Parking Strategies Committee

The Parking Strategies Committee has endorsed an increase in parking fees on campus.

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this editorial was mistakenly posted online last week. It has since been updated.

Parking is a substantial source of income for the University of Texas. In 2014, parking lots and garages brought in $8,015,402 from students, faculty and visitors. With the beginning construction of the new medical school, 3,610 parking spaces will be removed. UT plans on replacing those spots in the future, and the Parking Strategies Committee has endorsed a plan to increase parking fees.

Every car owner at the University of Texas is aware of the terrible parking in Austin. As car-centric a city as Austin is, it might make sense to have widespread available parking options. However, parking lots require space, and space in central Austin is in high demand.   

The construction of the new medical school will be a great addition to the University, but will temporarily debilitate our already troublesome parking setup around campus. Until 2016, the forecast for commuters isn’t looking too great. Commuters are just going to have to wait on the new spaces by parking in the lots across I-35 and budgeting more time into their commute to factor in public transportation to campus. 

With the medical complex, garages will be opened around campus providing anywhere from 3,114 to 4,410 spots. With this increase in garage spots, the overall parking rates around campus will rise in order to accommodate services to the new garage facilities and a market that is growing annually. In fact, UT faculty and students pay less for parking than those from other Texas universities.  In the recently released “Analysis of Smarter Systems for a Greater UT,” the  Parking Strategies Committee concluded that action needs to be taken in order to maintain facilities and level with the market.  

After considering two options, the committee settled on an average fee increase of $6 a year for student and staff surface permits and an average of $23 a year for most resident garage permits and commuter garage permits over the next five years as a solution. The Committee looks to reconvene in 2018 to assess the results and possibly adjust or maintain these rates of increase. In the report, the committee outlined two proposals they have rejected in favor of the modest (possibly temporary) solution. 

The radical option of the two suggested raising parking fees by 7.5 percent annually in order to level with the market in 15 years. This drastic an increase would shock and anger students and faculty accustomed to lower rates of increase in the past. A $96 million gain would have been observed in 15 years if this option were chosen. 

The second plan of action was to concede campus parking to a private entity. The University would issue a Request for Proposals (RFP) to open bidding for the parking concession. Previous systems to concede to privatization include Ohio State University (for $483 million) and the city of Chicago. The concession in Chicago proved troublesome at the start with widespread machine glitches, vandalism and a slow service response.  

A major issue with the option of concession would be the turning over of a substantial amount of area on campus to private companies. “Land use will be a very important issue for the future of UT, and losing control of parcels by turning over the surface parking lots to a concessionaire would not be in the University’s best interest,” the report concludes. Drastically raising parking fees over the next 15 years isn’t in the University’s best interest either, and the Parking Strategies Committee recognizes that. 

As painful as increasing fees are for students, it’s important to remember that these actions are necessary in order to facilitate a lot of what the University is trying to improve, including building more garages and adding more parking spaces overall to a currently cramped system. Student budgets are tight, but parking a car on campus is not and cannot be cheap. 

Photo Credit: Graeme Hamilton | Daily Texan Staff

The Parking Strategies Committee recently announced its report and recommendations for University parking, which include permit rate hikes for at least the next five years. These hikes were solicited in January 2013, when a group of 13 businesspeople released the Committee on Business Productivity’s report for UT. This report called for various rate hikes, privatization plans and budget cuts. The University administration has been faithfully implementing these recommendations despite campus opposition. The Shared Services plan, which called for eliminating 500 staff positions and centralizing the remaining workers (removing them from their home departments), was met with a rally, mass faculty letter, staff speak-outs and a student sit-in, all of which decried the plan as an undue step toward corporatization of the University. Corporatization is an openly stated goal of President William Powers Jr., who endorsed the Business Productivity recommendations and stated that the University ought to follow the “best business practices.”

On Tuesday, the parking committee presented its report at a campus-wide town hall meeting, at the Graduate Student Assembly meeting and at the Student Government meeting. The committee presented on Thursday at a Staff Council meeting. The permit rate hikes are not intended to fill in budget gaps, but simply to increase University revenue. This revenue will not return to the campus community, through employee wage increases or otherwise, and thus this move can only be understood as a business operation that seeks to increase profit from customers. (Bob Harkins, chair of the committee and associate vice president for campus safety and security, told the Texan it is to fund the construction of new parking garages, but this is not the same information that was presented at the town hall.) Indeed, Parking and Transportation Services is designed as a business to begin with, as its sole revenue stream is from paying customers. In FY 2013 - 2014, for example, PTS made about $1.1 million from citations, $2.7 million from permits and $11.7 million from parking facility fees — that is $15.5 million in total. 

