A year after Wichita State University told 700 Shocker Hall residents they had to park 2 1/2 miles from the dorm – and set up an on-call shuttle system for them – the university has reversed course.
Now the dorm students will be allowed to park on campus if they buy a $120 annual parking permit.
The shuttle will still run from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. weekdays when classes are in session. But the university will no longer offer 24-hour daily transportation for Shocker Hall students wanting to get to their cars. As part of the change, the university laid off nine employees who provided transportation at night and on weekends. Their last day will be July 2.
The university wouldn’t say how much it had spent setting up the transportation system. University spokesman Barth Hague said they did not have enough staff available to compile those figures last week.
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Sara Morris, WSU campus police chief, said the original decision, when Shocker Hall was built, was to require Shocker Hall residents to park at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex near 29th North and Oliver. The hall was built on what used to be 750 parking spaces on the main campus.
The WSU administration then created a new transportation system to try to alleviate crowded campus parking and provide Shocker Hall students with 24/7 access to their cars. The shuttle is free to all students, faculty and staff.
Morris said she told the nine drivers earlier this month that they were being laid off.
The conversations were “brutal,” she said, because her small staff had come to know the employees and some family members. “We were our own little family here,” Morris said. “I made myself sick over the weekend about it. No boss ever wants to lay people off. It was bad.”
The nine employees, who were paid $14.02 an hour, were the drivers who shuttle students and staff in SUVs on the overnight and weekend shifts. While most had been hired last fall, one was hired in early April.
Lou Heldman, vice president for strategic communications at WSU, said in a written statement: “When we analyzed overnight parking usage and associated costs to prepare our budget for the fiscal year starting July 1, we found we could make students happier, and realize savings, by allowing Shocker Hall residents to park on the main campus.”
They didn’t do that the first year, he wrote, “because we wanted students in Shocker Hall to have a vibrant campus experience and not be tied to their vehicles.”
The university also didn’t want to lose hundreds of prime parking spaces for commuting students, he wrote.
‘Left in the dark’
The parking change was news to student body president Joseph Shepard and some administrators.
“I represent 15,000 students on this campus,” Shepard said, after being told by an Eagle reporter about the change. “I am curious to find out where the student voice is on this matter. I wasn’t brought to the table. I do not understand what’s going on here.
“I don’t have the right to make these administrative decisions,” he said. “But this is something President (John) Bardo should have told me about. Students elected me and the rest of the student governing association to represent their interests on this campus. We pay tuition to go here, and we were apparently all left in the dark about a matter involving hundreds of students.
“Will this enhance the quality of life on campus for our students? Will the fee they charge now for student parking on campus – will that change and be reduced? Might they consider now reducing parking fees for low-income students?”
Shepard said Bardo met regularly to talk about student affairs with Matthew Conklin, Shepard’s predecessor as student body president. And he said Bardo has agreed to meet with Shepard the third Tuesday of every month to do the same with him. The next meeting is scheduled for June 16, Shepard said.
“But I don’t think I should (wait) that long to ask the questions about this matter that I now have.”
Parking tickets up
Last fall, the university changed the way it charges for parking, requiring students who want to park on campus to purchase a $120-a-year permit. Those who didn’t want to pay could park for free at the Hughes Metropolitan Complex and ride the shuttle.
Prior to that, parking was included in campus fees.
While the amount the university has collected in parking fees has dropped the past several years, the amount WSU collected in parking tickets more than quadrupled in the last year, from $55,339 to $223,967, according to Wichita State data.
Campus police didn’t begin ticketing many lots until 2015, Morris said, and they warned students first about the upcoming changes.
A year ago, she said, the campus ordered 20,000 of the new $120 parking permits in anticipation of selling most of them so that people could park on campus. They sold only about 7,000.
Many people began parking on streets near the campus, “although they’ve been doing that for years, even when parking was all open and free.” The street parking caused issues in the neighborhoods around campus, she said.
There is a campus myth that parking spots are hard to find on campus, Morris said. Anyone driving past the campus, even at peak times during a busy semester, will see plenty of parking spaces, she said.
But there is a shortage of what she called “front door parking,” which she defined as “people wanting to park outside their classroom.”
“We often say that we don’t have a parking problem; we’ve got a walking problem,” she said.
Wichita State parking revenue
FY15 through May
Faculty/staff permit revenue
Student permit revenue*
Other permit revenue
Total permit revenue
Parking ticket revenue
*FY11-FY14: On-campus parking fee was charged to all students as part of the Facilities Use Fee. In FY15, permit revenue only comes from students who choose to buy a permit and park on campus.
Parking permit costs
Cost per year
(Fall 2014 / Spring 2015)
Fall 2014 only*
Spring 2015 only
Cars / trucks / SUVs
* After $60 refund at the end of the fall semester.
Source: Wichita State University