Facilities Operations and Building Services Associate Vice President Michael Jednak said student pushback and criticism of parking and bus changes at UConn was a result of a lack of communication and transparency.
“We didn’t communicate well. We didn’t communicate the changes to the bus routes to the students, we didn’t communicate the changes of the parking rules to the students,” Jednak said on Monday. “[Our communication was] a failure… We didn’t do a good job with that, and we need to do better…. We’re going to have to make adjustments to parking. We have to be transparent.”
Jednak met with undergraduate board of trustees representative Christine Savino and graduate student representative Samuel Surowitz on Monday to discuss student feedback on the the much-criticized bus and parking lot changes for the fall 2018 semester. Though the changes were made separately, Jednak said the two issues are interconnected.
“To me, there’s two issues going on,” Jednak said. “There’s a transportation, busing, issue, and then there’s a parking issue. Although they’re related, I think the changes we made are unrelated.”
The bus line changes, which limit most of the bus routes to the periphery of campus, were made in order to increase safety and reduce congestion on Hillside Road, Jednak said, and rely on transfers for students to get from the edge to the core of campus.
“With the construction and the traffic, it can take you a half hour to get from one side of Hillside to the other,” Jednak said. “We chose to limit the number of buses coming up on Fairfield Way because of safety concerns, and time and reliability issues.”
Though certain bus lines, such as Blue and Yellow, were altered in response to student complaints and logistical issues, the fact that buses primarily service the periphery of campus still presents an issue to commuters in particular, Surowitz said.
“[The buses] get students to the periphery of campus. [Not] where they need to be. The issue is… the students aren’t going to get on [transfers.] They’re going to get on the bus that takes them where they need to go,” Surowitz said. “We need high-frequency buses that go from those lots to the center of campus. They need to run frequently.”
Parking in particular, due to the influx graduate students now parking in Area 2, has proved to be an issue for both Parking Services and students.
“There’s essentially 1,500 new staff members to the university [with the grad student changes,]” Jednak said. “Those 1,500 new staff members essentially pushed students out.”
Surowitz said that students should expect “reasonable” parking close to the core of campus, and several of the core lots are filling early in the day.
“[Y Lot] used to be Commuter and Area 2, first-come, first-serve,” Surowitz said. “Now half of it is commuter, half of it is Area 2. Now if you come there at certain times, you will see at 8:30 or 8:45 in the morning… the student side is totally full, but the employee side is only 70 percent full. Now these students are circling around for an open spot, when there are open spots adjacent.”
Some students, Surowitz added, are arriving well before their classes in order to secure a spot.
“There’s such a demand, that on any given morning, I’ve actually noticed in one in 20 cars, there’s a student sitting or sleeping, because they don’t need to be here for a couple more hours, but in order to get here early enough to use their parking pass they purchased, [they arrive at that time,]” Surowitz said.
When Jednak asked why students are not utilizing C Lot, Surowitz said that many students who leave the campus during the day can’t use the lot as an option.
“C Lot is far. I reject the argument that students don’t want to walk. Students work on and off campus. We have nontraditional students; students might be balancing parenthood, picking up kids or working a job somewhere off campus,” Surowitz said. “It might not make sense for [a student] to arrive on campus, spend the day at campus and leave. If you’re working a job, you might have to come on and off campus multiple times a day.”
Surowitz added that the parking congestion in the core of campus isn’t fair to students who paid extra for “All Commuter Lot” permits.
“They purchased a pass for all lots, and we can’t deliver on that pass they purchased, unless they get there at 8:30,” Surowitz said. “So you have all these students, who have no reason to be there at 8:30 in the morning. And we sold them this pass for more money.”
When asked about the changes to B Lot to 24 Hour Area 2 only, Jednak said that the decision was under the jurisdiction of UConn Parking Services Manager Dwight Atherton, who was not present at the meeting.
Savino added that in addition to the lack of core parking, many students with disabilities are having issues finding parking in accessible areas due to employees taking handicap permit spots closer to lecture halls. This problem is exacerbated by the lack ability of accessibility vans used to help transport students not being available.
“I’ve heard from disabled students [that] they were dropping classes because of [accessibility issues],” Savino said. “They felt they couldn’t talk to you guys. They didn’t have any help. It really highlights the need to have transparency.”
Jednak said that he is working to increase transparency and toward finding solutions based in student feedback. He said he will work with the Center for Students with Disabilities on this issue.
Jednak also discussed the solutions for other student issues brought forth, such as the elimination of overnight parking, which was due to students living close to campus, but not in residence halls, using the lots for car storage.
“One of the changes we made was no overnight parking. A lot of the students who were upset were people living in Storrs Center and in Hunting Lodge [and such],” Jednak said. “But that emptied the lots so commuters had the parking.”
Though he did not indicate that overnight parking would be reinstated, Jednak said that time limitations on night parking may be shifted from 1 a.m. to “daybreak” to accommodate students working late at night or studying in the library.
Another program Jednak said he is looking to instate, which Surowitz mentioned as a possible solution, is a bike-share program to help transport students from far lots to the core of campus.
“We have an RFP (Request for Proposal) for a bike-share program… I can see a rack up in C Lot, a rack by the library, by the engineering area,” Jednak said.
Overall, Jednak said that he wishes to increase student input on future decisions for both Parking and Transportation issues, which both Savino and Surowitz said has been lacking in the past.
“Students… feel that parking… is being run in a way that doesn’t take into account their needs and opinions. I think the lack of communication is creating an environment of hostility,” Savino said.
Surowitz agreed, mentioning the role of Facilities in implementing the changes the students bring forth.
“You guys are the ones who can make these changes, and you guys are the ones who have the skills and management to manage a city of [UConn’s size],” Surowitz said. “The student ideas are what you need. We’ve got to make it better, not worse, and there are definitely ways to do that.”
Jednak mentioned using social media as a way to reach out to students, instead relying solely on UConn Communications to disseminate information, and increasing contact between students and his department.
“There will be more [meetings],” Jednak said. “I’m totally transparent. Let’s work together on this. We didn’t do a good job communicating this.”
Marlese Lessing is the news editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com. She tweets @marlese_lessing.