Behind the Scenes of Campus Parking

Katie Schulzetenberg – 

Parking is a hot topic on college campuses lately. It seems that parking is becoming scarcer and pricier than students are able to afford. There is another perspective to the conversation that may surprise a lot of students.

Jason Spetz, Chief of Police and Director of Parking Services at the University of Wisconsin-Stout, gives some further insight on the matter of parking along with new additions that UW-Stout is looking to add to the parking experience.

“When I took over this job two years ago, I told them right in my interview process: this is where I see parking going. We need to add technology to parking and we need to utilize our parking lot better than we have and we need to improve our budget, not through raising prices in permits, but by enforcing the spots that we already have,” said Spetz.

Although pending now, one new addition that he is looking to introduce to UW-Stout is the use of pay stations instead of meters. Along with that would come an app where students could pay for their spot and even get reminders when their time is almost up. This would eliminate the need for parking officers to go around parking lots to check for violations because there would be cameras installed in parking lots that would run people’s plates to check for validity.

Another new addition that could possibly happen is a parking ramp or parking tier in the future. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it on the table,” said Spetz. “I think it would probably occur by Jarvis Hall or Applied Arts. It’s hard to say whether it would be cheaper or not, but if we needed to do something quickly, that is what we could do,” he continued. “In the future, we have different things happening that we are looking into that will probably change how we do parking altogether,” said Spetz.

The campus may seem pressed for space in terms of parking, but a lot of students don’t realize the whole process of getting parking space. The campus buys land that goes for sale by private owners. That is why many of the gravel lots around Red Cedar are slightly scattered. According to Spetz, the whole Red Cedar area used to be all houses before a large amount of it was bought by campus for parking lots. “Campus boundaries are set right now and part of the campus’ master plan looks at those boundaries and decides where we can expand and where we can buy land,” said Spetz. There is a whole process of deciding where they are going to expand and how to stay ahead of the parking rush.

In regard to permits, Spetz stresses how hard the campus is trying to balance the budget while not raising prices on parking passes. In fact, prices on parking permits have not raised in three years. “Next year we will probably raise the residential permits a little bit, but the commuters we are going to keep the same. Even if we raise the price of a resident permit to ten dollars, we are still the lowest one in the UW System. People don’t realize that,” said Spetz.

For example, right now all commuters including faculty and staff are paying 150 dollars. The average campus is charging about 190 dollars for students and over 200 dollars for faculty and staff. “I would rather keep those prices down and focus on those who are violating the parking,” said Spetz.

In order to determine prices for violations, they look at national and local trends. “Forever we were at five bucks for an expired meter. The whole rest of the parking world was at least fifteen,” said Spetz. That specific example has since been changed to ten dollars. They look at the nature of the parking violation as well to determine what to charge violators. “We raise prices to deter people from doing that act,” added Spetz.

It may seem that there is nowhere to park at times and to battle that, Spetz and the rest of the Parking Office are brainstorming ways to make it easier for students. “Parking is dynamic. Last year we sold out of parking passes, the year before we didn’t,” said Spetz. “The years before that, we didn’t even come close. Generally speaking, the number of students that live on campus becomes more economy related.” He went on to say that it really all comes down to if students are able to afford cars and gas prices as well as a social shift. “Right now parking is bursting at the seams, but it might not always be that way. So far, we haven’t completely denied anyone parking for any length of time. There is a lot of campuses that can’t say that,” said Spetz. The Parking Office has been able to find spots for students on Main Campus right now because of the North Hall not being in use, but North Campus is full because of the extra students living in Jeter-Tainter-Callahan (JTC) this year.

Since parking passes are such a hot commodity, there has been a lot of fraud that follows. “There is a black market for parking,” said Spetz with a laugh as he gestured to a pile of fake parking passes sitting on his desk. “We have a few a semester that try to get away with a fake pass, and people even try selling them online. If we catch them, they end up having to pay around 500 dollars and they are not able to park on campus anymore,” said Spetz.

The world of campus parking is a tricky one and there is a lot of behind the scenes work that students don’t see. According to Spetz, the Parking Office is constantly busy as they try to accommodate the ever-changing student population.