The Tip of the (Pay to Park) Iceberg?
De Facto Pay Cut Likely the First of Many
By James Lloyd
At the beginning of the 2011-2012 academic year, the faculty and staff of Ohio University had a nice surprise: a permanent $150 pay raise in addition to their annual merit based raise. Oddly, though, the university administration had deducted the exact same amount from their paychecks in the form of a newly created parking fee. We investigated this coincidence and discovered strange answers regarding the future of parking and pay at Ohio University.
Since 2008 and before, the Ohio University administration has been wrangling with the joint faculty, staff, and student Parking and Violations Committee on how to begin making faculty and staff pay to park on campus. The current parking scheme imposed last summer is almost the exact same as the one proposed over four years ago, except the administration eliminated subsidies for more sustainable forms of transport, such as hybrid vehicles and carpooling. As is outlined on the university’s parking website, the parking policy automatically deducts $150 from each faculty and staff member’s pay per year before taxes. Faculty and staff may opt out, but they then forfeit their parking passes and can only park in metered spaces during the day. The fee was imposed as a way of raising revenue, with the cost of maintaining surface parking lots and adjacent landscaping cited by the administration as a cost that needed to be offset by increased revenue.
Why would the administration compensate faculty and staff fully for the parking fee? According to Associate Professor James Andrews, current chair of the parking committee, by paying current faculty and staff $150 extra a year to compensate for the fee, the university quelled criticisms of the pay to park policy. However, according to Associate Professor Joseph McLaughlin, Faculty Senate Chair, at a faculty senate meeting during the spring of 2011 the Provost stated that there would be no guarantee of future pay increases to compensate for parking fees. Professor Andrews speculated that future rate hikes are the most likely reason for the administration to impose the fee with an offsetting pay raise. The committee’s March 2011 report raised this exact concern: “the Committee sees no reason to assume that the parking fee will not rise in the coming years. Indeed, this seems likely, since the present plan makes no allowance for the reserve fund for capital maintenance …”
Parking fees can serve as effective salary and wage reductions as they come pre-tax. For merit and cost of living increases, faculty and staff generally receive an annual raise. It is unclear if the funds used for the $150 pay offset would have been added to faculty and staff pay anyway. Herein the university has determined a way to unilaterally reduce compensation packages and raise revenue without negotiating with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees, the union that represents classified staff.
Genesis of Parking Fee
The administration came to the parking committee during the 2007-2008 school year with a parking fee proposal. As a former member of the parking committee stated, “… immediately there were massive red flags. This wasn’t done with any kind of open style shared governance.” The parking fee system had been developed by the administration behind closed doors. “We weren’t informed until the plan was more or less finalized,” stated the source who asked not to be named due to concerns regarding employment status. Committee members spent much of the 2007-2008 academic year soliciting hundreds of pages of feedback from faculty and staff. They then drafted a several page report with specific concerns regarding aspects of the proposal, including the inequitable impacts of the plan on classified staff. While faculty and staff members may opt out of the fee and choose to walk or bicycle to campus instead, given that most of the close to campus neighborhoods are occupied by students, faculty and staff often live beyond walking distance. Classified staff members generally do not make enough money to purchase homes in town, and consequentially have no option but to drive to campus.
After editing and voting on the report, the parking committee submitted it to senior administrators, including the President, the Provost, the Vice President for Finance and Administration, the Head of Parking Services, and Harry Wyatt, Associate VP for Facilities. Though both electronic and paper copies were sent to all the aforementioned administrators, none of them ever responded to the committee’s report, and in fact none of them even acknowledged receipt of the report, according to the same former member of the parking committee that asked not to be named. In 2010, the university once again came to the committee with a pay to park proposal, and the committee once again drafted a report voicing serious concerns. Again, according to Professor Andrews, chair of the parking committee, there has never been a formal response to its report. The non-democratic fashion in which the parking fee was imposed is in some ways more troubling than the fee itself.
Though in 2010 Harry Wyatt, Associate VP for Facilities, cited reducing the university’s carbon footprint as one of the reasons for charging for parking, such sustainability concerns were ditched during the fee implementation process. This may have been to address class issues, as classified staff were concerned that giving breaks for hybrids inadvertently privileged faculty; classified staff are often driven by economic necessity to live on rough country roads and four wheel drive vehicles are often the most practical option. However, the response of the administration, rather than addressing equity issues via a progressive rate structure, as suggested by multiple reports from the parking committee, was to delete the sustainability incentives.
Sustainability concerns can, in fact, be addressed via parking reform. Should the university wish to manage its parking lots in a more sustainable and efficient manner, a quick review of the parking literature yields the name Donald Shoup. Shoup is a Yale trained economist, a tenured member of the UCLA Urban Planning Department, who has made his career on the parking issue. As is often mentioned in Shoup’s numerous articles both in the academic literature and in the popular press, planning policies that charge on an annual, semester, or quarterly basis actually encourage more driving. This is because after paying the initial fee, the marginal cost, or the actual cost a driver pays after buying the permit, is zero. So to get the most out of a $150 permit, an employee should drive to campus every single day. Shoup critiqued a similar parking situation, the system at UCLA where the university has spent a staggering amount of capital building parking structures because its fee structure has been unable to manage demand. Shoup is generally in favor of daily parking fees so that the marginal cost of parking is always non-zero; this encourages faculty, staff, and students to arrive at campus via alternative forms of transport.
Ohio University may want to avoid UCLA’s fate by moving to a rational parking system that takes issues of sustainability and equity into account. Such a system could involve charging daily parking fees to encourage carpooling, walking, and bicycling. It could take faculty and staff pay differentials into account by charging on a progressive basis or providing subsidies to lower income employees. The current system needs to be improved, as it seems designed to treat the parking lots like cows to be milked.