OPINION: The Difficulty of Parking at Mason


By Paresha Khan, Staff Writer

As a commuter, driving to Mason daily has been the ultimate struggle. After commuting for 45 minutes to an hour, circling around Lot K for an ideal parking spot can be stressful, especially because the walk from the parking lot to the campus seems to last for eternity. During my first weeks of classes, I was late for my 9 a.m. class even though I left my house two hours in advance.

The freshman class of 2021 is the largest class ever admitted at Mason, making the total number of students roughly 36,000. This includes about 2,727 in-state students that were admitted this year. Because Mason is primarily a commuter school, freshman are allowed to have their cars on campus.

“We actually sold almost 400 less permits this year and almost 1000 less general permits,” Director of Parking and Transportation and Administration Josh Cantor said. “Parking stayed busier than in past semesters, but by this time of the semester, there are hundreds of general spaces available all day.”

According to the Parking and Transportation Update Fall 2017 (parking.gmu.edu), students are encouraged to arrive an extra 30-45 minutes before class because traffic on and around the Fairfax campus greatly increases, especially during the first few weeks of the semester. The update and emails that I received thus far only mention how busy campus is at the beginning of the semester, and student attendance is a valid explanation.

“Honestly, parking is still the same. There aren’t more spots and Mason still hasn’t changed the restricted areas,” junior Aisha Shafi said. “What’s really frustrating is that they still have carpool restrictions from 7 a.m. to 11 a.m. I get that parking is competitive but they block off way too much space for people who carpool. An entire row of parking stays empty in Lot A for carpoolers.”

The percentage of freshmen residents with cars has decreased from 45 to 17 percent over the past decade. Freshmen that live on campus can have cars, but have limited choices of permits. Only one third of all residents have cars and only 55 percent of all students have vehicles.

“As space is physically limited, we tightly control how many permits we sell for each type, which was a strategy of our master plan,” Cantor said.

Although statistics show that more parking spots are available, freshman Nabeel Saleem feels frustrated when trying to find parking spots.

“I don’t take classes early [in the] morning because that’s when traffic is at its worst,” Saleem said. “But when I come to campus after 10 a.m., it’s so hard to find a good spot and I don’t want to upgrade to a parking deck because that’s just too expensive.”

I personally feel very anxious when trying to find parking at Mason. Even though the ninth week of school has gone by, I still haven’t been able to adjust to parking. I continue to arrive an hour before my classes begin, yet still fail to find a reasonable parking spot close to campus. The parking lots generally are very far from campus and I’m glad that I bought the general parking permit for just one semester because I will definitely be upgrading to a parking deck for spring 2018.

“The campus master plan calls for future parking decks when future buildings are built on lots. The overall strategy is to maximize existing parking before building new parking, as  well as increasing the use of transit, buses, bikes, and carpooling,” Cantor said.

To improve parking for students, the Parking and Transportation and Administration Staff will try to build parking decks in the future if the lot space is used for new buildings.

However, parking decks are very expensive to build – up to $30,000 per space –  and have to be paid for  through revenue generated over time by parking permits. Thus, the more debt accrued to finance construction, the higher the permit price goes.

“Knowing one’s options, looking for ways not to drive alone and reduce parking demand can help, as well as help people save money and reduce carbon emissions which is part of the campus sustainability goals as well,” Cantor said.

There’s a reason why the majority of Mason students have general parking permits: it’s the cheapest option. After paying thousands of dollars for tuition and textbooks, adding fees for parking is infuriating. The “master plan” seems to be a helpful solution, but it needs to be implemented immediately because, as the Space Needs Analysis projects, enrollment on the Fairfax Campus will grow by approximately two percent per year through 2020.

Photo Courtesy of Christine Viray