Every college student’s nightmare

Where does the parking ticket revenue go?

Alex Hopper, News Editor

Of all the complaints students have toward their university, parking always seems to be high on their list.

Even at a smaller university like UNA, “Sorry! There was no parking” seems to be a common phrase amongst late students. 

With the frustration that comes with limited parking, receiving a ticket can seem like adding insult to injury. On top of this, students do not readily know where the money they pay for their parking violations goes.

You would think this would be an easy question for any student to find the answer to. Is it divided out amongst many departments, is it used on an as-needed basis, is it completely random?

Even while curbing the specifics, you would expect at least a baseline answer would be readily available. However, I had to go through several on-campus sources before finding even the beginnings of an answer.  

The Transportation Department Coordinator, Hollon McCullar, said that the ticket revenue was not “available in their budget” but is instead directed to University Financing. 

Upon reaching out to University Financing, Melissa Williams, the controller of auditing and finance, explained that the approximately $90k to $100k in ticket revenue is “utilized to help offset the public safety budget.”

The beginnings of an answer but still avoids specificities. 

Lisa Rhodes, the assistant to the Vice President of Business and Financial Affairs, finally provided an itemized list of what services fall under the “public safety budget.” Most of which involve the UNA Police force. 

These services include training costs, meals, cell phone charges, in and out of state travel, institutional memberships, and many other resources provided to the on-campus police. 

While the ticket revenue is not the only funds used to pay for these services, having the same group of people who hand out the tickets also benefit from the revenue of those tickets may not be the best system. 

I found the end of the trail for parking ticket revenue, however many students have no idea what their money is being used for. 

As on-campus tickets are not cheap, many students would probably prefer more transparency from the transportation department. 

In addition to this, many students argue that there is “not enough” parking on campus which adds to the number of tickets students receive. 

UNA’s interactive map shows the number of allotted parking spaces for commuter students. 

The map shows there are approximately 2,170 commuter spots campus-wide. 

The number of commuters is not listed but if the number of resident hall beds, 2,004,  is subtracted from the total number of enrolled students in 2020, 8,078, we can approximate that number to be 6,074 commuters. 

While something to keep in mind is that not every commuter is using those spots at the same time, 6,074 students spread across 2,170 spots may not be enough. 

McCullar speaks to the proposed lack of available parking. 

“There are a few lots around campus that I personally feel parking could be altered to meet a few needs, but overall there is ample parking on campus,” McCullar said. “I believe most times, this parking is not considered convenient parking to some students. If students are looking for parking, I would suggest planning 30 minutes for parking and walking to get to class on time.”

A parking proposal, submitted by Student Government Association (SGA) Vice President Kayla Walton, has just been approved by University President Ken Kitts to allow for freshman commuters to park on campus. 

Before this initiative, freshman commuters could not park on campus at all. This proposal would allow freshmen to park in lots M,O,W and the Connie B. McKinney Center lot.

While this does fix an issue for freshman commuters, it could also create more parking issues by diminishing the already limited parking situation on campus. 

One student, Sophia Tran, said that parking on campus completely avoids any convenience for the students. 

“Parking is a huge issue for me,” Tran said. “If I’m not 20 to 30 minutes early for a class I have trouble finding a spot.”

On top of this, there are limited on-campus options for parking without a decal – making paying for one essentially a requirement. 

A UNA parking decal costs $25 dollars. When applying, the terms and conditions of this decal include “You understand that a permit does not guarantee a parking space near the place where one works or attends classes.”

From a personal experience, it is more like “understand that this decal does not guarantee a parking space – period.”

Another student, Annabelle Brantley, said she has difficulty finding parking on campus.

“Personally, I’d say parking on campus can be a little stressful,” Brantley said. “I’m usually hearing other students say they had trouble finding a spot too. I’ve definitely been late because of parking. It’s usually a situation of circling around until a spot becomes available or finding somewhere else to park and walking from a distance.”

Like Brantley, many students resort to parking in city parking spots downtown or must use the “park and ride” spots that require a bus ride in addition to your car commute. 

Because the university does not have ample parking for those who don’t want to purchase a decal, students must pay for one. However, students often do not have a chance to actually use that decal because no spaces are available. 

It is a frustrating system to be subjected to.

Another issue is the actual price of on-campus tickets. 

The price for running-over your parking meter in downtown Florence is $5.00 while parking “improperly” at UNA will run you $20 to $30. 

This inflated price seems to be fairly standard at universities across America. 

The answer to why the price is so much higher is similarly elusive.

The University of Alabama reported that they garnered $1.5 million to $2 million in tickets alone. 

UA’s transportation department explained they use some of that revenue to subsidize transportation systems on campus but are also “responsible for everything from employee benefits to computer software.”

University ticket prices are heavily inflated from their city counterparts, and the uses of the revenue are for offsetting budgets for services that students do not directly benefit from.

Should students be used for offsetting budgets after they already pay heavy prices to just attend the university alone? 

Students from countless other universities have written blogs, student articles, and exposés all about one seemingly innocent topic – parking. 

Many have also argued for university parking without paying for a permit. 

One administrator from New Jersey, Matt Reed, argues for free parking in universities. 

Though his university, Brookdale, is a community college it has similar geographical demographics to that of UNA. 

It is not a bustling city but instead a small college town, much like Florence. They, like us, also have limited public transport, meaning a majority of their students commute to campus on their own. Brookdale also maintains that there is ample parking on campus. 

However, they actually have more enrolled students than UNA, 620,000 to our 8,078. 

Brookdale does not charge its students for parking decals. Due to this “lost revenue source” many within the university have made the push toward paid parking whenever financial issues arise. 

Reed explains that he believes parking is not the unbridled revenue stream many believe it to be. 

“Having worked previously at colleges that charged for parking permits, I can attest that if you charge for parking, you’d better have some kind of enforcement,” Reed said. “That means hiring parking enforcement people and paying for [their] salaries and benefits. It also means adjudicating parking disputes, which will absolutely happen. Those adjudications take staff time away from other tasks. Depending on volume, you may have to hire more staff…which means more labor to cover.” 

On top of paying employees, there is the “ill will” generated by parking fines, Reed explains. 

“For students who are economically fragile, a couple of parking tickets can be a big deal,” Reed said. “For others, it’s just insulting.”

Reed, a proponent for Open Educational Resources, argues that parking is an extension of a larger problem. 

“I’ve gone on record supporting open educational resources in place of expensive textbooks, and free community college in place of tuition,” Reed said. “Free parking strikes me as another version of the same thing. A straightforward way to get economic barriers out of the way of education.” 

Overall, UNA students seem to feel like finding parking is a struggle on campus, that struggle then leads to parking ticket fees, which then goes back into the pocket of the people that issued the ticket in the first place.