Copyright © 2016 Albuquerque Journal
Every day, as many as 50,000 drivers compete for about 13,000 parking spaces on
the University of New Mexico campus. The lucky ones have assigned permits, further reducing those available for participants in the daily scrum.
The referees in this daily battle are the UNM parking and transportation employees. Armed with highlighter-yellow envelopes and a mobile printer, nine enforcement agents cite anyone caught trying to break the rules.
They have plenty of business, even though they back off some because of the ill-will factor.
The UNM Department of Parking and Transportation Services issued more than 53,000 tickets in the 2014-15 school year – down about 2,000 tickets from the 2012-13 school year. It’s a drop officials attribute in part to a declining student population.
They acknowledge the tickets – $20 for a first offense if paid on time – vex students and visitors alike, but they’re a manifestation of a larger issue that spills out to the surrounding community: Parking is a commodity in short supply and zealously guarded.
Chris Vallejos, associate vice president of Institutional Support Services, said that between 35,000 and 50,000 people come to UNM’s campus daily.
“Currently, we have just over 13,000 available parking spaces,” he said. “This is obviously our dilemma.”
Vallejos said the university is aware of the challenges and has tried to ease the parking woes over the years.
- In 2010, university officials opened a new parking structure on the northern end of main campus that added about 780 parking spots.
- The parking enforcement division has started charging in half-hour increments after survey respondents said they would prefer that model.
- And it has developed an extensive shuttle system between the main campus and off-campus parking sites.
But it’s often not enough.
“Most people want to park their vehicle next to the building where they work, go to class or visit,” Vallejos said. “This makes it a very challenging task to offer that many parking spaces to accommodate the request.”
Parking lots and spaces can’t easily be converted to academic uses or building. And the university has several upcoming projects, such as a new science building, that could make parking an even bigger hassle.
Day in the life
A Journal reporter tailed parking enforcement agent Wendell Billingsley on a blustery February day while he issued tickets.
No one shouted at him in the course of 45 minutes. Other than a feeble protest of “I was just here for five minutes,” no one argued with him.
Billingsley said people often approach him, asking for directions to the bookstore or the Student Union Building.
“We don’t just give citations,” he said. “We answer questions.”
That was also the case at a parking summit earlier this month in which parking and transportation employees attempted to answer queries about parking on campus.
By far the most common question was, “When (or where) is parking free?”
The answer to that question, staff said, is complicated.
Parking enforcement agents patrol from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Friday, and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday. They don’t patrol on Sunday. No agents means no citations, though staff are hesitant to call it “free.”
Parking staff also dispelled common myths about parking tricks on campus. For example, some will leave the yellow envelopes from a previous ticket on their cars. The logic goes that the parking agent will see the envelope and leave the car alone.
But it doesn’t work in practice, said Albert Tafoya, a manager with the parking enforcement division. His enforcers check every envelope to make sure the ticket is current. If it’s an old ticket, the offender gets a new citation.
Tafoya also said some students try to game the system by forging their tickets. But enforcement agents spend all day looking at tickets, he said, and can easily spot a fake.
Some students at the summit said they were frustrated with parking at the university.
Alexandra Felten and Sherri Sanchez said after the summit that during the school week they carpool and park in an off-campus lot that requires them to a ride a shuttle to campus.
It’s cheaper than parking on campus, they said, but it also takes awhile.
“It takes time, and we don’t have that, either,” Felten said.
Roderick Stokes shared his surefire way to never get a ticket.
“I don’t drive a car on campus,” he said. “I don’t get tickets.”
Barbara Morck, the head of UNM’s parking and transportation department, is familiar with the angst toward her department. She said many New Mexicans, unless they frequent Downtown or the Nob Hill area, are unaccustomed to paying for parking. So when they get ticketed at UNM, they’re incredulous.
The other factor is human nature.
“People don’t like to get caught,” she said.
Larry Rainosek is the owner of the Frontier Restaurant adjacent to the university. When he and his wife, Dorothy, started the business in 1971, they had six parking spaces.
These days, they have 170, but it’s still a challenge for thousands of people who come to the restaurant daily. He said any reduction of parking in the university area would make it harder on his business.
And Rainosek doesn’t tolerate anyone parking in his spaces to make a run to the university, sometimes placing a large cement block in the way of any cars parked in his lot illegally.
It has become a bigger problem, he said, as the amount of street-side parking near the university has shrunk.
“If we don’t police our lots, people will abuse them,” he said.
Other businesses monitor their parking lots and boot any motorists who park at the businesses to get on UNM’s campus, such as the spaces at Perico’s or McDonald’s, both restaurants within walking distance of campus.
The city has also taken measures to ensure students or UNM employees don’t abuse parking in the residential neighborhoods by issuing parking permits for nearby streets, such as portions of Gold Avenue SE or Princeton Drive SE.
Melanie Martinez, a spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Municipal Development, said the practice of permit parking is meant to alleviate the impact of the university’s traffic on local residents.
Additionally, the city limits time at meters to an hour or two to discourage students or university employees from parking at spots all day that could otherwise be used by shoppers.
One man’s solution
Mark Childs is the associate dean of research at the UNM School of Architecture and Planning. He is also the author of a book called “Parking Spaces: A Design, Implementation, and Use Manual for Architects, Planners, and Engineers.”
“The land on main campus is valuable,” he said. “I can’t see surface parking lasting long into the future.”
Parking is a commodity, and it costs money to maintain lots, Childs said. Students who are only on campus during the fall and spring semesters may not realize that the huge parking lots they enjoy during the school year aren’t that valuable when they’re empty during the summer, he said.
The university’s master plan calls for relocating parking lots off the central campus to the northern or southern campuses. That would necessitate an improved shuttle system, according to the master plan.
But that wouldn’t solve all the university’s problems. Childs said an off-site parking system is convenient for people who spend all day on campus, but less so for people who have to visit the campus more than once a day.
Childs said parking woes could be alleviated if more people used alternative methods to get onto campus, such as riding a bike, carpooling or mass transit. To that end, some students and university employees can ride the buses for free.
Still, he said there aren’t many incentives for people to ditch their vehicles. Gas is cheap, which makes driving easy.
The city’s mass transit system, which has improved over the years, may be not convenient for everyone.
The city of Albuquerque has proposed a new bus system, called Albuquerque Rapid Transit, that UNM President Bob Frank said could be beneficial. The new bus system would have stops near UNM.
And not everyone is physically able to ride a bike.
But alternative transportation is one of the few guaranteed measures for fewer parking woes, Childs said.
“There would be less demand for parking,” he said, “therefore there would be less hassle.”
The nitty-gritty of tickets
- A University of New Mexico parking ticket for first-time offenders costs $20, but that fine increases to $25 if not paid within five business days.
- Students who receive more than seven tickets in a year can be reprimanded by the Dean of Student’s Office.
- Tickets capture the public’s attention, but the biggest revenue generator for the department is parking permits, which range from $150 for the South lot near University Stadium to $1,600 for reserved spots in the university’s parking structures.
- Parking revenues pay for maintenance and fuel costs for the shuttles, parking lot and structure repair and upkeep and other expenses.
- The university currently collects about 63 percent of the tickets it issues.
- Barbara Morck, the head of UNM’s Parking and Transportation Services, said the department could decrease the number of citations issued if it visibly increased its patrolling and issued more tickets.
- The increased visibility would let the campus know the enforcement division was taking violations seriously, she said, but that would generate more ill will in the short term.
- The parking and transportation department is currently administering a customer service survey. To participate, go to pats.unm.edu/survey.