Driveway robbery: Understanding the nature of Usask’s parking system

By in Features/Opinions

After tuition, there are few things more collectively complained about by University of Saskatchewan students than parking. Looking down the road, it doesn’t seem as though our situation is going to get any better unless students take the wheel of the narrative.

As a student that drove to campus from out of town for three years, I’m well acquainted with the existential anguish of entering the online parking sale and the subsequent economic despair that comes with paying for a spot.

Lot 1 at max capacity.

Should you have been afforded a permit in the parking sale this academic year, you would know that prices vary per lot — with the cheapest option being $378.00 and the most expensive being $672.00 for the fall and winter terms combined.

In the last year, however, I’ve been fortunate enough to live within walking distance of campus, which means that, on a daily basis, I see students claim the few meager spots in front my house with more fervour than scavenger birds do roadside carrion. So you could say that I’ve shifted from neutral-feeling to slightly aggrieved by Usask’s current parking situation — and I know I’m not the only one.

If you’ve been on campus long enough — I mean to say that you’re not a first-year — you can probably count on both hands the number of eager student politicians who have run for positions on the U of S Students’ Union executive with promises to combat parking and ticket prices. And perhaps unsurprisingly, little has actually been done to put the brakes on any parking-related issue.

In fact, reports from U of S Consumer Services state that, in 2018, parking permits increased by five dollars in lots across campus — even for professors and staff — though, normally, this increase is more at around five per cent. Prices for metered parking have also increased for the first time in ten years to three dollars an hour. What’s more, it’s not just the price of parking services that continues to rise but the demand for these services as well.

Alexander’s parking only sign.

According to the U of S website, there are over 1700 spots allocated for student parking in the parking lots, which are supplemented by an approximate 580 metered spots for visitors and students alike. As of Sept. 6, there were 21,318 students enrolled at the U of S, meaning that once you account for the 2,175 students in residence who have their own parking system, there is roughly one parking spot for every eleven students.

Although parking was not a campaign priority for the three USSU executives currently holding office, the union still has a voice in parking discussions on campus. Rose Wu, vice-president student affairs, is responsible for on- and off-campus parking and sits on the Parking and Transportation Advisory Committee, which meets a handful of times a year.

Wu states that, beyond the committee, the level of USSU involvement with regards to parking services is up to the discretion of the executive at hand.

“We don’t control parking, so it’s up to the executive as to how much they want to work with parking on a year-to-year basis,” Wu said.

I’m not convinced, however, that even the strogest-willed USSU executive — politically speaking — could do much to remediate the cost of or demand for student parking. As most U of S-goers are bound to know, parking is simply too profitable a venture to be seriously impacted — which is something that the university is not afraid of sharing.

Cars parked in a residential area near the U of S.

Quintin Zook, the director of Consumer Services at the U of S — the person who essentially oversees the more lucrative side of many university dealings — was transparent with the institution’s data on parking revenue and open about how the U of S perceives student parking in an interview with the Sheaf.

“Parking is [viewed] as a market-based commodity,” Zook said. “We encourage people, students especially, to take advantage of their UPass — as it’s part of their student fees — as an alternative to parking.”

Zook revealed that the aforementioned 1700 spots for student-allocated parking generate approximately $1.4 million dollars in revenue a year, while visitor-parking revenue is over $4 million annually. Zook states that part of this total revenue — about $300,000 to $400,000 — is allocated to maintaining the parking lots and to other parking infrastructure, while another portion goes back into Consumer Services and into the university itself.

“The remainder goes back within Consumer Services, and as a whole, Consumer Services contributes about $1.5 million of our revenue back to the university — or eight per cent of our revenue, approximately,” Zook said.

Zook also revealed that there are around 2,000 tickets doled out on campus each month for parking infractions, though the number is reportedly waning. At $30 to $50 per ticket, depending on how soon you pay, the U of S is raking in roughly $480,000 to $800,000 from campus parking tickets in the fall and winter terms, not including the revenue from the spring and summer months.

In considering this data, it’s clear that, although parking may be a student service, it is ultimately one that generates considerable revenue. Though these numbers may be alarming, I’m hesitant to conclude that the university administration or the USSU are to be targeted as the main sources of discontent for our issues with the parking system.

A parking sign near the U of S campus.

Parking and Transportation Services is so damn lucrative because students like you and me continue to use it faithfully. The U of S is, after all, an institution in the business of making money. It appears to me, then, that the clearest avenue to somehow improving our issues with these parking services is to reduce our reliance on them.

I’m not saying that students should quit buying into the parking sale or stop using metered spots — sometimes you just have to. However, as long as campus parking services continue to be in high demand, Parking and Transportation Services will be able to charge us good money for spaces.

The harsh reality is that alternative modes of transportation — like the UPass and UCommute, a ridesharing service — may be our best bet if we want to change the narrative around parking on campus.

I’m well aware of the reputation of Saskatoon’s transit system, but with the coming changes with Bus Rapid Transit getting underway in 2019, efforts are being made to alleviate the demands for parking. Driving culture in Saskatoon is changing, and it’s time for students to accept that change.

U of S Parking and Transportation Services may be highway robbery — or driveway robbery, in this case — but it’s only because we students are all too willing to hold out our wallets for the taking

Tanner Bayne / News Editor

Photos: Riley Deacon / Photo Editor