Communications around parking policy change started in February, according to administration
Since hitting multiple listserv threads last Tuesday, a petition against the decision to limit undergraduate parking by the Department of Transportation and Public Services has gathered more than 1,200 signatures, spurred upwards of fifty concerned emails addressed to the Undergraduate Student Government, and fueled social media uproar about the lack of transparency.
Under the new parking policy scheduled to go in effect next academic year, undergraduates will not be permitted to park on campus unless they receive an exemption for “compelling need.”
According to University Assistant Vice President for Communications Daniel Day, discussions around limiting undergraduate parking emerged in the last two years during the course of campus and strategic planning conversations. Kimberly Jackson, Director of Transportation & Parking Services, had communicated the decision to the University Student Life Committee during its monthly meeting in February and later at the USG Senate Meeting on Apr. 24, according to Day.
The decision, however, was not communicated to the wider student body until a few students noticed policy changes on the Transportation Service’s website.
Ben Falter '17, an independent student, said that the lack of communication and transparency is deeply troubling.
“I am incredibly shocked with how little has been done to communicate this change to students in an appropriate time frame for such a major policy change,” said Falter.
Brian McSwiggen ’18 said that student voices were not involved likely because the University didn’t consider it an important topic.
“We as students can't expect to watch over every single action taken in the massive University administration,” McSwiggen said. “The issue is that this decision was a lot bigger than I suspect TPS realized it would be, and I think that definitely has happened before.”
“It feels doubly frustrating to see opinions from out of touch students and administrators presented as this grand truth,” said Falter.
Falter said that he is heavily impacted by this change.
“I use my car around every other day, between grocery trips, church, and to visit my girlfriend who lives in Ewing and see her perform in her shows at Rider University,” he said. He added that the Saturday Shopper is often overcrowded and only serves a limited number of stores. A trip to get one or two items will take a minimum of an hour and a half, according to Falter.
However, Zachariah DeGiulio '18 said that while many independent students cite the inaccessibility of grocery stores as a driving factor, such may not be the case.
“For the person who just needs to get to the supermarket once a week, the cost of a car share or an Uber is not really cost prohibitive when the costs of maintenance, permitting and car insurance are taken into account,” DeGiulio said.
“Perhaps thinking twice about the University’s change in policy and proposing alternative solutions would be more helpful than a complete and utter attack on the loss of 'fundamental human rights,'" he added.
Furthermore, DeGiulio said that while students should have been given a say, lobbying ex post facto is unproductive.
In response to student concerns, Jackson said that she apologizes for the lack of communication on this matter.
“We have not done a good job at telling our story and have created a certain amount of angst within our undergraduate community. We apologize,” she wrote in an email to the Daily Princetonian. “We hope students will […] continue to give us feedback when we fall short in our communication efforts.”
McSwiggen also added that since the decision was issued, he had reached out to members of USG for clarification.
In an email sent to the undergraduate student body last Friday, an infographic stated that the new policy is not a ban on parking permits, but a procedural change in parking permit approvals. The email further claimed that the USG was not involved in the decision process to limit student vehicles only to those with exemptions.
“There was a lot of misleading information floating around the Listservs,” said USG president Aleksandra Czulak '17, who had met with Jackson last Wednesday morning, along with the chair of the University Student Life Committee, Jenny Zhang '18, to clarify implications of the decision. According to Czulak, compelling reasons constitute a wide range of possibilities, including religious purposes and support for independent and co-op students.
Nonetheless, Czulak noted that this is an impactful decision that not only affects the three hundred or so vehicle owners, but also those who carpool in those cars for various activities.
“It’s incredible to see the active engagement from students on this issue, we need to make sure that students who need parking are not hurt by a process that they weren’t given a voice in,” Czulak said.
While the email addresses some aspects of the issue, it doesn't change the stated policy on the TPS website, McSwiggen said.
“They can say that it will be interpreted in a certain way, but they still officially ban all vehicles, and exemptions are left up to TPS/the committee to decide,” McSwiggen added.
As of Sunday, the official TPS policy still states that “undergraduate students are not permitted to have a vehicle on campus during the academic year, including Holidays and weekends” and that “violation of this policy may result in disciplinary action, ticketing and/or vehicle towing.”
Clear and accurate descriptions about the policy should already be posted on the website, but are not as of now, Czulak said.
According to Day, no objections were raised by USG during the two times that Jackson introduced the new parking policy to the USLC and the USG Senate, respectively.
According to a recording of a USG Senate meeting on Apr. 24 which included an update by Jackson on transportation policies that included discussions of the new parking policy, only one member of the USG Senate questioned the scope of the decision.
However, according to Zhang, who currently plans to be an independent student next year, the decision, as presented by Jackson, appeared more like a procedural change, as opposed to a limit on undergraduate parking, and was presented as part of a larger conversation about campus transportation.
Additionally, unlike other campus issues, the parking permit decision was never presented to the committee for a vote, according to Zhang. She added that Jackson also did not solicit student input or consult members of her committee.
Furthermore, Zhang stated that Jackson left the impression that the permit approval process will be generous in nature.
Jackson declined to comment on the expected number of permits to be issued next year, or whether the number will decrease from that of this year.
Czulak said that she will meet with Jackson again this coming week to bring up student concerns. She said that she is also committed to “fighting the decision” in the next two weeks.
According to Jackson and Day, currently, there are no plans to reverse the decision or to build on top of existing parking lots. However, a student committee will be formed in the fall to gauge conversation about the issue.
Jackson reiterated that the change is done in part to continue sustainability efforts on campus and to provide “more robust transit programs” that limit the need for a car on campus.
According to Jackson, TPS will expand the Enterprise car share program and number of vehicles on campus, negotiate pricing with service providers Enterprise and Zagster, and expand the current exemption policy.
She also stated that rising juniors and seniors will receive an email detailing the process and examples of exemptions next week.