Sophie Clark, a 19-year-old UF astrophysics sophomore, purchased a Park and Ride pass before the semester started. But on the first day of classes when she drove into the Flavet Field parking lot, she was met with new signs allowing only students with green decals to park.
The day before classes, the same signs showed she could park there. The change happened overnight.
“So I basically purchased an $80 parking pass, and now I can only park in a parking lot that’s about the same distance to my apartment,” Clark said.
Clark called UF’s Transportation and Parking Services to see if she could get a refund for her Park and Ride pass but received no response as of Aug. 31.
Now, undergraduate students are upset as two Park and Ride lots are no longer available for them to park on campus. Many discovered the changes during the first week of classes when they went to park. Neither UF or TAPS had alerted students before the first day of the semester.
Twenty-year-old UF accounting junior Jenna Zabin purchased a parking pass because she lives off-campus. Before classes started, she looked up where she would be able to park, but was met with two maps displaying two different pieces of information.
She decided to test her luck the first day of class, and, like Clark, found out the two lots were no longer available for Park and Ride students.
“I get 50 emails a day from UF, but not a single one of them is about transportation,” she said.
Zabin said she now pays the same amount of money as Red One decal parking for a lot that is 2 to 3 miles away.
“$160 for it to take 30 minutes to get to my classroom, I feel like it’s ridiculous,” she said. “But then I am put in a position where if I don’t pay that, then I can’t go to school.”
Zabin said if UF TAPS does not plan to incorporate more parking lots, then they should at least reduce the decal prices.
Red One and Park and Ride decals both cost $160 annually and $80 per semester, according to TAPS. But Red One decals are only available for students with 50 or more credit hours and who live on campus.
Eligibility for student parking decals is based on the number of credit hours earned as well as living on or off campus, according to TAPS. Students who purchase a decal are not guaranteed a parking space.
The following two Park and Ride lots changed this Fall:
The Flavet Field parking lot was restored to student green decal parking
The commuter parking lot next to Garage 14 is permanently closed because it is currently a construction site and will later be the site for the new Central Energy Plant Project, according to UF’s Campus Master Plan.
Now, Park and Ride students can only park in lots such as the Cultural Plaza parking lot, which is in front of the Southwest Recreational Center, the Bledsoe Drive parking lot and the Orthopedics parking lot, which is near the Hilton Hotel.
However, these lots are not reserved specifically for Park and Ride students, they are open to anyone with a parking decal at UF. There are no parking lots exclusively reserved for Park and Ride decals on campus anymore.
Natalie Barber, a 19-year-old UF biology and psychology sophomore, said the removal of the Park and Ride lots makes it impossible for her to be safe from COVID-19.
She said she planned to drive to campus in the mornings to avoid putting her health at risk by taking RTS buses, which are often full.
“My core classes are required in person and as an immunocompromised person, there is no way for me to attend class or get to and from class in a way that is safe,” she said.
One student started a petition in hopes UF and TAPS could respond to demands for more parking.
The petition calls for the reallocation of the lost Park and Ride parking spots in places like Parking Garage 14 which usually has 1,000 empty spots, according to the petition.
As of Monday, the petition has garnered over 1,000 signatures.
Senior Director of TAPS Scott Fox said the department makes some parking accommodations for Park and Ride students every Summer as there is more available parking close to campus.
“Rather than see it sit empty, we made certain areas available to Park and Riders so they can park closer to campus,” he said.
However, as TAPS had anticipated near normal levels of campus activity and demand for parking this semester with more faculty, staff, graduate and professional students on campus, Fox said they had to revert these changes to their typical Fall semester allocations.
“When we reverted to ‘normal,’ we needed to recreate that balance for all of our different customer groups and we needed to return Park and Riders to Park and Ride,” he said.
Fox said this is usually done with little or no communication every summer by changing the signs, and it has never been a change that caught people off guard or raised any issues or complaints.
But with the pandemic, Fox wrote in an email TAPS now realizes it should have offered more communication this year since many of them are returning, not just from the summer, but from a seventeen-month absence.
TAPS apologizes for any inconvenience or frustration students may have experienced, Fox wrote.
“Our mission is to try and make parking as clear and understandable as it can be in what is certainly a challenging parking landscape,” he said. “And we’re open to raising the bar and doing better, and if students’ suggestions help us do that then we’re receptive and our minds are open.”
Both maps have been updated as of Aug. 17, and student decals may be returned to the TAPS office by Sept. 15 for a full refund, Fox said.
Contact Camila Pereira at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CamilaSaPereira.
Camila is a third-year journalism student and the administration reporter on the university desk. When she is not reporting for The Alligator, Camila is always listening to music and probably drinking honey milk tea.