UT must increase transparency of high parking costs

Michael Lazenby, Columnist

Most students understand that college is expensive. While tuition and room and board are considered the more notable student costs, there are a few less advertised expenses that can put a large dent in a student’s bank account. One of these expenditures is student parking.

While there are student parking options on and around UT’s campus, prices for parking permits are relatively pricey, costing as much as $913 for two semesters. Paying nearly $1,000 to reserve a parking spot at the University can seem unreasonably high.

There are already a gamut of other fees associated with being a student, and like parking, they all tend to have one thing in common: there is little to no clarity as to how they are calculated. Since students use the University’s parking services, the Parking and Transportation department must be more transparent about how parking prices are determined.

Psychology junior Princess Quinones expressed her concern regarding the general cost of parking at the University.

“I ended up paying for a parking spot really far from school, and it’s (still) really expensive,” Quinones said. “I’ve seen people pay thousands (of dollars) for (a spot) at a parking garage super close. I paid around 300 (dollars) last semester, and I told myself I was never going to do it again.”

The cost of parking at the University is so egregiously high that students are running out of options. However, while cost itself majorly deters students from purchasing University-distributed parking permits, cost transparency is quite important to Quinones as well.

“It’s not clear at all as far as how they charge (students),” Quinones said. “(Parking and Transportation) should be more clear with how they price (spaces). They should summarize how the fees are calculated. It’s (gotten) to where (daily) parking is so expensive and without a pass, it’s also expensive.” 

Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be much preventing the University from charging exorbitant prices for a permit. The current lack of pricing transparency and University accountability is dangerous and potentially harmful to students.

Blanca Gamez, associate director for Parking and Transportation Services, explained in an email some of the ways in which parking permit costs are decided.

“The committee (C9 Transportation Policies Committee) establishes permit costs based on factors related to parking location (i.e. whether a parking location is farther or closer from campus, whether the parking location offers covered parking, etc.), benchmarking with other universities to ensure our prices are kept to a minimum,” Gamez said.

If the department asserts that it compares its prices with other universities in efforts to keep prices low, what is preventing Parking and Transportation Services from including a simple price breakdown of the permit options on their website? In fact, if the University’s prices are truly “kept to a minimum” compared to other universities, this would likely give the University more reason to be transparent about their competitive parking permit costs.

Gamez also explained some challenges of breaking down and publicizing how permit prices are decided.

“Permit prices do not include specific, standardized fees that can be itemized or broken down per permit type, per year,” Gamez said.

The department likely analyzes the costs they incur in maintaining their spaces and garages. They should also offer a general outline of their costs and publicly compare it to the prices they charge students for permits. Additionally, it’s upsetting that the department hasn’t publicized this information given that other entities at the University offer public transparency reports. For example, the Purchasing Office at UT has a page on their website dedicated to increasing transparency.

Fees, costs, permits and other jargon aside, the simple fact is that the University’s consumers aren’t as informed as they deserve to be. A simple disclosure on the University’s Parking and Transportation website regarding how permit prices and fees are determined would be an impactful yet seemingly feasible way to increase transparency.

Lazenby is an economics junior from Chicago, Illinois