The Parking Game: Parking struggles on UB's campuses
Despite decrease in parking demand, students still struggle to find convenient parking
Jacqueline Conroy and Caitlin Cole-Conroy regularly leave their home in Tonawanda, New York at 8:30 a.m. – an hour and a half before their first class.
The reason is simple: parking.
The sisters hate the stress of circling UB’s parking lots. They’ve even invented a game in which they pretend to be “cheesy game show hosts” who raffle off parking spots.
“I like to call it the Parking Game,” Conroy said. “It’s always a gamble.”
Conroy, a graduate educational psychology and quantitative methods student, and Cole-Conroy, a junior anthropology major, “lost” the game four times when they couldn’t find a parking spot and had to drive back home and have their dad drop them off at school.
Once, Conroy spent almost two hours circling between Jarvis A, Jarvis B, Governors B, Baird A, Slee A and Slee B lots before she gave up and drove home.
The sisters often see students attempt to “win” the game by simultaneously turning into the same parking spot.
“My favorite is when they play chicken and see who stops first,” Conroy said.
Last year, Cole-Conroy took out a $1,000 loan and chose to live on campus in Red Jacket to avoid the hassle of parking and being late to class, she said.
This year, both sisters live at home and usually have their dad drop them off at school. When they do drive, they say they prefer to get parking close to the Academic Spine because it’s too cold to walk long distances in the winter.
Unlike students and faculty, who routinely complain about parking, UB parking officials do not see a problem with UB’s parking.
Maria Wallace, director of UB Parking and Transportation Services, said that even on Wednesdays – the busiest days at UB – there is enough parking for everyone. North Campus alone has more than 1,000 parking spots left at noon, she said.
But for many students that isn’t enough.
“I always feel rushed [to get to class]. I can’t even think straight. I get anxiety just trying to find parking,” said Donte Chavers, a junior business administration major who commutes to campus every day.
Each year Parking and Transportation conducts a survey of students’ satisfaction with parking. In 2014-15, only 1,369 students responded to the survey – about 6 percent of UB’s student body, according to Parking and Transportation Services.
Of those who responded, about 34 percent ranked their overall satisfaction as “fair” or “poor.” But 58 percent of respondents, or 800 students, said their satisfaction was “good” or higher.
The answer to UB’s “parking problem” isn’t more parking – it’s more planning, Wallace said.
Wallace said students should plan ahead and arrive on campus early to avoid circling the lots.
And the demand for parking has decreased in the past six years, according to Wallace. Six years ago, approximately 21,400 students had parking permits. Last year, just 17,480 students had parking permits – a decrease of almost 4,000 students.
Still, students like the Conroy sisters struggle to find parking on campus each morning. Some students feel UB officials should be more connected to student needs and the time constraints students face with off-campus jobs and responsibilities – not everyone has time to “plan ahead […] to avoid circling the lots,” as Wallace suggests.
Many of the spots open on North Campus after noon are on the periphery of campus, like in Ellicott and the Center for Tomorrow lots. Wallace recommends parking there and then taking the buses or shuttles that run regularly to the main parts of campus.
While some students would like to see more parking lots on North Campus to better accommodate the thousands of students looking for parking each morning, others think more lots would make the campus uglier and less environmentally friendly.
Every year UB collects $8.5 million from the mandatory student transportation fee, which is more than 90 percent of its overall budget. Full-time students pay $187.25 and part-time students pay $15.60 each semester for the transportation fee, according to the 2014-15 Broad-based Fee Rates on UB Student Accounts’ webpage.
That fee covers the $6,672,000 Transportation spends on the 28 Stampede buses, 16 campus shuttles, mall/market busing services, Bikeshare, bicycle racks, a GPS that allows students to look at shuttle locations in real-time and transit advertising.
Parking spends $2,401,000 on things like lot directional signs, University Police patrols, parking enforcement, carpool spaces, snow removal, electric vehicle charging stations and a parking radio station.
Faculty and staff pay an annual vehicle registration fee of $9.65. This fee covers the cost of producing the hangtags and is negotiated through faculty union bargaining agreements, Wallace said.
And Parking and Transportation has another way to bring in more revenue – parking violations.
In 2013, approximately 19,000 parking violations were issued, according to Student Accounts. Since parking violations cost at least $20, Parking and Transportation brought in an extra $380,000.
The 17,402 students with hangtags are limited to five student-only lots along the Academic Spine, located on the periphery of campus in the Arena, Lake La Salle, Stadium, Special Events and Governors E lots. These lots have a total of 1,220 spots.
For the 8,400 faculty and staff with hangtags, however, their five exclusive lots – Baird B, Jacobs A, Hochstetter A, Governors B and Furnas – have a combined total of 1,124 spots. Faculty and staff-only lots are located closer to the Academic Spine than those reserved for students.
