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Saturday, June 24, 2017

Campus

Committee proposes plan to compensate for closed parking lots


There is currently no system in place to compensate Parking and Transportation Services when University buildings are constructed on existing parking lots. | Jasmine Davis/The Cougar

Students suffering from the rise of parking permit prices might soon see relief.

If a measure proposed by the University of Houston’s Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee Chair Elliot Kauffman is approved, it would compensate Parking and Transportation Services for any parking spaces lost to other University departments for future non-parking construction, an issue that contributes significantly to the rise in parking prices.

“As soon as you lose parking spots, you have to replace them somehow,” Kauffman said. “You have to build, which costs money. So, there’s lost revenue from not having those spaces to sell parking passes, and when you build, you have to spend money to do it. All those costs increase and get added to parking passes.”

Taking its toll

Because PTS is an auxiliary enterprise and receives revenue — parking lots are its primary source — exclusively from the service it provides, permit-buyers are the ones who see a price increase.

PTS Director Robert Browand said that when PTS loses a parking lot to another department, it also loses the revenue associated with that lot. Last year, PTS lost 300 parking spaces when Lot 12B was permanently closed in favor of a new athletic facility.

With the oversell rate — the act of selling more permits than there are spaces — included, PTS lost the ability to sell anywhere from 300 to 540 student and economy permits.

“You have a hierarchy of departments where one continually gets the shaft, and that’s Parking and Transportation,” Kauffman said.

What happened to Lot 12B is an example of the impact campus development has had on parking over the last 10 years. Since then, PTS has lost 3,809 parking spaces to non-parking projects and gained a total of 6,725 spaces, Browand said.

The lack of compensation means PTS paid for 3,809 parking spaces twice.

TPAC Vice Chair Andrew Bahlmann said this parking dilemma has a negative impact on students.

“What you’ll see is there’s less parking on campus,” Bahlmann said. “The oversell rate will have to be higher, and your time spent trying to find a spot on campus will continue to increase.”

The proposed resolution

Kauffman’s proposal uses a formula to compensate PTS 150 percent of the construction cost of any parking spaces permanently lost.

For comparison, the construction value of a gravel parking space at the Energy Research Park is $1,000 per spot, the value of an asphalt parking space ranges from $3,383 to $3,800 per space, depending on whether or not the paving is on an existing gravel lot, and parking garages cost $17,500 per spot.

UH has a limited area to build outward, Kauffman said, meaning any future parking projects will have to be garages, which have the most expensive parking permit. An annual garage pass costs nearly $200 more than a student permit.

“Building costs money, and when you lose parking spaces, that’s just salt in the wound,” Kauffman said. “Students, faculty and staff don’t realize why (the price increase) is happening. They just know PTS is in charge of parking, and we hate parking, so this must be their fault.”

The models TPAC used to create the compensation formula were based on colleges in different states, Browand said. Those states’ appropriations bills do not necessarily have the same requirements for public universities as those in Texas, so the measure couldn’t be voted on yet.

According to Article III Section 6 of the 2016-2017 General Appropriations Act, educational and general funds appropriated to public universities by the state cannot be spent on auxiliary services. UH, a public institution which receives the majority of its funding through state funds, cannot subsidize an auxiliary service like parking.

In need of a donor

There is a possibility, however, that private donor money could be used to compensate PTS’ losses.

“Until we see donors or we see corporations putting money into garages or putting their names on garages or investing into our auxiliary services on campus, we’re stuck with students, faculty and staff footing the bill,” Bahlmann said. “On some level or another, do students pay for this? Yes. Absolutely. That’s the only way to pay for PTS, basically.”

The measure is important, Kauffman said, because it would directly compensate PTS. He said he believes that some variation of his proposal will be approved by May, with one possibility being to get PTS on a list of represented departments whenever a new construction project is proposed.

“I don’t want their land to get taken away from them and them have to pay out of their own pocket for something they had no say in,” Kauffman said.

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