Parking under the microscope

Campus advisory committee tackling University’s most vexing transportation issues

Parking at UND

The 12-member UND Parking & Transportation Advisory Committee is looking for ways to simplify parking for the roughly 10,000 student, staff and faculty permit holders who drive to and from campus each day. UND archival image.

Mike Pieper is on a mission to make UND a more welcoming place for visitors by solving a modern-age campus dilemma – parking.

While he’s at it, Pieper, UND’s associate vice president for facilities, is also looking for ways to simplify parking for the roughly 10,000 student, staff and faculty permit holders who drive to and from campus each day.

In addition, he’s coming up with possible solutions to pay for it – including covering years of deferred maintenance needs on many campus parking lots rated poor by industry standards.

It’s a daunting task for one person, but Pieper has help from the UND Parking & Transportation Advisory Committee. The 12-person panel helps evaluate and recommend to the UND President possible solutions to some of the University’s most vexing parking and transportation issues.

The committee likely will propose restructuring the campus parking process for staff and faculty sometime in the future, as well as discuss possible ways to decrease the current parking rate disparity between students and staff.

Preliminary discussion

Universities rarely divert funds central to their mission to subsidize parking, and UND needs to stop subsidizing parking lot repairs and upkeep with state funds, which are needed to support the academic mission. The University also needs to catch up on backlogged parking lot maintenance needs.

The three primary options being discussed are (1) continuing with the current system with flat, across-the-board permit increases, (2) opting for a “tiered” system that would allow users to pay more for parking spots closer to the heart of campus and provide lower-cost options farther out, (3) and finally, privatizing parking at UND by outsourcing the service and letting the University get out of the parking business altogether.

Pieper said UND’s administration recognizes the impact that potential hikes would have on staff and faculty without commensurate bumps in take-home pay. And though preliminary discussions are under way, he said, most changes likely wouldn’t go into effect until the fall of 2019 at the earliest.

“There are a lot of strategic initiatives happening right now at the University – a lot of irons in the fire,” Pieper said. “We’d like to hold off implementing changes to parking until at least the next biennium, and re-evaluate the situation at that time.”

Mike Pieper and Coulee to Columbia Committee 2018

UND Associate Vice President for Facilities Mike Pieper is working with the parking advisory committee to make UND more welcoming to visitors and as convenient and affordable as possible for all users. Photo by Connor Murphy/UND Today.

Extraordinary needs

But something eventually has to change.

In 2012, a parking lot assessment assigned a deterioration factor to each parking lot and road surface where parking is allowed, and came up with an index score of 51 or “poor,” one level up from the bottom rung. Industry standards hold that higher education institutions should maintain their hard parking surfaces to a score of at least 80 (satisfactory), said Pieper.

Based on the 2012 assessment, UND would have had to spend $37 million over five years just to raise its parking lot index score to satisfactory levels.

“There have been a lot of changes since then,” Pieper said.  “It’s only getting worse.”

Currently, UND is using so-called “extraordinary repair” funds from the state to address some of its most dire parking lot maintenance needs. This summer, the University will use $2 million of such funds as part of an estimated $5 million in major repairs to the south parking lot near Columbia Hall and around Clifford Hall.

“With all the important things that we need to do at UND, we can’t afford to be subsidizing parking,” Pieper said. “We could use those dollars to complete renovations at academic centers such as O’Kelly Hall and Merrifield Hall, or modernize and add technology to classrooms.”

Pros and cons

Another assessment, this one in 2014, examined the operations of UND’s parking division, and the consultant noted that UND’s parking division was not overstaffed and its operational costs were relatively low.

It also recommended that UND move away from its predominant “hunting license” style, first-come-first-serve parking system, and implement a tiered system to decrease the time and inconvenience of searching for parking spots and to increase revenues.

All three options currently under discussion by the parking advisory committee have their pros and cons, but like the consultant, Pieper says he favors some kind of tiered-pricing system. It’s the only one that allows the University to keep lower cost parking options for staff and students.

A flat-rate across-the-board option could more than double future permit costs just to keep up. And though privatizing parking could mean an infusion of capital for UND, the market rates charged by the provider would be beyond the control of the University.

“I can’t give people cheap and convenient and still solve our parking issues on campus,” Pieper said, touting a tiered option. “What I can do is make the convenient a little more expensive, which, in turn, would allow me to keep lower-cost parking options.”

Changing perceptions

Pieper and the rest of the parking advisory committee also are considering other ways UND can improve its parking situation and adopt a customer-oriented philosophy to make the campus more inviting to visitors.

One of the key themes working against the committee’s work is the perception that UND has an “aggressive” and “punitive” parking enforcement culture.

To combat this perception, UND will look at improving signage and wayfinding tools on campus to help visitors navigate. Other recommendations include adding more public and paid parking options as well as pursuing a pay-by-phone app for parking for more responsive customer convenience.

The Parking & Transportation Advisory Committee comprises UND administrators, staff, faculty, students and other local officials. The committee encourages campus stakeholders to reach out to them with thoughts, concerns and recommendation for the future of parking at UND.

The following is a list of committee members and their affiliations:

  • Mike Pieper, facilities management
  • Connie Frazier, residence services (ex-officio)
  • Earl Haugen, Grand Forks/East Grand Forks Metropolitan Planning Organization
  • Robert Schindele / Joshua Rahn / Kerrie Peltier, transportation & parking (ex-officio)
  • Pam Shea, staff representative
  • Tammy Hendrickson, staff representative
  • Michael Kelsch, president, Association of Resident Halls (ex-officio)
  • Erik Martinson, athletics
  • Cole Bachmeier/Erik Hanson, student body president and vice president
  • Michael Niedzielski, faculty representative
  • Eric Plummer, public safety, chief of police (ex-officio)
  • Jaakko Putkonen, faculty representative