Some students, particularly on-campus residents, are about to be financially blindsided by transportation services’ history of poor planning and shortsightedness.
Nancy Nusbaum, interim director of transportation services, said in a Feb. 5 University Star article all parking permit prices could increase in the fall, some by as much as 135 percent. These proposed increases, the steepest of which will be for green residential and silver campus apartment permits, are the largest in Parking Services’ recent history.
The changes, if implemented, will arrive just as the interurban bus routes to Kyle/Austin and New Braunfels/San Antonio cease to operate. Nusbaum said “the money from buses doesn’t go to parking,” but it seems hardly coincidental commuters who previously relied on these buses will now be forced to buy a more expensive permit. All of these changes seem suspiciously connected just as it comes to light transportation services will finish the fiscal year hundreds of thousands of dollars in debt.
Debt service for the construction of Speck, Matthews Street and Edward Gary parking garages will total $4.5 million by the end of spring 2013, according to the same article. Both parking ticket payments and permit purchases are down this year, compounding the issue and, according to Nusbaum, justifying the increase in price.
Basic economic theory dictates raising the price of a product whose sales are already declining will not work. The current drop in permit sales, while noticeable, is likely not as proportionately drastic as the proposed increase in prices. Parking Services’ budget should have allowed for natural fluctuations in sales, and that it was so quickly and easily depleted is worrying. If Parking Services plans to force students to pay for its shortcomings, the responsible solution is to more gradually raise prices over time. It is hypocritical for Parking Services to expect students to be ready for sudden economic stress when it certainly was not.
It is doubtful increasing permit prices alone will solve transportation services’ debt concerns. Per-permit revenue will increase, but the price hike will push sales down even faster after a possible initial spike from commuters caught by the bus cancelations. Conversely, allowing students with permits to use the garages their money is already paying for, rather than charging them extra fees, may be the one solution that would increase voluntary purchases.
The most worrisome aspect regarding the transportation changes is evidence the university is willing to exploit the most financially vulnerable students—out-of-city commuters and on-campus residents—to pay for its poor decisions. Some of these commuters cannot afford cars, and many on-campus residents are freshmen who are still dependent on their parents and financial aid. A breaking point will eventually be reached where some students may go without their cars or, in extreme cases, enroll elsewhere if permit prices continue to increase. Such an outcome will end only in an even more strained bus system and less permit revenue for Parking Services.
Ultimately, increasing permit prices is a shortsighted solution to past shortsighted mistakes. Nusbaum said in the same article prices may never go down, and she only hopes they can “stabilize.” Currently, hoping even for stabilization is a dangerous gamble that may or not pay off for Parking Services and certainly will not for students.