An Unbalanced Parking System is an Unsustainable Parking System: Faculty Parking Permits

February 17, 2014

Written By: Peter Wilkinson

The University of New Hampshire has a well-developed transportation system that includes the reputable Wildcat Transit and Campus Connector systems.  However, parking at UNH has tended to be a more troublesome topic, due to the lack of a balanced parking permit system.  As UNH continues to work towards its goal of becoming a sustainable institution, it’s crucial that unsustainable facets of the university are adjusted.  Parking permit pricing, particularly that of faculty permits, is a financially unsustainable aspect that must be addressed.  Not only is the financial sustainability of the system an issue, the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by faculty and staff driving to and from UNH also plays a major role.  It’s time to implement a balanced permitting system for faculty/staff parking permits, because a balanced system is a sustainable system. Currently, UNH faculty, staff, and commuter students all pay a flat rate of $50 per year for a parking permit.  This price is part of the Faculty Union contract, which is negotiated every few years, and the only recent price change in the last 15 years was an increase from $37 to $50 in 2004.  Now, this price may not seem to be an issue at first glance.  However, let’s consider the amount of money required to maintain a single parking space every year: approximately $200.  According to the existing inventory of UNH’s Parking Department, this is the minimum amount of money required to preserve, clean, light, and secure a single parking space on campus.  The parking system’s two primary sources of revenue are parking permit sales (60%) and fines (40%), and currently the system is labeled as “healthy,” but if those percentages were switched, then the system would be “sick.”  Despite having a “healthy” system in terms of revenue sources, the $50 price of faculty/staff parking permits is harmful to the system.  Receiving only $50 for a parking space that costs at least $200 to maintain is just not financially sustainable.  This imbalance makes it impossible for the parking system to be self-sustaining.  If we also consider the potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions that could occur if fewer faculty members drove their cars to work everyday, then we have another reason to address this issue. With this, a simple solution to the problem presents itself: increase the price of faculty/staff parking permits.  Even if the system was financially sustainable today, the price of a parking permit should be about $61 if we had just kept up with inflation since the 2004 price change.  The current price of $50 seems completely irrational when compared with parking permit sales of similar schools, such as UConn, which charges faculty and staff $350 per year for a regular permit.  In addition, UConn also offers an equity-based parking permit sales model for faculty and staff who park in perimeter campus lots.  An employee can pay $75/year if their salary is up to $37,500, $120/year if they make $37,501-$64,500, or $165/year if they make over $64,500 a year.  An equity-based permitting system such as this makes financial sense.  The University of Vermont operates on a pre-tax payroll deduction system, in which a percentage of each employee’s salary is deducted to pay for his or her permit.  Three types of permits are offered with payroll deduction percentages of 0.64%, 0.48%, and 0.32% based on how close to campus the permit allows you to park (i.e. main campus, proximate, or peripheral respectively).  The UNH Parking Department cannot depend on increased fines in order to increase revenue and risk creating a “sick” system, which existed a decade ago.  They must maintain their “healthy” system while developing an equity, geographic, or demand-based permitting model. Faculty/staff parking permits are also tied to the Wildcat Transit System, which is primarily paid for by the Student Transportation Fee, a mandatory fee of $119 per year for fulltime students.  However, additional revenue generated from faculty/staff parking permit sales could be used to alleviate pressure from the Student Transportation Fee, which was increased by $10 this year.  As time goes on, and as federal funding decreases in certain areas, for example the purchase of new buses, this issue will become more and more pressing.  The last 10 buses purchased for the Wildcat Transit and Campus Connector systems were at least 80% federally funded; however, Transportation Services is currently buying 4 new buses, which are not federally funded, in order to meet the increasing demand for public transit.  Currently, a new compressed natural gas bus costs about $400,000-$450,000, and with 100% of this money coming from the University, major pressure will be put on funds such as the Student Transportation Fee, unless the price of faculty/staff permits is increased.  Sustainability is one of our core values here at UNH, so it’s about time we had a sustainable parking permit system.

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