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If I pay tuition, why do I pay for parking? 

Photo By: Google Images

10-1-2019

Cassandra Wuerstle, Editor-in-Chief

Every fall, when students come back to campus, there seems to be a general revulsion toward parking permit prices.

This year, several students took to social media, posting about their outrage, saying, “College students shouldn’t have to pay to park on their own campus that they pay thousands of tuition dollars to attend.” Comments like this were shared rapidly and caused several Behrend students to question why their parking permit prices were so high. 

Concern continued as a document showing Behrend as the only Commonwealth campus to pay parking permit prices circulated among students. While some campuses - like Penn State Abington and Berks - don’t pay for parking, others - like Harrisburg - pay minimal costs of $40 a year.

While larger campuses like Altoona have to pay more - $120 a year for full-time commuters - that’s still $160 less than Behrend. But why is Behrend paying so much more than other Commonwealth campuses?

First off all, Commonwealth campuses are issued an allotted budget from University Park (UP) to help the campuses handle roads and parking maintenance. Randy Geering, Senior Director of Operations, further explained, “For the campuses that don’t charge for parking, there is a central fund that funds parking improvements, upkeep of the lot, painting, snow plowing and equipment.”

According to Geering, when John Lilley was Chancellor of Behrend in 2001, he asked UP for more money to help maintain parking lots and roads: “John Lilley said, ‘Well, we are a bigger campus. We need more money than other campuses do,’ and administration from [the] University said, ‘Well, if you want more money for parking, why don’t you charge for parking? That’s what we do here, that where our funding comes from.’ He said, ‘Fine.’” These changes have led to current parking permit prices.

Behrends size and maintenance demands can be costly. When students pay for parking permits, the money goes toward paving projects, painting, plowing and salting for Erie. These projects are needed every year due to the harsh winters.

For example, last year, Behrend reserved 600 tons of salt for a price of $27,000, and while plowing costs fluctuate due to winter weather conditions, Geering provided some rough numbers so students could understand where their money goes. He provided numbers, like the average cost for snow plowing costs $59,681 while shoveling by hand can cost $16,762.

After the snow melts and the ground has shifted - leaving potholes - maintenance then has to deal with new issues. Geering explained, “Paving cost fluctuates. Depending on the year, we average $50-60 thousand per year for spot repairs. Every 5 to 7 years, we spend $700-900 thousand on larger paving projects.”

After paving, there are still costly repairs that need done, such as the $5,000-7,000 spent per year on line painting.

These costs add up year after year, and with commuter students paying $280 dollars for a full year pass, students are still paying less than a dollar a day to park. The price comes directly from UP. Geering explained, “Our permit prices for students are the same as the least expensive permit prices for University Park students. That's the base that we use to charge for permits.”

While students pay a substantial amount for parking, faculty and staff pay more. Geering commented, “We pay $35 a month, so if we are here all year... we pay more money to park than [students] do.”

Behrend treats student parking like a usage tax, where only students who choose to drive and park on campus pay for the services, allowing students who do not drive or who take the bus to save their money. 

Behrend has tried incentivizing alternative transportation by entering into agreements with the Erie Metropolitan Transit Authority (EMTA). “Five years ago, we got into an agreement with the EMTA to provide free bussing for all,” said Geering.

Geering explained that the funding to contract the EMTA took money out of the allocated funds provided from UP along with funds from the student activity fee. Geering made clear that the contract is “very inexpensive...and it also funds the shuttle.” “One of the reasons we did that was to say, ‘Okay, if you're on the bus route, you can take the bus route. You don’t need to park.”

This year, Geering has helped take over permit responsibilities from Police Services, who traditionally have handled permits in addition to their daily duties. While he couldn’t comment on the rate at which students were being ticketed to enforce permit regulations, he did mention that it wasn’t uncommon to see students breaking 15-minute parking regulations in places like behind Perry Hall, in front of Reed and around other housing areas. 

While no one enjoys paying extra for parking, it is a necessity to keep Behrend’s grounds well-maintained. There is no secret plot to milk students for more money. The fact is, parking permit costs are just business, and the facts are that Erie experiences harsh weather and endures annual damage, which has to be accounted for, which costs money.