If you drive to campus, chances are you’ve tried to park for free in the Northwest Quadrant (NWQ) or Pavilion. Starting in the 2015-16 academic year, free parking on campus will be limited to the Pavilion’s fourth and fifth floors.
The 700 car parking structure in the NWQ is moving to a payment system in efforts to improve parking for commuters, reduce driving culture and invest in sustainable transportation, among other reasons.
“There’s one big problem on all urban campuses; it’s parking,” said Peter Armstrong, a Student Association At-large Senator. “UWM has a very interesting and unique problem because of the fact that we offered this subsidized version of parking.”
Although labeled as “free,” the NWQ is actually subsidized by student-segregated fees, with each student paying about $15. The change, however, will enact a fee structure at the NWQ, requiring students to pay.
Armstrong, who is a member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Student Transportation Committee, said adjustments to parking were in the works. However, due to external pressures, parking had to be adjusted earlier than planned.
“Administration came to us and asked us to reconsider the amount that we had approved,” SA Treasurer John Thornton added.
The Senate Finance Committee planned to raise segregated fees about 11 percent for the 2015-16 academic year, but had to reconsider because the Board of Regents was unlikely to approve an increase higher than three percent. The committee had to cut more than $280,000 – $10 per student – of what it originally planned to allocate to different departments on campus.
“We adjusted other things, but unfortunately Parking and Transit took the biggest cut,” Armstrong said.
Parking and Transit received about $168,000 less in the 2015-16 budget, as it has more than $1 million in reserve funds.
The changes in NWQ are expected to make parking more convenient for students who must drive to campus. A payment system could cause students who live near campus to reconsider driving, which would open parking spaces for students with long commutes.
“You have someone that lives three blocks away and that’s driving,” Armstrong said. “If they know that they have to pay — even if it’s a small fee — they may change.”
Adding a fee structure to NWQ can also help reduce UWM’s driving culture, according to Nelson Nygaard, a transportation consultant firm that’s been working with UWM.
A UWM Transportation and Parking Study — presented in February 2014 — by Nelson Nygaard and other firms found that 12,000 students and employees drive to campus on an average day. This brings the average number of cars in need of parking to 5,400 cars a day. With only 3,148 parking spots on campus, the university does not meet the demand.
The Student Transportation Committee and consultant firms hope students use resources such as UPARK and U-PASS as alternatives to driving.
In addition, the SA is looking to invest in Bublr Bikes, a bicycle loan system. The SA recommended that Parking and Transit use their funds to budget for the bike share, an investment of $360,000.
“This is a great potential investment opportunity for UWM, our neighborhood, the city.” Armstrong said. “This is going to add character to our campus.”
The changes to the NWQ, however, raise concerns among commuters who park there.
Shoua Vang, 23, commutes with her friends from the north side and parks in the NWQ, when it’s available.
“We usually get up two hours before our classes even start just to come over and get that free parking,” Vang said.
Vang said taking the bus to campus takes more than an hour. She says she will continue to drive to campus, despite the limited free parking.
“We come from a long distance and we need to take our cars,” Vang added.
Kou Vang, 21, is a fourth-year student at UWM and also parks in the NWQ when it has open spaces. He said free parking is a great convenience for students.
“It’s really good for [students who are] here way into the afternoon, from like 9 am to 6 pm,” Kou Vang said. “If we’re here everyday, then that’s a good amount [of money] a week.”
Nursing student Emilee McAdams, 24, often parks in the NWQ because of its proximity to the College of Nursing. She said parking at UWM needs improvement.
“The way that [UWM] does parking, in general, is kind of silly because they only open it up at certain times,” McAdams said. “There’s been plenty of times where they’ll close [the structure], but there’s still tons of spots.”
McAdams, however, does not agree with the changes in the NWQ.
“It sucks that other people want to take up the spots, but it doesn’t mean that other people should have to pay even more for parking,” McAdams said.
Armstrong said the committee understands that the new change is not convenient for everyone, but that it’s necessary for improving transportation on campus. He said the SA and committees are working with administration to develop a fee structure for NWQ.
“We are going to do everything possible to make sure that the parking prices, fee structure is achievable for students,” Armstrong said.