As it came to light the University of Houston is set to implement an annual $285 parking fee at its Sugar Land campus, where Wharton County Junior College also operates, there has been a visceral reaction.
UH Parking and Transportation held town hall meetings last Thursday and Friday for students, faculty and staff at the two schools to provide input on mitigating the fee’s effect once it begins for the 2019 fall semester.
For at least one student, the meetings did not happen soon enough.
“This seems like something that’s been in the works for a while. A lot of people have good ideas and could’ve pitched something then that would’ve caused a lot less negative emotion toward it,” said Alyssa J. Davis, president of the WCJC Sugar Land Student Government Association. “This feels like it’s last minute, and that’s not fair to the ones affected, especially since the decision was finalized without the knowledge of the students.”
UH plans to add about 250 parking spaces at its Sugar Land campus to accommodate growth. The new parking fee is a funding mechanism for the $3 million project.
There will be several changes to the current parking situation as that project takes shape, according to UH Assistant Director of Parking and Transportation Eric Holamon. Park and Ride riders, which have been spread between lots 2 and 3 on campus, will now be consolidated to Lot 3, so that the two lots closest to campus will be reserved for students, faculty and staff who have paid the fee.
Students, faculty and staff also will be able to park at Smart Financial Centre – which has 300 spots available on a first-come, first-served basis – and either walk or ride the free UH shuttle that goes to and from campus on a schedule that varies by semester. For the public library on campus, there will be 120 spots designated for free patron and 30-minute campus parking.
“As enrollment continues to increase, we will need more parking facilities and spaces, so there’s always going to be a reinvestment to meet that need,” Holamon said of the Sugar Land campuses, which will have about 5,500 combined students for the fall semester.
Concerns still abound
Davis said students at Wharton County Junior College have come to the student government organization with several concerns, such as overall affordability. She said students have suggested being able to pay in installments or use financial aid as payment for passes as more affordable options.
“We appreciate lowering the cost per semester, but some of us can’t pay any of that up front,” she said.
To help mitigate the up-front cost, Holamon said UH is offering discounted rates for students wanting to carpool to campus. Under the university’s COAST program, students can go in together on a parking pass in groups of three. They would register in the name of the primary student for a 50 percent discount and divide up the cost, which comes out to $47.50 per community member.
There also will be a prorated discount for students not utilizing the pass for a full year.
“It’s a great way for people to use this not only as a way to save money, but also help us get more run out of those spaces,” Holamon said.
Another prominent concern for WCJC Sugar Land students and staff has been the potential availability of spaces as UH began offering the passes to UH-Sugar Land students and staff in April. Several WCJC speakers were worried that space would run out or that priority would be given to UHSL, which could render paying the fee useless.
However, in addition to the carpooling option, Holamon said UH will be operating with a capped oversell once it receives projections on UHSL’s and WCJC Sugar Land’s expected student, faculty and staff population.
“You’re paying for it, so we want to make sure you have an option available to you. We’ll also adjust the oversell based on our availability here,” he said. “We’re not going to use the same one we use on main campus. It will be adjusted for the class schedule/inventory on this campus. We will make sure not to over-exhaust one side at the expense of the other and will be deliberate and make sure we have allocations set aside that match the ratio at UH-SL and WCJC Sugar Land.”
WCJC, UHSL and UH Parking and Transportation are working collaboratively to evolve the plan to best fit the growing campus’ needs.
Full video of the town hall meetings are posted on WCJC’s website.
“Until we have it figured out, let us know what your concerns are. Let us know, and we will work towards the end of this. It’s not a good enough answer right now,” said Amanda Allen, WCJC’s vice president of planning and institutional effectiveness. “But we hear you, we appreciate you, and we want you to stay here, because this is an amazing place, and it’s because of you. Let’s figure this out together.”
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