“[UB] definitely needs to figure out a way to get more student lots,” said Jemila Hoyte-King, a junior business administration and psychology major. “I think there aren’t enough commuter lots. Faculty lots are almost always half-empty, and the students are struggling to find parking. It’s not fair.”
Chavers agrees with Hoyte-King and said UB isn’t being efficient with its lots.
“When I come to school, there’s like no room in the student lots and then in the faculty lots, there’s like five cars. I’d say about 75 percent of their lots are open while students are looking for parking spots,” Chavers said.
The rest of the lots on the Academic Spine on North Campus are combined student/faculty lots, totaling 3,816 parking spots.
The nearly 25,802 people parking on UB’s North Campus have access to just 6,160 parking spots along the Academic Spine, which means there are about 4.19 people per parking spot on the Spine.
Hoyte-King said for earlier classes, she can “show up around 8 or 8:30 a.m.” and get a parking spot quickly.
“But if it’s later in the day, like around 10, it can take around half an hour to 45 minutes to find a space,” she said.
To park near the Academic Spine, Nicole Stuhlweissenburg, a senior international studies and economics major, would often idle her car outside the Student Union. When she saw students enter Furnas Lot, she would “shark” through the lot and stalk them to their car.
Sometimes she’d be in luck, and the students would get in their car and drive away. Other times, she’d be unlucky and realize the students were only going to their car to grab some textbooks.
One day, she spent 45 minutes searching for a parking spot and, unable to find parking in Cooke A, Cooke B, Fronczak B, Jacobs A, Jacobs B, Jacobs C and Baird B lots, she parked in the Special Events lot, which is a bit of a walk.
“I use more of my gas trying to find parking than I do driving to campus,” she said.
Shark or shuttle?
UB has taken several steps to minimize parking congestion, according to Wallace. Mainly the steps have focused on encouraging students to drive less, to use buses more and to maximize available space by parking on the periphery of campus in places like the Center for Tomorrow lot and in Ellicott.
The Stampede bus system transports 15,000 students – more than half of UB’s population – per day and connects students from peripheral parking lots to the core of the campus, Wallace said.
Students who drive to campus can take advantage of UB’s transportation by parking their car in underused lots such as the Main-Bailey lot on South Campus or the Center for Tomorrow lot on North Campus and taking the Stampede or a shuttle to class.
“Park and ride is your first option,” said Christopher Austin, assistant director of UB Parking and Transportation Services. “It really eliminates the stress and the circling parking lots [and] minimizes the potential for accidents within the parking lots.”
The Green Line, for example, takes people to the Flint Loop from the Center for Tomorrow lot and services about 206 students daily.
Carmen Falbo, a driver on the Green Line, said it’s a shame more students don’t use the shuttle, but he also remembers a time when the North Campus Shuttle – which now has 18 stops – used to be much faster. There used to be two lines instead of just the North Campus line, which takes students across the whole campus.
“If you get on the North Campus shuttle, you could be on the bus for an hour,” Falbo said.
And for students taking classes at the Medical Campus – or who live near downtown and don’t want to drive to Amherst – there is the Blue Line, which about 235 students use daily.
UB Parking created the Express Bus Program in 2009 to provide students from New York’s major cities – like New York City or Syracuse – a way of returning home for breaks without having to bring cars to campus.
Students who live off campus have shuttle options, as most of the surrounding apartments have their own services.
Stuhlweissenburg – sick of spending 45 minutes searching for a spot – takes the shuttle from University Village at Sweethome.
“That was my breaking point,” she said. “I was like, ‘I can't do this anymore.’”
She said using the shuttle costs her sleep and study time, but she still prefers using it to avoid parking on campus.
Busing from the outside
UB doesn’t provide students with passes to the NFTA system like many neighboring colleges such as SUNY Buffalo State, SUNY Erie Community College, Bryant & Stratton College and Canisius.
Transportation officials say they want students to be less reliant on their personal vehicles and more focused on ride shares and transit options, but isn’t considering offering the passes, Austin said.
NFTA has set up a College Riders Accessing Metro (CRAM) Pass Program, which offers unlimited access to all Metro services.
Ellen Kongphet, a college administrative assistant at ECC, said the CRAM Pass is a “great benefit” to ECC students. ECC has 13,990 undergraduates – just under 6,000 fewer than UB.
“It does eliminate concerns and frustrations [about parking],” she said. “[The CRAM Pass is] a product that sells itself.”
Still, Kongphet said “the spaces are limited” in ECC’s student lots.
ECC students pay $70 each semester – less than half of what UB students pay – for their transportation and safety services, including the CRAM Passes, an on-campus parking pass and shuttle that travels between the college’s three campuses.
Kongphet said students use the CRAM Pass every day for internships and jobs. The CRAM Pass helps ECC reach all demographics, and some students come to ECC specifically because of the CRAM Pass program.
