Graphic by Billy Ferguson

Parking and Petitions

Students create petition to halt parking prices, Parking Services explains high prices

BY NATALIA KOLENKO, CAMPUS NEWS EDITOR

 

Two students recently released a petition to halt the rise of parking pass prices, one of at least four parking price petitions created in the last two years.

Graduate student John Russell and senior Megan Thomas decided to create this petition when they met at StandUnited, a free petition platform that mobilizes supporters, and discovered they shared the same frustration over parking prices.

In the past three years, Parking Services at George Mason University has increased the cost of general parking passes,” the petition says. Yet, “Once a student pays the hefty fee he or she still may be unable to find parking.”

Russell said that because he’s been a commuter for all of his undergraduate degree and into his graduate degree, parking is a big concern for him. As for Thomas, she said when she transferred from Virginia Tech she was surprised and frustrated to find that parking was more expensive at Mason, considering it’s a large commuter school.

Russell acknowledged that there have been petitions against parking prices in the past but points out that, unlike those individuals who just use petition platforms, he and Thomas have the support of StandUnited because they work there. StandUnited allows Russell and Thomas to create a campaign and perfect their message as well as give them a platform for their petition, Russell added.

In addition to StandUnited’s support, Thomas said their petition has a different message than previous petitions, which have unsuccessfully tried to lower parking prices.

“We tried to take a little more realistic approach and say, ‘OK, don’t lower prices because we know you need a certain amount of revenue to be able to sustain construction projects, but do not raise them,’” Thomas said. “We thought that was a reasonable compromise.”

As for their next step, Russell said once they have enough signatures, they plan to go to the Board of Supervisors. They currently have 526 signatures out of a goal of 1000. Russell added that while he thinks many of the other petitions have only been on social media, he and Thomas actually plan to hand-deliver the petition to the Supervisor’s office and demand an explanation on why they will or will not accept it.

In addition to Russell’s and Thomas’ frustration, parking is a big concern for many Mason students.

One such student is senior Hozaifa Anjum.

“[Parking] is something that has a daily impact on my life in addition to the annual cost. With the amount of money that students contribute annually or semesterly, one would expect a more convenient experience,” Anjum said.

Others like Ryan Lohr believe parking prices are “ridiculous,” while Rachit Bhagat added that “it’s hard to afford parking.”

While it’s clear to students that prices keep going up each year, they often don’t realize that Parking Services is a part of Parking and Transportation, which is a department that is self-funded and has a contract with the university via SP+, a provider of professional parking, ground transportation, facility maintenance, security and event logistics services.

According to Joshua Cantor, the director of Parking and Transportation, SP+, whose contract with Mason runs out in 2020, carries out the operation of Parking Services while Mason sets the rates and policies.

Cantor said that prices are what they are because Parking Services does not get any tuition dollars or state funds and must generate enough revenue to cover its expenses.

“Parking expenses have increased over the years with new debt service to pay off construction of parking, increased maintenance costs to repair parking facilities, increased operations to cover more parking, including regional campuses,” Cantor said, “and over the years has helped pay for the transportation costs not covered by student fees.”

He added that as shuttle operations increased to meet the growing demand for public transportation options, the parking subsidy to transportation increased as well. Cantor said increasing students’ use of public transit is part of the master plan to decrease parking demands — and therefore to not build more expensive parking, which would drive prices up even more.

All this information is available to students on Parking Services’ homepage. Under a yellow box labeled “News Box” is the link “Know Why Parking Fees Have Increased and What Your Low Cost Options Are” as well as a Parking and Transportation overview. Oftentimes students aren’t aware that this information exists and is available to them.

“We try and be very transparent as to how prices are set… and as we have always done, we make ourselves available for questioning from student media, with student government, at town halls, on social media, in emails or basically anywhere,” Cantor said.

Russell said he and Thomas were aware that Parking & Transportation is self-funded, and that’s why they aimed for the compromise of keeping parking rates the same for next year. However, they feel there’s a lack of clarity and transparency about this information.

While that link on the Parking Services website does exist, Russell said the department could also try to inform students using other options, like emailing students about where their money is going. Russell added that Parking Services doesn’t seem to have as much concern for students as the university, so more information would help ease students’ minds.

Junior Lucas Brennan said he was not aware of this information about Parking Services, “So I think there is still room for improvement in Mason’s communication with the student body.”

Junior Ashlee Booth added that Parking Services could do better at teaching their employees this information.

“I have called Parking Services multiple times about general questions and was always answered by a confused, un-knowledgeable response. If they are charging so much, maybe they can train their employees better and have clearer rules and regulations,” Booth said.

On the other hand, Anjum said that regardless of whether or not Parking and Transportation informs students and faculty on this matter, it does not have a good enough excuse for the constant price hikes.

“It makes it more understandable, but it doesn’t mean there is no alternative. Isn’t innovation supposed to be tradition around here? I’d like to see some innovative ideas come from the administration in addressing student concerns instead of just saying ‘there’s nothing we can do, we are self-funded,’” Anjum said.

Cantor said he understands that students have their concerns.

“We fully understand the concerns about pricing and really work hard to minimize increases, often facing deficits and using reserves [instead of] raising fees even more,” Cantor said. “We strive to offer a lot of options and also, based on feedback, try and meet many competing demands.”

Despite the hurdles that need to be jumped through, Thomas said students won’t give up on the cause.

“[Students] have not been disheartened by the failures in the past… Every year you’re going to have a fresh body of students who are just as upset about the issue. It’s not going to go away,” Thomas said. “The petition will just get stronger.”