Parking at the U: Is is worth it?

By Michael Sanchez

SALT LAKE CITY — For students and faculty at the University of Utah, parking on campus can be a sore subject. With construction shutting down parking lots and the stressful morning rush to find available spaces, students may find themselves asking, “is parking on campus worth it?”IMG_1917

The sluggish speeds on Foothill Drive, construction blocking regular routes, the cost of parking both legally and illegally, the long walk to class after finding a spot—all of these are issues facing a person commuting to the University of Utah. The problems are easy to identify. The causes and solutions can be more elusive.  

“I think parking spots are going further and further away from the main buildings that I go to because of the amount buildings that are under construction,” says Tamara Oniani, a design student at the University of Utah. Oniani’s walk back to her car is around 10 minutes. Closer parking would make her feel safer on days when she gets out of class in the evening, she says.

Safety has been a concern at the U recently. Walking to and from class, especially at night can be a concern. According to Commuter Services, some of the A parking becomes U parking after a certain time of day. Also, there are escorts available throughout the day for students who feel uncomfortable walking to their car.

An annual parking pass for students at the University of Utah costs around $260. After paying for tuition, housing and books, students can often feel overwhelmed by the added cost of parking at the U. Additionally, employees who receive benefits from the university are allowed to purchase parking with the “A” designation. Parking in “A” designated parking will cost a faculty member around $580 a year. While this pricing may seem unfair at first glance, there are reasons why commuters pay so much to park.

“The only money that we are able to spend is what we are able to generate from fees that we impose,” says Alma Allred, Executive Director of Commuter Services. Commuter Services sets the price of parking, and collects fees to build and maintain parking across the University of Utah campus. Unlike other departments at the U, Commuter services does not receive any tax revenue or money from tuition. The department is run like a business, and it must generate money in order to operate. “We’re supposed to bring in more than we absolutely need, to fund additional construction projects,” Allred says.

The peak hours, when most people park on campus, is around 10 am — which is when the majority of classes are taken by students. This creates a problem for students with morning classes. The dash to find parking is a regular occurrence at the U.

“From my perspective it works fine,” says Raymond Olsen, a U of U staff member who commutes to campus from Logan about four times a week. “It works well for me, I get here early enough, and my secretary provides me with a day pass.”

Olsen is an anomaly when it comes to parking, but he also offered some insight on how to get better parking. “If I were trying to find parking after 8 am, it would be awful.” he says. For some students showing up to school earlier than everybody can be a good solution to finding parking. This practice can also facilitate early morning study time, or perhaps more realistically, a nap before class.

Construction projects on campus have also impacted how many parking spaces are available on campus. “We are sort of in a continual crisis mode, trying to replace parking that is taken by construction of other facilities.”  says Allred. These construction projects take months, and without a backup plan they can cause a high number of parking spaces to disappear. “On Monday we are going to lose 400 spaces,” he says. This is because of the construction of new student housing, due to our growth of the university according to Allred. 

Commuter Services must also consider their impact when they build new parking. A typical parking space in a garage cost on average $22,000 per space. Which, from the stance of Commuter Services, is not a good return on investment.

One solution Commuter Services wants to encourage is the use of public transit. Currently there are 8,000-12,000 people a day who use mass transit to commute to campus. “We want to get as many people as we can on mass transit,” says Allredy. “Every person who rides mass transit saves a parking space for somebody who has to take their car.” This solution is the most obvious answer to avoid parking on campus, but in some cases it is not the most practical.

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Infographic of how many people for every one parking spot on campus for the University of Utah and surrounding states.