Photo by Patrick Magoon

For those who have ever been to a family gathering with lots of extended relatives, there is a common saying — “don’t bring up religion or politics.” At UNC Charlotte, there is another subject that is taboo and sometimes equally divisive, and that is parking. The tension between students who claim that campus parking facilities are inadequate and school administrators who claim that parking is provided plentifully seems to be increasing every semester. So what is the truth of the matter?

One of the most common complaints is that there simply isn’t enough parking on campus. At certain locations, at certain times, this complaint is completely valid. However, if all parking is examined aggregately, it doesn’t stand. During the Spring 2018 semester, UNC Charlotte’s Parking and Transportations Services (PATS) conducted a study to determine the average number of available parking spots at all locations across campus at various times throughout the day. East Deck Two, one of the parking locations closest to campus’s academic core, only had seven spots available at 10 a.m., which meant that is was 98.6 percent occupied. Attempting to park here may well require a herculean effort. However, at that same time, CRI 1 had 769 spots and North Deck had 570 spots. Respectively, that is an occupancy rate of only 40.8 percent and 51.1 percent. These two parking decks not only have a low occupancy rate, but they also have direct bus service to the same academic core which East Deck Two borders.

So from this data, it is clear that the overall quantity of parking is sufficient. During peak occupancy, thousands of parking spots remain unfilled. This reveals the truth of the matter; students are not satisfied with sufficient parking — they want convenient parking. There is nothing wrong with wanting convenient parking, but students at UNC Charlotte have become accustomed to a level of convenience that is well beyond what comparable universities offer. At some other UNC system schools, freshmen are prohibited from parking entirely and other undergraduates are subjected to a lottery system. Additionally, many of the schools have parking facilities which are over a mile off campus and require a shuttle. By comparison, UNC Charlotte’s parking is phenomenal. When people become accustomed to even the most well functioning systems, there will undoubtedly still be complaints; however, UNC Charlotte provides above average parking facilities for its students.

My goal in this article is not to say that parking on campus is perfect and impossible to improve and that students need to quit whining. On the contrary, I believe that there are numerous ways in which PATS is under performing and could provide better services to students. However, what I am trying to accomplish is to reframe the argument away from vague, unsubstantiated claims about “bad parking” and towards more actionable goals. When students say things like “there isn’t enough parking,” PATS has the data to invalidate those claims. However, there are real, fixable issues which are unaddressed. For example, although there are three bus lines that run on campus, they are often slow, crowded and unreliable. The Silver Line which connects the Student Union to CRI campus is often packed so densely that some people waiting can’t enter and have to wait for the next bus. The Green and Gold Lines which collect people from North Deck, while less crowded, have few buses on their lengthy routes which results in inconsistent service. There are specific actions which PATS could take to fix these issues like adding another bus to the Silver Line or creating a shorter, more efficient bus line which feeds directly from North Deck and the Light Rail to the academic core and back. Although still difficult, these tasks are practical, and with enough advocacy the students on this campus could drastically improve the quality of transportation.

As long as this university exists, the debate around parking and transportation will likely persist. However, students need to realize that there is a sufficient quantity of parking on this campus and the level of convenience to which we are accustomed is not, nor should it be, normative. It is good that students want to improve transportation on campus, but there are many other pertinent and achievable issues that we should advocate for.

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