Posted: November 3, 2012 at 1:23 pm

By Emily Dick, Will O’Neill and Ashley Sturm

 

MORGANTOWN, W.Va.- Searching endlessly for a parking spot is a dilemma we all face at points in our lives. But for faculty, staff and students at West Virginia University,  it is a way of life.

WVU is home to more than 30,000 students and approximately 9,000 staff members from student workers to faculty.  Yet it only has 7,500 parking spots. The problem is particularly acute on the downtown campus, where faculty, staff and students vie for limited parking in the Mountainlair garage and outlying lots. This results in students and faculty being late for class and sometimes being slapped with a ticket of either $5 or $20. A failure to pay these fines can  prevent students from being able to register for classes.

Parking at WVU is not only limited, but expensive. In the fall of 2011 parking at the Mountainlair garage increased from $1.00 to $1.25 per hour.With the Mountainlair now requiring paid parking 24 hours a day, student are paying more than ever to park.

Indeed, the university benefits financially from the limited parking spaces; revenue from issuing tickets brings in about $600,000 each year, according to university officials.  The university has also recently increased parking fees in the Mountainlair garage from $1.00 to $1.25 per hour and began charging for parking there 24 hours a day (parking after 8 p.m. used to be free).

“I am wasting so much money,” says Hayley Busser, a WVU junior. We are spending thousands of dollars on tuition already. The last thing I want to pay for is parking, and it keeps going up.”

Faculty at the university are also frustrated. Some of them have waited for years to obtain a parking permit in one of the downtown campus lots.  Staff and faculty pay between $21 and $45 a month to park, some of them in lots that are 10 to 15 minutes walking distance from the campus, on routes that are often uphill. Recently, the university levied a five percent increase in the cost of faculty parking permits.

“I have worked here for three years now and I have yet to get a parking permit,” says a geology professor at WVU who asked not to be identified. “Every day I drive an hour to get to work and then pay at least $10 to park in a garage that is a 10-minute walk to my office.”

The university’s population has steadily increased in recent years, while the number of parking spaces has remained fixed, according to the WVU Department of Transportation and Parking.  Making matters worse, city officials recently removed a number of off -street parking spaces.  As of Oct. 23,  cars parked along Monongahela Boulevard within range of the Coliseum will now be ticketed or towed.  The university decided to restrict parking along the boulevard after a 17-year-old driver struck and damaged six parked cars.

These restrictions will not only inconvenience students, but also visitors who frequently use the boulevard to park for entertainment and sporting events at the university, students say.

In February 2012, WVU issued a report acknowledging the parking problem on the downtown campus.  The statement released by the university’s Transportation and Parking department admitted a lack of resources to meet everyone’s parking needs.

As a result of the limited parking near the university, students and staff rely heavily on Morgantown City parking garages. But while these garages provide a place to park, they are inconveniently located several blocks from the university. For instance, staff members who park in the garage at University Avenue and Walnut Street have to walk uphill about 10 minutes to get to campus.

At the same time, the university recently increased fees for permit parking and has extended the time restraints in some short term lots. As of the 2012-13 school year, for instance, the university now charges for 24-hour parking during the week; prior to this, parking was free after 8 p.m.

Students who illegally park and refuse to pay their tickets often find their cars towed. WVU contracts with several towing companies from the Morgantown area.

 

University officials acknowledge that the money they make from citations helps support the parking and transportation department.  And WVU isn’t the only one who benefits from parking, or the lack there of.

Summers Towing company is just one of several towing companies that have contracts with the university. The owner of Summers Towing says he makes a lot more money from towing during the academic year.

“In the school year there are more students so there are more cars and less parking spaces,” says Kevin Summers, owner of Summers Towing.

University officials note there are a variety of other ways to get to campus, such as taking the Public Rail Transit (PRT) or Mountain line buses. However, some students say these alternatives are not that helpful. The PRT often breaks down or gets stuck on the rails, making students late to class. And the buses are often overcrowded. Furthermore, given the paucity of housing close to the downtown campus, some students have no choice but to live several miles away from campus. While some of these housing complexes offer shuttles to and from the university, many students say they aren’t particularly reliable.

“The shuttles are nice until the first time you are stranded downtown for hours,” says Jacob Boone, a WVU senior. “And professors aren’t very understanding when you’re late for a class because your bus was running behind.”

Boone says he prefers to drive to class every day, even if it is more expensive. “Sometimes you have to be safe than sorry,” he says. “Even if it means leaving extra early for school to find a parking spot.”

According to WVU officials, there are plans to expand parking within the Evansdale campus. The project will expand Term Parking lot number six by 200 spaces. There are also plans to expand the Creative Arts Center’s parking to an additional 100-150 spaces. But these additions won’t happen for another year or two.

“We are doing the best we can with the space and the funds we have,” says Hugh Kierig, director of WVU’s Department of Transportation and Parking.