Nfld. & Labrador

Memorial University looks to end subsidizing parking rates

Memorial University is known for having the lowest tuition in the country, but a study found its cost for parking is significantly less than other campuses.

University loses about $800,000 a year in parking

Memorial University spokesperson David Sorensen says the university is looking to raise parking rates to recover costs spent on lot maintenance. (Ted Dillon/CBC)

Memorial University is known for having the lowest tuition in the country, but a study found its cost for parking is also significantly lower than other campuses — something a spokesperson says may change.

Right now undergraduate students pay just $36 a year for a parking permit.

The university estimates the cost for maintenance, snowclearing and administering the permits at around $344 per parking space.

Math professor Tom Baird, who pays $60 a year for a faculty parking spot near his office, does not think government funding and tuition fees should be subsidizing parking.

"At the bare minimum we should be paying the cost to maintain the parking lot," said Baird.

"User pays, at least when it comes to maintenance, should be a principal guiding parking policy on campus."

'Concession that's worth giving up'

Right now the university is limited by how much it can raise rates for staff. Collective agreements limit the increases to five per cent a year.

Baird expects the university to look for concessions during the next negotiations with professors.

"It seems to me the kind of concession that's worth giving up," said Baird.

At the bare minimum we should be paying the cost to maintain the parking lot.- MUN Professor Tom Baird

David Sorensen, the communications manager for Memorial, said the university would like to see rates go up to match the cost of providing parking.

"We don't want to burden students if we can avoid it," said Sorensen. "We are interested in getting to a cost recovery model in parking."

The university is struggling with millions of dollars in funding cuts from the Newfoundland and Labrador government, and a freeze that has prevented it from raising tuition rates.

A university comparison of parking rates found that MUN's rate for students is about 1/10th the rate of other universities. For example, at Dalhousie in Halifax students pay $324 a year for parking. At the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, parking costs $1,270 a year.

The demand for parking at MUN has long been higher than the available space, and only one out of five undergraduate students who applied for a spot got one.

Parking meter rates up

This year MUN doubled rates for parking meters. It now costs $1.50 an hour to park.

Baird said that only highlights the big disparity in price between permit spots and parking meter

"Five days with parking on a temporary permit ... is what I'm paying year-round for a full-year pass," said Baird. "That doesn't strike me as a rational policy."

Sorensen says higher fees would reduce demand.

"Behaviour gets changed when rates go up, that's been proven, but at the same time we are looking for other solutions," said Sorensen.

He said one option is a universal metro pass that would be paid by every student. In return for paying into the program, Metrobus would improve service and add routes for students. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Cowan

CBC News

Peter Cowan is a St. John's-based reporter with CBC News.

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