November 15, 2000

Employees Lack Parking Options

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Inconspicuously tucked along University Avenue are some of the most sought after parking spaces around.

These locations are not like the spaces for which Cornell charges nearly $600; they are not the free spots regularly left vacant at the University’s “A” lot above North Campus.

Rather, the sometimes overlooked parking spots are all that are left when some Cornell employees — who cannot meet the costs or sacrifices that come with many parking options Cornell makes available — arrive at work each day.

“Lots of people do this,” said one University employee, who has worked for Cornell for seven years and was reluctant to release her name.

“We [the staff] all wish that employees have a place to park,” she said, but “that’s just the way it is.”

The employee has been seeking — and finding — her own parking spaces since she started working for Cornell.

Harry Evans, president of the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2300, a union representing many University employees since 1980 said, “one of the reasons that we organized the union [was because of] parking.”

Evans noted that parking is still an issue, one that will likely be discussed at the bargaining table when the union contract expires following the spring semester.

“The cost of parking has gone up each and every year,” Evans said. “For our people to even consider parking is ridiculous if they are not going to share a car.”

“My concern when we go into negotiations this year is North Campus,” Evans said, noting that while hoping to gain better costs and convenience for the University employees, the union also must prevent losing access to free parking entirely.

Two years ago, a parking consultant for Cornell and the City of Ithaca estimated that as many as 450 Cornell commuters parked just beyond the outskirts of the University on a regular basis.

Many Cornell employees can still be seen entering campus by foot, having left their vehicles as close to campus as possible — without settling onto campus altogether.

So as the University at large begins to assess issues that members of its staff face while gearing up to negotiate its next contract with the UAW, parking comes into question.

In response, David Lieb ’89, communications manager for Cornell transportation services, said that there are no easy answers.

“You’ve got a population of about 30,000 and parking spaces for about 10,000,” Lieb said.

According to Cornell transportation services, there are several options that make available alternative travel for employees to reduce the number of cars on campus.

Transportation services said staff members use the University’s services in large numbers.

Citing a survey compiled in June that the University assesses quarterly, Lieb said that 1,329 people are enrolled in a carpooling program called RideShare. The program assures free permits to groups of employees commuting together each day, and with three or more riders traveling together, the RideShare participants can receive a rebate.

Another program called OmniRide, which services 1,572 employees, offers bus service on a daily basis and 10 permits for infrequent on-campus parking.

As a result of the programs mentioned, complemented by several other options that the University offers to accommodate employees, 26 percent fewer faculty and staff drive to campus, compared to ten years ago, Lieb said.

Additionally, he noted students ride buses in greater numbers.

“Building more parking really only exacerbates the problem,” Lieb said. “As long as they [employees] are parking legally, and they have no problem with what they are doing, then I have no comment.”

Still, many employees are at odds with the options they are offered.

“It’s always going to be [antagonistic], because we’re basically paying to come to work,” said Eric Hallstead ’86, a food science plant manager and a member of the University Assembly Transportation Advisory Committee.

Hallstead recalled a different parking system that had been in place while he was a student. At the time, most people were simply restricted from parking on campus, excluding faculty and service workers needing vehicles on campus.

Despite the rules, Hallstead remembers driving onto campus passing by the guards equipped only with a radio.

“At that time it was five tickets and a tow,” he said, adding that tow trucks were as common around campus then as they are today in New York City.

Then, the University revised its system, opening the campus to more traffic but setting in place an escalating pricing scale for permits that are located closer to central campus.

“Their idea was to drive people off campus, but they also did push people into the surrounding areas,” Hallstead said.

For many staff members wanting to obtain a regular parking permit, Hallstead said cost is an issue. Permits cost more than $400 at most lots around campus and cost almost $600 at the most central locations.

Despite the gap between the number of Cornell’s daily visitors and its parking lots, many attribute the problem not to a scarcity of parking spaces.

“There’s always a free option,” Hallstead said. “It’s just a matter of how much you want to give in.”

Archived article by Matthew Hirsch