In 2011, UB experimented with the idea of offering NFTA Metro Rail passes to students.
Daniel Hess, associate professor in the Department of Urban and Regional Planning, led a study, entitled "Connections Beyond Campus – An Evaluation of the NFTA-UB Pilot Transit Pass Program," on UB's pilot pass program conducted in partnership with NFTA which gave 2,813 students and 310 faculty and staff members pre-paid Metro passes. Participants were able to access the NFTA Metro Rail for 20 months, making it different from the CRAM Passes, which include bus and rail services. The passes cost UB just $10 for students and $30 for faculty. Despite the initial cost, UB ended up saving $62,000 because it cut the amount of trips the Blue Line made from downtown to South Campus in half.
UB was unable to reach an agreement with NFTA once the program ended.
Wallace said because only about 2,800 students participated in the 20-month program, out of a possible 3,000, a transit pass program would only benefit a minor subsection of the student population.
It would cost more than $1.4 million for UB to purchase transit passes for all of its students, according to Austin.
“Just looking at the math, most would say we need a deal other than what is being offered,” Austin said.
But the Blue Line, which runs a similar route as the NFTA Metro Rail, costs $8,000 per month to operate – $96,000 a year, according to Austin.
Still, re-allocating spending isn’t feasible, according to Wallace. She said the only feasible option would be for NFTA to offer an “opt-in” program where individual students can choose to purchase a transit pass.
A monthly Metro pass costs $75. Wallace said she has tried to get students a reduced price, but UB has not reached an agreement with NFTA.
Paria Negahdarikia, a graduate urban and regional planning student, said some international students feel UB’s parking policies cater to domestic students and neglect the needs of international students, who make up about 17 percent of UB’s population.
Negahdarkia conducted research with Hess and found international students are likely to rely on the NFTA Metro Rail because of the cost and because few of them have driver’s licenses, cars or car insurance.
UB should collaborate with the NFTA to create a transit pass program to serve both domestic and international students, Negahdarikia said.
“If UB is relying on its international student body as one of its strengths, then it should also provide services like transportation services for them,” she said.
A transit pass program would also reduce parking congestion and promote sustainability, according to Samuel Wells, a graduate urban planning student.
“If they want to be a leader in the region in promoting alternative forms of transportation and being as green and as environmentally friendly as possible, I think this is a no-brainer,” he said.
UB’s landscape is dominated by a “sea of parking lots,” according to Wells. Providing alternative forms of transportation – such as access to a transit pass program – will reduce the demand for parking and allow UB to integrate more natural areas into the campuses, he said.
Green over gray
Last semester, the Graduate Planning Student Association (GPSA) participated in PARK(ing) Day and converted a parking spot on South Campus into a mini public park.
PARK(ing) Day began in San Francisco in 2005 and has evolved into a worldwide event where activists raise questions on how cities can develop public spaces to optimize urban living, according to the PARK(ing) Day website.
“What if we could do that for a hundred spaces or a thousand spaces?” Wells said. “Would we come closer to the campus the university wants [and] to the campus we want?”
UB built its most recently constructed lot two years ago – Clark Lot, located near the pharmacy school on South Campus.
Given the decrease in the demand for parking and the underuse of peripheral parking lots, UB does not plan on adding more parking in the near future, Wallace said.
UB could reduce parking congestion by building a parking garage, Conroy said. It’s a request many students make, according to Austin. A parking garage would allow the university to simultaneously provide more parking and maintain its green space, Conroy said.
A parking garage, however, is not a financially feasible option, Wallace said. On average, parking spaces in a garage cost seven to eight times more to maintain than outdoor parking spaces, she said.
“With over 1,100 open parking spaces on the North/South Campuses at our peak period of each day, designing and constructing a parking ramp that costs in between $18,000-$30,000 per space is not a reasonable alternative at this time,” Austin said in an email.
Instead, Austin suggests students utilize the shuttle services from “outlying parking areas,” the Stampede, carpooling, Zipcar and Bikeshare.
Many students, like Adrian Figueroa, a junior international business major, resort to parking far from the Spine and walking to class.
“I’ve given up at this point,” Figueroa said. “I just park in the Special Events lot because Jacobs is always packed and I don’t have time to find parking. They should just open more spaces for students and commuters.”
While Austin and Wallace don’t condone students “sharking,” many have no plans to stop and joke it’s like a UB right of passage. Other students like the Conroy sisters may have to just keep playing the Parking Game.
James Battle contributed reporting to this story.
This article was updated at 4:45 p.m. on April 14, 2015 to reflect that Daniel Hess led a study on the UB-NFTA pilot pass program; he did not lead the pilot program as was originally stated in the article.
Sushmita Gelda is a contributing writer and Emma Janicki is an assistant managing editor; both can be contacted at email@example.com