By Chris Kernan-Schmidt, Columnist
Parking at Mason is not the greatest thing in the world. Permit prices are exorbitantly high, tickets cost too much, and why does it seem Parking Services is always out to get me? All that said, I believe that Parking Services is not as bad as students make it out to be.
I recently interviewed Director of Transportation Josh Cantor, and he had many insightful points into the operation of Parking Services that completely made me rethink my stance on the department. One of the biggest complaints and arguments against Parking Services is that they are profiting off students through high permit costs and citations. This could not be further from the truth.
According to Cantor, Parking and Transportation Services projected $18.7 million in revenue and $19 million in expenses for fiscal year 2018, meaning that they are running on a $300,000 deficit. Furthermore, Parking Services, unlike many services on-campus, receives no revenue from our tuition or state funding. They are operating completely through the sale of permits ($11 million), student fees ($3.2 million), visitor parking ($2.9 million), and citations (only $650,000). So not only is the department not profiting off students, they are not even breaking even, which according to Cantor is their only financial goal.
One of the biggest misconceptions about Parking Services is that citations are a ploy to profit off students. However, citations only account for 3.3% of the department’s total revenue – and they are not even profitable! In addition, perhaps due to lack of communication, not many students are aware that Mason has a student-run citation appeals board. If your citation was given by mistake or there are extenuating circumstances surrounding your citation the student-run board will listen wholeheartedly to your story in-person, and it has the power to reduce or remove the citation completely. It may seem as if parking enforcement is a gang out to shake you down for profit, but that simply is not reality.
I mentioned earlier that permit prices were exorbitantly high, and there is no arguing that, but how do they compare to other colleges? At Mason, a parking deck permit ranges between $610 – $725. That is high, but plenty of universities of similar size are much more expensive: at the University of Virginia, it costs $852 – $1140, at the University of Central Florida, it costs $1,096, and at the University of California, Los Angeles it costs $1,692. The permit prices are set so that the department can break even (which, again, they are not). I agree they are too high, but the problem lies in the distribution of university funds.
At the end of the day, it is a money game. Departments need either to break even or be profitable and currently Parking Services is neither. Complaining to some poor soul who has to read all the complaints is not going to directly solve anything. If we want to change permit prices, we have to influence the distribution of state funds and tuition payments. As aforementioned, the department receives none of these funds and thus they are completely funded through the previously mentioned avenues. If we want permits to be cheaper they have to get the money from somewhere else.
Yeah, Parking Services is an easy scapegoat. Heck, I use it as such on campus tours when people ask me what I dislike about Mason, but in reality, they are not a nefarious group. Like any business, they have to be able to pay their workers, pay their debts, and break even. Unfortunately for us, that means high permit costs, but the root of the problem lies in funding, not the service itself. Maybe some of Dr. Cabrera’s new salary can go towards transportation. If you are worried about getting a citation, please go to parking.gmu.edu and read the parking regulations. We all make honest mistakes in that regard, and luckily, Mason provides avenues for appeal. I am not saying that we should accept high permit prices or high citation costs, but please be cognizant of why Parking Services operates the way it does.
Photo by Allie Thompson