Parking services failing students

The opening of a discussion around creating a flex parking pass is a chance to reflect on the state of parking at the U of M.

UMSU and Parking Services will be surveying students and working to create more flexible parking pass options that work around students’ schedules.

Early indications are that a Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and a Tuesday and Thursday pass will be available for a desired September 2019 roll-out.

This initiative must retain a focus on the students who pay tuition on top of parking.

Parking Services at the U of M is an ancillary service — a designation that includes the bookstores, student residences and UMSU University Centre pharmacy — and is expected to be financially self-supporting through managing parking lots at the Fort Garry and Bannatyne campuses.

Being self-sustaining while trying to keep up with increasing operating costs — for electricity and snow-clearing, for example — is problematic when Parking Services also has a mission of meeting “our community’s transportation needs” and promising “innovative and professionally-managed parking and transportation” options.

To work toward that critically important mission, fees must be maximized. There is no other way.

How, then, does this critically important service function?

Every year students pay more as parking pass costs continue to rise. On event days, students are inconvenienced by vacating their paid parking spaces earlier than their schedules may permit.

Today’s reality is one of tickets written less than one minute before an automated machine is capable of processing payment or within a minute of parking expiring.

These are not the hallmarks of a professionally-managed system. Nor is an app or automated machine that is unable to process a payment on the first attempt to result in processing delays as a parking ticket is written.

But the parking regulations are enforced. No parking without paying. No stopping within a public parking area without paying. That is why Parking Services ticketed your car while you were trying to pay.

With the requirement of the service being self-maintaining through charging fees and issuing tickets, innovation and professionalism has become neglected.

Would a refund ever be given for purchasing parking before entering a lot and discovering no spots remain? Or to see a spot, rush to pay and then discover someone has parked in that lone spot and is then proceeding to the meter?

Who would ever believe that fantastic story? Parking Services? Never.

As a result, students will continue to park first, then pay.

Now discussions of a flex pass to meet student needs appear to be starting to revolve around a two-day or three-day pass, based on “system limitations.”

This fails students. This fails education students and their practicum schedules. This fails students only on campus one semester, for instance before graduating.

For example.

We shall not forget the staff, who pay the same rate as students since fall 2015 from September to April, but who continue to pay the same rate for the summer while students get a “discounted” $244 summer pass, tax included.

Staff passes, parking citations and the cost of casual and hourly lots is the remaining way to increase funds for the self-funded parking system. Parking citation rates increased May 2016, with the rationale of being a deterrent to parking without paying. The “Toonie” Lot underwent two years of poorly advertised dollar-a-day increases in 2013 and 2014.

Now the SD — Six Dollar? — Lot demands $744 for the student unable to acquire a parking pass for a space in a lot closer to their classes.

Students have enough on their plates. Additional and outrageous fees and fines on top of exorbitant and unregulated increases is a hassle and continual financial strain.

And these are most aggressively levied against those students who have been unable to obtain a parking pass or for whom a parking pass is an unrealistic option. A flex pass, constrained by system limitations and dictated by software-centred whims, will do nothing to overcome this situation.

The student unable to get a parking pass and whose class schedule requires them to be on campus for full days all week used to be able to take solace in paying fewer — or at least not many more — dollars over the more highly priced regular session parking pass. No longer.

A punishment for the unfortunate.

Maybe some day Parking Services will be a professionally-managed, innovative service.

One that will make parking the least of a student’s worries while pursuing an education at U of M and one that won’t prey on students or lurk in wait for students to park to make an extra buck before payments are processed.

They shall not double charge, though cars patrol in parking lots.