The Problem with Parking: Parking a constant struggle for students

Parking Citation Hot Spots

Cameron Koch

Last fall, WKU’s total student enrollment reached 21,048.

Of those 21,048 students, about 12,000 purchased a parking permit from WKU Parking and Transportation Services.

And if by chance all 12,000 of those students decided they wanted to park on campus at the same time, almost 6,000 students would be out of luck, according to data provided by Parking and Transportation Services.

Parking, or the lack thereof, is a hot topic on campus, one that Jennifer Tougas, the director of PTS, is fully aware of.

“We have expanded (parking) capacity since the year 2000 certainly, but in the past few years, we’ve been breaking even,” she said.

Roughly 6,000 parking spaces exist on main campus, Tougas said. Next year, however, will be a different story.

Dennis Cain, transportation analyst for PTS, said main campus will lose about 450 parking spaces next year.

The Student Life Foundation gravel lot on Kentucky Street is being converted into another Housing and Residence Life Apartment Complex. The athletic department is taking the back end of Creason lot, about 242 spaces, and converting it into a tennis complex.

“Parking is going to get real interesting next year,” Cain said.

Tougas said rarely is all of campus 100 percent full and that PTS oversells permits with the goal of being at 95 percent occupancy.

Commuter lots, where there is more coming and going among students, are oversold sometimes as much as double or triple the amount of actual parking spaces, Tougas said.

PTS makes approximately $1 million annually from selling parking permits, which helps to fund the department, Tougas said.

“At our peak, we still have empty spaces on campus,” Tougas said. “Now it’s not outside (Mass Media and Technology Hall), but we have empty parking on campus.

“We still hear that there isn’t enough parking in the springtime, and I look outside, and I see 500 empty spaces on campus,” Tougas said. “It’s convenience.

“We do not have a means to break the laws of physics. Only one car can occupy a space at a given point in time.”

It’s that convenience and lack of education about permit parking zones that contributes to students, faculty, staff and visitors receiving parking citations from parking illegally, she said.

Data provided from PTS revealed that from July 2011 to the end of June 2012, PTS issued more than 15,000 parking citations equaling more than $244,000 in fines. Students received 10,000 citations — the vast majority.

Convenient parking lots in close proximity to campus, such as Mimosa lot on Normal Drive, are routinely filled to capacity. Mimosa, a small parking lot compared to many on campus, racked up 2,376 citations last year. Creason, a much larger and less convenient parking area, received 538 citations.

Cain said Mimosa is especially crowded in the evening as students from off campus flock to night classes in Gary Ransdell Hall, MMTH and Academic Complex.

“We want to accommodate the people who bought permits,” Cain said. “If we relax it, that means that anybody who didn’t have a permit in the evenings could park there for free, and the ones who had permits are, well, you’re just sitting on your ass and waiting.”

Enforcement Officer David Roach includes Mimosa on his list of parking hot spots, also including Old Fort lot at the top of the hill between Potter Hall and Garret Conference Center. Roach said traditionally areas in front of Downing University Center have caused problems, but construction on the building has eliminated demand for parking in the area.

Half of the total number of citations, about 7,500, are warnings without a fine attached.

“We realize, particularly freshmen the first time they’ve been on campus, this is the first time they’ve been told where they can and can’t park,” Tougas said. “I understand there’s a learning curve there…when do you need a permit, when don’t you need a permit. We try and get compliance through education, and the warning is part of that process.”

The education process seems to be working. Citations numbers in the past five years have continually dropped. In 2010, PTS issued almost 19,000 citations, and in 2009 issued more than 20,000.

Safety violations, such as parking in a fire lane or handicap spot, are automatic tickets, Roach said. Expired parking meters will also give students an automatic fine. Failure to display a permit or parking in the wrong zone, especially for a first time offender, often results in a warning, Roach said.

Tougas said probably about 80 percent of people that buy a permit are never seen by PTS again. It’s the other 20 percent that cause the problem, she said.

“It takes an effort, honestly, to receive multiple citations and then eventually a boot if they continue down that path,” she said. “I don’t know why they choose to park the way they do, but they do.”

There are many repeat offenders who receive citations so often that PTS staff members know them by name. After three unpaid tickets of any kind, the next time a violation occurs the offending car is booted.

Bowling Green senior Jay Armfield is one such student.

He said he’s paid hundreds of dollars in PTS fines throughout his college career, mostly in the form of paying for expired parking meters. Armfield, who’s also received multiple boots, said the fines seem higher than they should be.

“You get an expired meter in Chicago, its 10 bucks,” Armfield said. “An expired meter on Western’s campus is $25…that seems like a little bit of a distortion to me.”

Roach, a retired police officer, said there are sometimes people who continue to receive ticket after ticket.

“We had one guy — this was years ago — and he had over 100 paid tickets…he paid off over 100 tickets,” Roach said.

Roach said four officers patrol campus for parking violations during the day and write about 25-35 tickets a day. It is the two night shift officers who write the majority of tickets, ranging from 50 to 60 per night, he said.

Confrontations between officers and students are rare, he said.

“Some people will get upset, but surprisingly, it’s the minority of people,” Roach said. “Most people accept they’ve made a mistake and go on. You do run into some people who are immature….We don’t argue with them. We just say, ‘Hey, if you don’t like the ticket, you can appeal it online, that’s the process. But the ticket’s wrote now and there’s nothing I can do about it.’”

However, Armfield said rude enforcement officers have confronted him, and he complained about them to PTS.

“I understand some of them are retired cops, and I respect them for that,” he said. “But, you know, they aren’t police officers anymore. They don’t have the power of a badge to be a dickhead to people for no reason.”

Most of the parking violations come from students, visitors or faculty parking in zones that their permits don’t allow for. Roach said failure to display a permit and expired parking meters are the second- and third-most common violations.

More parking on campus could solve some parking issues. Tougas said the university and PTS have invested close to $22 million in parking since 2000, but that options for future expansion are limited.

“Our opportunities to expand parking is very limited at this point,” Tougas said. “We’ve run out of land.”

Tougas said it would cost about $9 million to build another parking deck, $9 million the university doesn’t have to spare under recent state budget cuts to postsecondary education.

One solution to the parking problem is off-campus transit services, such as the bus lines.

“Don’t even get in your car,” Tougas said. “Hop on the bus, let us take you to campus.”

She said that in a PTS survey, off-campus transit was high on the list of student requests.

“We can continue to spend millions of dollars on parking, but it’s a lot easier if we intercept the student before they get in their car,” Tougas said.

Another option is making existing parking lots more efficient, in terms of creating more parking space in existing lots and reducing the number of citations in a given area by fine-tuning the purpose of lots on campus.

“When we really take a look at some of those hot spots and say, ‘Let’s take a look at what needs we are trying to serve, what do we need to do to the area?’” Tougas said. “How can we allocate the spaces, how can we design this space better, how can we sign it better, does it need additional paint, what is it that we need to do to make it function better? We’ve made quite a few of those changes throughout campus. That’s been very effective in reducing the number of citations we issue.”

Armfield said one way to improve parking on campus for students would be to increase the number of meters, increase the time until they expire from 45 minutes to one hour and to reduce the fines to a more manageable $10 or $15.

“I don’t understand Western’s mindset or who makes those decisions, but obviously they don’t take the students’ interest in mind,” Armfield said.