MU parking developments keep pace with car culture

On-campus parking space has increased as more students drive to school.
Thursday, July 21, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:50 a.m. CDT, Thursday, July 3, 2008

Recently, Jim Joy, MU director of Parking and Transportation for the last 25 years, retold a story about a prospective student who asked whether he could be guaranteed a covered parking space for his Porsche.

“Making your choice of schools based on a parking space is a very poor decision,” Joy said he told the student incredulously.

It’s a no-brainer that many of today’s college students are accustomed to having cars of their own at an earlier age.

“To tell them they can’t bring their car to college with them, well, you’d think we were cutting off their right hand or something — they can’t even comprehend it,” Joy said.

Like many universities, MU has adjusted to the shift in car culture. And Joy, who was hired in 1980 to establish the parking and transportation department, has both watched and orchestrated its evolution.

“The number one difference in the student from then to today is that then students actually felt like students,” he said. “If they had an hour off between classes, they went to the library or student center. Today, the same student comes to campus three or four times a day. If they have an hour in between class, they head to their cars to do something else and then come back for class. It has created a whole different concept of time management.”

The changes have been physical as well. The year Joy started on the job, he said, the department maintained 10,000 parking spaces. Today, there are 23,000 — enough to accommodate the 25,000 students, faculty and staff who applied for permits in 2004. (Some of the permit applicants — for example, hospital staffers — work in shifts, which means a single space is shared over the course of 24 hours.)

“The only issue would be a convenience issue, whether or not it’s where they want to park,” Joy said.

In 1980, most of the parking was on dirt lots with no lights and no sewer to drain away water from rain or snow.

Since then, six parking garages have been built, and a seventh is under consideration. They have been located in places meant to be accessible to all parts of campus.

Parking garages are a big-ticket item. The first ones, the Conley Avenue Garage and the University Avenue Garage, were built in August 1987 for $3.64 million and $4.75 million, respectively. The newest, the Virginia Avenue Garage, was built two years ago for $15.2 million.

Joy said the money comes from the parking and transportation department’s gross revenue, which in 2004 was $6.5 million.

That money comes from everyone who parks at MU.

“Free parking” exists in the game of Monopoly, but not at MU. Joy emphasized that everyone pays — the deans, MU police, faculty, students and staff.

He uses the same priority system all the time when assigning parking spaces. Residential Life has 600 parking spaces for the 5,700 or so students who live in the residence halls, and those are issued based on the number of semesters a student has lived in the residence halls. The longer the time, the better the spot.

Among students, graduate teaching assistants and resident assistants have highest priority, then graduate students, seniors, juniors, sophomores and finally freshmen. Faculty begins with full professors, associate professors, assistant professors and down through the academic ranks. Staff is assigned by job title, administrative titles and seniority.

Parking in a garage costs $18 per month, surface lots $15 per month, and commuter parking is $7.50 per month, Joy said. Right now, there is about a seven-year waiting list for hospital staff in the Maryland Avenue Garage and about a one-year waiting list for staff in the Conley Avenue Garage.

In 1980, only 10 percent of all universities treated parking as a business, said Joy. In 1980, he began a one-year moratorium in which he didn’t fix or improve anything. All money was put into a maintenance fund so that future work would be funded in advance.

According to Joy, the gross income in 1980 was $350,000.

In 2004, the department had a gross income of $6.5 million.

The department receives no tax money and operates solely on revenue obtained through parking permits, meters and fines.

Joy said that all revenue is put toward improving parking conditions through paving, new asphalt applications, regular maintenance and the addition of more parking facilities and spaces.

“Today, we’re still trying to provide more parking at, not below cost, but not trying to make a profit off of it,” Joy said.

The people doing the parking have their own perspectives on what it’s like to park on campus.

“From 1988 to now, 17 years later, the parking situation has definitely improved,” said Flore Zephir, a professor of French in the department of romance languages and literature. “They used to have an open dirt lot. It wasn’t even paved, no cement or anything like that. When it snowed, the dirt lot was a mess; well, you can envision what it was like.”

Zephir, who now has a space in Turner Avenue Garage, said that $15 a month is taken directly out of her paycheck for parking fees.

“Right now, I don’t think there is really a (parking) problem,” she said.

Heather Logan, who brought her car to campus for her freshman year at MU, said she did not go to her car every day because it wasn’t close to her dorm.

“It was inconvenient and bothersome to walk back to the dorm in the dark,” Logan said.

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