays, and stay fairly packed until mid-afternoon. Those areas are preferred because they're nearest to the academic center. But campus does have adequate parking available, all the time. Space verification counts — conducted regularly and often — consistently prove this (see tables below). Last year during peak use times, Monday through Thursday, 10:00 am - 2:00 pm, there were an average of more than 600 open spaces available in Faculty/Staff areas and over 2,000 open spaces in Student lots/decks. That was even with parking near the highrises reduced by 75% due to construction. (This year there will be plenty of parking available there; the new South Village Deck will open in August, adding 1,247 spaces to the campus parking count.)
Empty Space Count Averages • M-TH • Fall 2012
Empty Space Count Averages • M-TH • Spring 2013
What this proves is that the formula for permits sold in relation to spaces available is working, at least for now. We have enough parking available for everyone, all the time without having to exclude certain populations — like freshmen residents — from the privilege of bringing a car on to campus.
Permit Price comparisons
Here's how parking compares to some of our sister institutions in the UNC system:
Parking Permit price comparison among UNC Charlotte, North Carolina State, UNC Chapel Hill, UNC Greensboro, UNC Wilmington, East Carolina University and Appalachian State University
|Preferred F/S (gated access)
* Zoned parking: price depends on location
** UNC Charlotte offers reduced price permit options for Faculty/Staff and Commuters: Remote parking in Lot 27 (on Toby Creek Road near Harris Alumni House for $210) and Lot 6A (at the corner of John Kirk and Cameron Blvd., for $340). In addition we have begun to offer 2-day permits for commuters who only need to drive to campus two days a week for $165 per semester.
Peer institution permit price comparison
We assigned a student intern to research parking permit prices at peer institutions (schools similar in size and academic programs which are referenced for benchmarking) and she quickly learned that she was not comparing apples to apples, nor apples to oranges... it was more like pomegranates to petroleum. Every school has a different financial and space model. Nonetheless, for those interested, here's what she found:
- Kent State University has 21 different commuter options, each specifying lot locations and times the permit allows students to park. Price ranges from $155 to $200 annually, which sounds like a bargain. But Kent State permits are limited in number, issued on a first-come first-served basis, and sold according to class standing.
- Florida International University charges all students a parking fee with their tuition which is very convenient for students who drive. But students who don’t park on campus are paying for a service they don’t use.
- Portland State University offers annual permits from $315-$369. There are enrolled credit hour prerequisites to purchase permits for some of the parking structures.
- University of Massachusetts at Lowell charges about half of UNC Charlotte ($200-$250 annually) but all freshmen commuters are required to park off campus in a satellite lot and take a bus service to campus.
- University of Louisville offers yearly permits from $98 to $590 (zoned parking, depending on location).
- University of Texas at San Antonio commuters pay from $140 to $785 (zoned parking, depending on location).
- Commuters at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee have no permit options at all; they either compete with the public for a meter, or park in a satellite lot and take a shuttle into to campus.
- UNC Charlotte permit prices are set based on a self-funded business model that must account for building of new facilities in relation to projected enrollment and maintenance of existing facilities. Prices may not level off until demand goes down and new deck structures are no longer required.
- Our permit prices average higher than some, lower than others, but with the exception of discount remote lot permits 6A and L27, UNC Charlotte permits are not specific to any one lot or deck. Anyone with a regular, full-time permit may park in any lot or deck in which their permit is valid. For example, residents may park in any Blue or Orange lot/deck; Commuters in any Yellow or Orange area; F/S in any Green, Yellow, Orange and Blue (except Lot 16), etc.
- Parking and Transportation Services sells more permits than there are spaces, but space counts consistently prove that there is always adequate parking for everyone who buys a permit and campus visitors, too. We're striving to keep it that way.
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More on the subject of Parking Truth to come.
Order your parking permit for 2013-14