UWT Student Investigators; UWT students choose: parking ticket or lost education?

By Marissa McDowell

The University of Washington Tacoma enrolled a record number of students in autumn 2018, according to the University’s Office of the Registrar. But while the student population for this commuter campus is expanding, parking has not.

The University of Washington Tacoma enrolled a record number of students in autumn 2018, according to the University’s Office of the Registrar. But while the student population for this commuter campus is expanding, parking has not.

Ninety-four percent of all UWT students commute to campus, resulting in a daily battle for parking. There are only 2,350 spots available to serve the 4,042 students who commute, according to the Office of Admissions.

UW Tacoma has seven parking lots, six of which require a parking permit to park all day. Parking passes average around $129 a quarter but sell out fast. There is a waitlist.

The 617 students who were lucky enough to snag a parking pass typically pay less than students who scramble for spots on campus or on streets surrounding the campus. Students who were unable to purchase a parking permit are forced to find a parking space off-campus and leave mid-class to avoid running afoul of 90-minute limits on City of Tacoma street parking.

Commuter student Madison Cook said she often circles the university’s parking lots multiple times before finding a space or giving up. Students like Cook then have to resort to the Tacoma’s on-street parking. This metered on-street parking consists of a 90-minute limit around campus, and a two hour limit outside of campus. To avoid a $25 parking violation from the city, students are often forced to leave their classes midway to renew their meters.

“The 90-minute limit does not even fulfill the average class time of two hours and

that’s what’s frustrating,” Cook said.

Generally speaking, the closer students are to campus, the more they pay, campus Transportation Services officials say. But viewed as a matter of time, as well as money, the costs look quite different.

To be classified as “full-time” at UWT, a student must be enrolled in at least 12 credits, or about three classes. The average cost of tuition for a full-time student is $3,754 per quarter. Excluding textbooks, students pay about $1,250 per class.

Students who leave mid-instruction to renew their parking estimate miss an average of six minutes per class. Assuming three classes a quarter that meet twice per week, this comes out to 36 minutes lost each week. With 10 weeks in the quarter, that is six hours of class time lost per quarter — 18 hours of class time per year. In dollar terms, the loss translates to $1,125.

That is frustrating to student Amy Young, who said she chose a commuter campus to stay home with her parents and save money.

“I’m still spending well over the amount I think I should have to spend on parking,” Young said.

Auxiliary Services Manager James Sinding, who oversees campus parking, said

the cheapest areas to park are off-campus entirely, and there are multiple free on-street

parking sites just a few blocks away. Although free and without time restriction, these spots are not as easily accessible or convenient for students.

Jan Carlton returned to UW Tacoma this year to continue her education. At 55 years old, she says that the hills she has to walk to obtain free parking are challenging.

“Although I wouldn’t mind the exercise some days, I still don’t feel safe walking alone to these unincorporated parking areas,” Carlton said.

Campus Safety Officers are available to walk with students to their car or other campus destinations but cannot escort students off campus.

The parking issues are so well-known that some faculty accommodate it within their instruction time. Investigative Reporting instructor Linda Byron pauses class at the hour mark to allow students to feed their meters and move their cars.

Sinding encourages students who do not need a car immediately before or after class to take advantage of the Orca U-PASS bus pass or the Rideshare Ridematch Program, which pairs students with similar schedules into carpools. Not only does this help open up some spots on campus, but it helps to reduce commuters’ carbon footprint.

According to the 2015 Campus Implementation Plan, “the campus and city of

Tacoma is [sic] prepared to respond to additional parking needs as they arise on campus.” The plan predicts that by 2020 the university will need to add more than 2,000 new parking spots to campus.

The university has partnered with the City of Tacoma to lease out a floor of the proposed parking garage that will be built as part of the 2020 Yareton hotel project, adjacent to the Tacoma Convention Center on Broadway and South 17th Street. The number of spaces that will be available to students has still not been decided.

The plan also calls for parking fees and fines to rise over time to discourage commuters from traveling alone by car.

Cook and Young expect to graduate this year. They hope parking will improve for future students.

“Being a college student alone is enough pressure,” Young said. “Parking shouldn’t be another source of stress and anxiety.”