This economic model leads to an antagonistic relationship between PTS and the University community it serves, as PTS can only increase revenue by charging the community more. The alternative would be to bring PTS into the public sphere by appropriating University funds to it — in FY 2013 - 2014, however, PTS received a whopping $0 from this coffer. So rather than abide by the cooperative mission of a public university, UT’s proposed permit rate hikes push PTS in a privatized direction. This is an openly stated goal, as the Parking Committee’s report states that the primary motivation is to tack toward market-level rates, which are higher than the University’s. For a public university concerned with affordability, this lesser cost is appropriate — for a business, it is simply lost revenue.

In fact, $0 is a misleading figure. To be more exact, PTS actually receives negative dollar amounts from the University coffer. In FY 2013 - 2014, it had $8 million in excess income over budgeted expenses, and this was returned to the University in its entirety, through debt service and transfers to various departments (such as UTPD) and reserves. PTS has had steadily increasing excess income since at least FY 2009 - 2010, when it was $6.7 million. Every year, however, this surplus has been drained by the University administration — the Parking Committee recommends intensifying this policy, and by Year 4 it has PTS in the red for over $200,000. This is not an unprecedented move by the corporatized administration. For FY 2013 - 2014, PTS had requested additional funds to prevent UT shuttle bus cuts but was denied even though there was a reserve fund of $800,000 from past PTS surpluses. As a result, Capital Metro announced cuts to shuttle routes in the fall of 2013, and these cuts especially impacted financially precarious graduate students.

However, the corporatized University administrators have outright contempt for the idea of affordability. In a Daily Texan news article, the Parking Committee’s chair, Bob Harkins, cited the 2012 Campus Master Plan’s recommendations as another motivation for the permit rate hikes. Harkins notes that these recommendations included the replacement of surface parking lots with more expensive garage structures. However, the plan also states that this will “eliminate spaces that currently provide relatively low-cost options for faculty and staff” — Harkins doesn’t mention this, which is curious given that he was on the committee for the Master Plan as well. The permit rate hikes will obviously exacerbate this affordability gap, but the Parking Committee’s report does not include any discussion on these issues. Whether this is contempt or simply negligence, it is clear that affordability is not a priority of the University administration. 

For students, it’s worth noting that “student leaders” like Student Government President Kori Rady match the administration’s priorities – Rady recently told the Texan that “there’s nothing [they] can do” to prevent PTS from raising parking rates. This blasé attitude is consistent from student leaders on affordability issues, such as tuition hikes. Rather than take initiative to discuss tuition, they consistently wait for UT System intervention, whenever that may happen. Last year, an ad hoc tuition committee pushed through tuition hikes within a three-week time frame, and then-Senate of College Councils President Andrew Clark stated that hikes were inevitable because “we are at the mercy of the UT System.” This failure of leadership continues, as Rady told the Texan he is unconcerned that the student leaders haven’t formed a new tuition committee this semester, and Senate of College Councils President Geetika Jerath said they may simply repeat the ad hoc process.

This contempt for affordability — whether about Shared Services, tuition hikes or parking rates — is particularly outrageous because the administrators have alternative and direct ways of increasing revenue. The most obvious is to request additional funds from the UT System’s massive Permanent University Fund, which currently holds over $17 billion — this is the largest public university endowment in the country. Alternatively, an in-house solution could address the fact that UT has some of the highest rates of executive pay in the country — over 100 (and increasing) University administrators earn more than $200,000. An administrative salary cap at $200,000, an amount that is still excessive compared to the average staff worker salary of $52,000, would annually save $20 million in revenue. The Parking Committee projects that its recommendations will generate $40 million in 10 years — the salary cap, which puts a minor dent in inequality at a public university, would generate $200 million in that same time. Those who want to fight for a public university can sign the petition against the hikes. 

Rathi is a computer science honors junior from Austin.