Finding a parking spot at the University of South Florida can be a battle, and at least one student has resorted to questionable battlefield tactics.
A woman who was witnessed placing a parking ticket on her own car outside the Business Administration building said she was just fed up with never being able to find a space when she needed to get to class in a hurry. She’d already paid the money for a student parking permit, but began parking in the hourly pay-by-space area to save time. When that got expensive, she realized that if she placed an old citation on her windshield, the parking enforcement workers who check the meters would leave her car alone. She’s been using the method on-and-off to park for free for months.
“No I really don’t feel bad about it,” said the woman, who asked that her name not be used. “I paid for a permit, and they’re pretty much not giving me what I paid for. I feel like they already ripped me off.”
With the majority of USF’s more than 47,000 students still commuting to campus, competition for parking spots is fierce. The parking situation has led students to frustration, desperation and a long-running joke about “parking lot stalking”— the tactic of drivers closely following pedestrians through the lot with the hope of snagging their space.
That’s why campus commuters might be surprised to learn that while sales of parking permits have been going up, the number of parking spaces has been going down over the last three years. In 2009, there were 21,409 total spaces on campus. Since then, the number has dipped to 20,554, a decrease of 855 spaces.
In that same time period, the number of parking decals sold jumped from 46,519 to 48,109. That’s an additional 1,590 vehicles that need a place to park.
“It’s bad. I’ve had complete strangers pull up to me in the parking lot and offer to drive me to my car, just so they can get my space,” said advertising student Guillermo Novoa. “There’s no such thing as getting [to USF] right before class. You either get here really early, or you end up walking from the other side of the earth. Or you say screw it and park in a reserved space and probably get a ticket.”
Parking and Transportation Services said the shrinking lot sizes are an unavoidable symptom of growing pains. As construction of new buildings spreads, it eats into the space that was previously designated for parking. In recent years the additions of the Juniper-Poplar dorms, the new School of Music building, and most recently, the Interdisciplinary Science building, have all swallowed up some parking area.
The last big addition to parking was Lot 23T in the spring of 2011. But that lot, located between USF Sago Drive and USF Alumni Drive, has been criticized for being paved with loose gravel, and for being dangerous. With no crosswalk to the nearby Business Administration or Communication and Information Sciences buildings, drivers who park there have often been seen dashing across busy Alumni Drive to get to class. As of now, Facilities and Planning doesn’t have any official plans to expand parking.
“It tends to go up and down, but there’s not much you can do if you want to keep expanding,” said Mary Damiano, an administrative specialist for Parking and Transportation Services. “We lose a few [spaces], then on another project we might get back a few.”
And as the number of spaces went down, the number of citations went up. Parking tickets issued on campus have gone up by close to 1,100 tickets per year since 2009, according to records obtained from Parking and Transportations Services. USF drivers paid out $858,900 in fines for more than 30,000 tickets in the 2011 fiscal year. By far, the three most common offenses were for having no permit at all (11,516 tickets), going over the time in a pay-by-space spot (7,774), or for parking in a space that was reserved for another type of permit (4,158), the Digital Bullpen’s examination shows.
Also climbing rapidly in recent years has been the cost of parking on campus. Parking and Transportation Services has bumped the price of an annual student parking permit every year since 2005, when a permit cost $105. Today that annual permit is sold for $166, leaving some commuters like student Joe Wanczyk looking for other options. He parks at the University Mall on Fowler Avenue and rides to USF for free on the Bull Runner bus.
“I will not pay all money that just to park,” Wanczyk said while waiting at the bus stop. “School already costs too much. I can park right here and be fine.”
Others like Novoa said they don’t mind paying, but just want their fair money’s worth.
“There’s Gold Zone spaces that are always empty,” he said. “They need to make some of those into student spaces.”
He may have a point. Gold Zone parking permits are sold to faculty and staff who pay close to double the amount of a regular staff permit to park in convenient Gold Zone spaces. According to Parking and Transportation Services records, there were only 1,332 annual Gold Zone permits sold in 2011—well less than the 1,400 spaces set aside for Gold Zone permit holders. Meanwhile there were 24, 163 non-resident student permits issued for the Fall 2011 semester, and only 12,856 spaces to accommodate them.