The madness behind parking: why pass prices have risen in 2014

Photo Credit: Amy Rose

Photo Credit: Amy Rose

The prices of parking passes have increased this year, with general lot passes going from $335  to $350 for off-campus students while on-campus students now pay $395.

“I [think it’s] ridiculous, but you kind of expect these things to rise in cost,” said senior Muhammad Zafar. “At the same time, I still feel it is unfair to burden students like this.”

Parking pass prices do not rise every year. Josh Cantor, the director of Parking and Transportation at Mason, says that some years Parking Services lost $1 million but avoided raising permit fees.  Many options did remain at the same price, including Lots I, J, R and Rappahannock Parking Deck. Cantor says that to understand the increase in prices, it is important to first understand how Parking Services is run.

“Parking Services is a self-funded auxiliary,” Cantor said. “We receive no funding from tuition or the state. Running Parking Services is like running a business in a way. Knowing our expenses, the historical trends we have observed in the past, and enrollment projections are the ways we can project how many parking passes we will sell and what is the lowest price we can set them at to break even.”

However, senior Javier Guinand still thinks something is wrong with the structure of Mason Parking. “[I’m] frustrated. I feel as though Mason is overwhelmed and the institutional capacity is flawed,” Guinand said. “It just seems like there needs to be better planning.”

Cantor says that it costs around $16 million per year to run Parking and Transportation. This includes the $6 million necessary to pay off the building of garages such as Rappahannock Parking Deck, where a parking space costs from $15,000 to $20,000 to build. That $6 million also covers miscellaneous parking operations and the contract to cover operational expenses and supplies which runs at about $3.5 million per year. Parking Services also has a contract with Reston Limousine to provide shuttle services to students which takes up $3.4 million of that $6 million budget. The subsidy to Fairfax City allowing Mason students to ride the Cue Buses for free runs at about $720,000 per year. According to Cantor, Rappahanock Parking Deck cost $42 million to build in 2009 and maintenance of the deck itself  is upwards of $30 million.

“We are responsible for finding that balance between having enough parking and making that parking convenient, but not at the expense of other buildings such as those used for academics,” Cantor said. “This problem isn’t unique to Mason. It’s something every university faces.”

According to Cantor, more added expenses to the budget of Parking Services are expected every year with the widening of Roanoke Road during the Braddock Road/Campus Drive project, which cost around $900,000. West Campus provides much cheaper parking ($195 for on-campus students, $150 for off-campus students) and a free shuttle service to and from the lot. West Campus has filled about a third of its capacity leaving room for about 400 more parked cars daily.

“For those students who may only have class once a week, the visitor parking option available at the field house for $3/day would cost less than $50 per semester,” Cantor said.  “Ultimately, the students have to choose what works best for them.”

Other options for increasing parking efficiency include incentivizing carpooling (there are 90 carpool spaces located in Lot A), utilizing the shuttle system and the option of biking, which has doubled in popularity in the past 2-3 years. Cantor says that convenience is the main concern for most students when it comes to parking.

“We haven’t had too many complaints this year,” Cantor said. “We are always cognizant and aware of the importance of keeping fees down but at the same time remaining financially sound. My hope is to give the students enough information as possible and as much choice and flexibility. Unfortunately, it is always complicated.”