Commuting and Chapel Hill

I want to start this conversation on a wider level, and I've chosen here instead of a editorial or other form, because I think that it'll have a readership that will actively engage in the material, as most do here on OP.  I conducted a search on OP for "Park and Ride" and other related terms and failed to find significant discussion on the topic so far; so hopefully this will provide a forum and information to do just that.  The subject that I want to both ask for input on and provide recent information is the availability of parking resources and the management of said resources by all entities. 

The time that I started to follow this issue was in 2009 when I turned into a "Carrboro Commuter" myself.  The J Bus was usually on time and provide excellent service M-F for my schooling needs for three years.  As I became more of an active participant as a regular daily bus rider, I wondered how it was paid for.  Now, I'm sure that the majority of people on OP are familar with the financial breakdown in general when it comes to CHT, so I will not spend any time explaining it.  

This brings me to my point and today's issue.  Financially, there are many costs in managing and maintaining the UNC and CH Park and Ride Lots.  I am aware that large swathes of concrete and asphalt are not popular in CH and Carrboro, but as of now, it is the main conduit of commuters into UNC and other businesses.  That being said, programs and initiatives are extremely important in maintaining their full use, and not letting them sit empty while empty buses crawl back and forth.  We face a change in policy at both UNC and the town/greater CH area.  The implementation of the charging system for Park and Ride Lots (owned by UNC) was instituted and passed by the Board of Trustees of the University a few years ago.  Encompassed in several policy changes, was a rate increase for a yearly permit from $0 to $250. (Here is the most recent article out of several detailing some of the proposed changes.) As mentioned in the article, the "Student Fee Advisory Subcomittee (SFAS)" is in charge of reviewing all fees at the University and approving or disapproving of them.  This committee sits both administrators and students (usually with govt or financial background) and meets for several months annually.  During my involvement with this committee and several other ones, we determined that the fee funding this change was not warranted for several reasons.  However, due to the annual review process the full fee was approved this past calendar year for the upcoming FY13-14.  Since the discussions of FY12-13, the reforms in policy have materialized into what we find ourselves in today: 1)an implementation of commuter fees and 2) domino effect to both CH and Carroboro for their lots as well. 

Not only does increasing fees for commuter lots de-incentivize using the park and ride lots, it marginalizes 3rd shift/temporary employees at the University and other less than $25,000/year citizens in the area.  We (I) cannot and will not afford higher rates for commuting into work.  I have spoken to (the ever embattled) housekeepers and temps at the University over the last several years who currently use those permits, and they can't afford it.  Those who rely on these resources were not only not consulted in the policy making, but now will not use these resources that we have because of the increased costs.  

Granted, the $250/year midpoint of the fee structure is well below market rate for a permit around here, but the sad thing is that now CH and Carrboro who both take pride in providing infrastructure to its citizens for the lowest cost possible are having to change their policies due to the University's policy change.  Now, the blame also falls on both the Town and UNC for not coordinating these policy changes together so we don't find ourselves in this rubberband effect of action and reaction.  Having said that, maybe someone can clear up for me IF the towns had any input several years ago on charging for their own municipal lots anyway, in which case, both the University and Town(s) need to held equally responsible for the rate changes.   That doesn't seem to be the case to me, but I could be misinformed.  

Now, the Transportation Board is discussing this issue, and it will be interesting to see where and how this fee structure for the town materializes.  It is forced to adopt something, otherwise commuters like myself from Durham will just park for free in the town Park and Ride Lots instead of renewing our now charged permit at UNC.  There are several other write-ups in the local media about this issue of charging for Park and Ride Lots, and several other specific figures to consider, but at the risk of being too longwinded, I will save them for another time, or be happy to direct someone who's interested in that direction.  

Bottom Line:

1) UNC instituted a fee structure change in 2010 that will fundamentally overall the parking at UNC operated areas,

2) Fee delayed by one year after disapproval of funding through fee review process,

3) Fee instituted for FY13-14 with implementation of the fee itself

4) Towns respond by charging for their lots as well

5) Decreases incentives for bussing, and marginalizes and decreases the accessibility of alternative transportation.


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