Letter from the Editor: Transparency desperately needed in parking, transportation
Editor’s note: A previous version of this letter erroneously stated that the Cougar reporter was removed from a Teams meeting. The TPAC meeting held Friday was in-person.
You don’t have to walk far at UH to see something about parking. Whether it’s a student ambassador, yard sign or alert sent to your email — Parking and Transportation Services are everywhere. Hell, they even have a Reddit, Twitter and Instagram.
Don’t be fooled though, despite their overwhelming digital and physical presence, parking does not want to hear from you. Quite the opposite really, these accounts serve only to put a nice, happy face on a department that will always be at odds with the student population.
Since the announcement of the controversial changes to the Sugar Land Shuttle, The Cougar has repeatedly attempted to contact the department for additional guidance. Thus far, our attempts have been met with crickets and the occasional indifferent shrug.
Emails have gone unanswered. Phone calls are met with a never-ending hold — interrupted only by an occasional robotic “it seems very busy today.” Yet, when I went to the customer service center it wasn’t very busy at all. In fact, the only employees there were two very bored-looking front desk attendants.
Worst of all, after The Cougar was invited to attend a Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee meeting Friday, the reporter was unceremoniously removed from the meeting. The only explanation they were given was that it was a “closed” meeting.
While TPAC’s bylaws stipulate that the committee may hold private executive sessions, the meeting held today was not one. Further, their bylaws go on to state that meetings should be generally open to the public.
“The voting membership of the Transportation and Parking Advisory Committee, through the Chairperson, shall have the authority to call executive sessions at its discretion that shall exclude the general public if deemed appropriate and necessary,” The TPAC bylaws state. “This shall be judiciously performed and reasonable access to the committee for the general public shall not be unreasonably withheld.”
I don’t know about you, dear reader, but I don’t think kicking a student journalist from a TPAC meeting is very judicious or reasonable. Further, I fail to see how any of the information discussed would necessitate a media black out.
With all that in mind, this isn’t to say we don’t understand or sympathize. Parking at UH has always been a problem, and it will continue to be one. It’s something that just comes with the territory of living in a city made entirely out of traffic cones and freeways.
My intent isn’t to roast those at Parking and Transportation Services that are just doing their job. It’s an unpopular one, but someone has to do it. That being said, when employees are purposefully keeping important information behind closed-door meetings, it calls into question their motivations.
Perhaps the reason Parking and Transportation Services are so afraid of transparency is because they’re aware the answer they have for the student body is insufficient. In effect, students who live on campus but take courses only at Sugar Land have been told to catch the city bus or drive the 20+ miles to get to class.
This is not the type of solution that should be expected of a campus with such a large commuter population, nor should it be accepted. But if it’s the solution we’re getting, clearly communicate that. Be upfront and direct, don’t act like the department is providing solutions for these students when it is clearly not.
This is of course unrealistic. Since the dawn of public relations, institutions have become absolutely incapable of communicating bad news without some sort of spin. The thing is, they don’t need to. All they need to do is provide an avenue for interested students and student journalists alike to find the answers themselves.