Wei Zhang, '11G, walks to his car on Mountaintop on Monday, April 18, 2016. Graduate students have been negotiating with parking services over permit costs for about a year. (Rachel Zuckerman/B&W Photo)

Graduate students voice parking concerns

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The price of student parking permits will be raised by 1.5 percent next year to $406. In the past five years, the cost of a permit has doubled, wrote Sharon Field, the manager of Parking Services.

Field said in 2011, the price of a parking permit was $200 and the rate has increased $50 each year, with permits costing $400 for the 2015-16 academic year.

Graduate Student Senate has been working with Parking Services to start conversations about the costs of these permits.

This year, graduate students pay $350 for a permit that allows them to park in Saucon Village and the student commuter lot on the Mountaintop campus at all times, as well as in unreserved faculty and staff spots on the lower campus on weeknights and weekends. Students must choose between access to the Brodhead and Packer parking lots or the Zoellner garage, however, and can pay $400 for access to both lots, according to graduate student Matt Horner, ’14.

“I was paying $350 last year, and I got to park in Saucon Village, Mountaintop, Zoellner and the Packard and Brodhead lots,” Horner said. “This year I’m paying the same amount, but I’ve lost Zoellner.”

Although Horner said the $350 options were a good start to a solution. He believes the permit price is still too high and that the $50 annual increases have nothing to do with inflation.

“We met with Graduate Student Life in December and periodically attend full Graduate Student Senate meetings to discuss a wide array of issues including transportation and parking services,” Field wrote. “Our discussion included parking fees and what the fees are being used for. We plan to continue meeting with them in the future to review planned investments, new services and fees.”

Many schools in the Lehigh Valley charge less than Lehigh for parking permits and vehicle registration. Both DeSales University and Cedar Crest College allow students to park for free, while Muhlenberg College charges $50 for vehicle registration and Moravian College charges $300 for its premium spaces. Lafayette’s vehicle registration fee for an academic year is $400.

“Our fee is equal to that of Lafayette’s,” Field wrote in an email. “Both schools have less parking spaces/lots to manage and maintain. Moravian College has 330 student and 446 faculty/staff parking spaces; Lafayette College has 660 student and 842 faculty/staff parking spaces; we maintain 1734 student and 1932 faculty/staff parking spaces.”

Field said the increase in parking permit fees has allowed the university to invest in parking lot and garage maintenance, access control, buses and snow removal.

“I would think that the people who pay for parking permits are the least likely to use the bus,” Horner said. “If their money is being used to fund the buses, it does not make a lot of sense.”

Horner proposed a lottery process for parking permits as a way to reduce the cost. Other students and alumni are also working to improve the parking policies.

Katie Kiewel, ’15, created an online petition demanding changes to campus parking policies. As of Saturday, the petition had 886 supporters.

“People have to remain committed to this and remain on top of (Parking Services),” Horner said. “I’m angry about this and committed to this, but I’m actually leaving Lehigh this year. This is something that is not even going to affect me anymore after this.”

Many alumni continue to voice their concerns about the policies of Parking Services.

“I’m a young alum who consistently had horrific experiences with the school’s parking services,” wrote one alumnus, ’10, in a comment on a previous The Brown and White article. “I’m in a position to make contributions and would welcome the opportunity to do so, however, my experiences with both the parking authority and the university police department are swaying me otherwise.”

Field said Parking Services met with the Transportation and Parking Committee of the Student Senate on April 11. They discussed parking fees, parking fines, the ability to park in other residential parking lots and how the fees are being used.

“Our plans include scheduling regular meetings to discuss parking concerns and plans,” Field wrote. “We also are planning to meet with Student Senate if their agenda allows during the final meeting of the year.”

Horner said a good next step would be for Parking Services to disclose their financial information and allow Lehigh community members to see where the revenue is expended.

“I would love to see (Parking Services) be the initiators of these conversations,” Horner said. “They know we’re upset about this. They need to stop thinking that it’s just going to go away.”

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