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Parking Permit Pricing Discussed at PAT Council

By Jody Record, Campus Journal Editor
March 12, 2008

An update on a proposal under consideration by the Transportation Policy Committee to increase parking permit fees incrementally during the next five years was presented to PAT Council members during their regular monthly meeting on March 5.

Rick MacDonald, PAT representative to the committee, provided an overview of the plan that is still in early stages of development. He cited all-time high gas prices and an aging bus fleet as the primary factors driving the need for an increase.

Without new revenue, transportation services can’t continue to operate at the same level, meaning cuts in service would have to be made. But that flies in the face of demand, says Dirk Timmons, director of transportation, who noted that, for the third year running, the Wildcat Transit has been the leading transportation operator in New Hampshire, moving more than a million people annually.

Operating money comes from (in order of most money generated) parking permits, student fees, parking fines, meters, cash fares and advertisements. Beefed-up efforts to enforce parking violations have led to a decrease in fine income. With the exception of a dip two years ago after the Gables opened, the number of parking permits issued each year has remained constant.

And that’s not enough to keep pace with the escalating cost of fuel for the number of bus runs made regularly; on many occasions, a second bus has to be sent to a location because the first bus is full, Timmons says.

Additionally there is the cost of repairs, insurance, parking lot maintenance (estimated at upwards of $800 per space), labor, and buying new buses, which is done with federal grants that are allocated on a four-year cycle. Most of the buses are old; 12 have been purchased during the last two years.

“We have a need for 30 vehicles,” Timmons says, adding, “We definitely have to do something. Basic maintenance alone has gone up considerably.”

Raising the price of parking permits is the only option being considered, he says. If the plan under consideration is adopted, the cost of a permit would go up in increments starting in FY2010 and cap off in 2014 at $235—the average cost of a parking permit among the 14 similar universities The Transportation Policy Committee studied.

The TPC is looking at a salary-based fee to “make it fair” Timmons says, something that was also suggested by PAT representatives who said they would like to see those who earn more money pay more for a parking pass. Additionally, the committee is exploring the idea of a three-tiered system based on proximity to campus.

Council members also raised the question of a punch card-type pass that would allow holders to park on campus a specific number of times. That would encourage people to ride the bus who otherwise might not because of the 10-15 times a year they need their car at work, representatives said.

“That’s something we’re looking into,” Timmons says. “We’re trying to be open-minded.”

Additionally, there are new measures underway to provide employees with an alternative to parking on campus, Timmons says. One is to expand the existing bus service to spots where there are park-and-rides, such as the Weeks Crossing (formerly Weeks Traffic Circle) in Dover.

“People wouldn’t need a parking pass; they could park at the park-and-ride for free and take the bus to campus,” Timmons says.

There is also talk of a bus run from Rochester to Durham; students are asking that the route include a stop in Lee. A third possibility would be to offer bus service to Concord and/or Manchester.

Timmons also pointed to the existing guaranteed ride program that assures employees will get a ride home in the event of an emergency when they have taken the bus to work.

“If they get sick or get a call that their child is sick, all they have to do is call us and we’ll get them home,” Timmons says.

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