NIU parking system works…compared to other schools

By Aaron Brooks

Bill Vaughan, a former columnist for the Kansas City Star, once wrote, “A real patriot is the fellow who gets a parking ticket and rejoices that the system works.”

While I see the logic in his statement, I, for one, did not. For the past two and a half years at NIU, I have had limited encounters with Parking Services. This year, however, I have had two.

The major incident happened on Sept. 1. I still had my permit from last year, which expired on Aug. 31. I had yet to purchase a new permit, mainly because I kept forgetting. After my day while walking to my car, I spotted the red envelope from across the parking lot and let out a string of vulgarities.

I was damned if I was going to pay the $40 fine, so I appealed. I told a white lie and said I had lacked the money to purchase a new permit until Sept. 2, how convenient. Also, I included the fact that I park out in the brown lot by Pizza Pro’s, so really, how much harm was done?

My first appeal was denied, which initiated a longer string of profanities than before. It was not that I potentially had to pay $40 that upset me the most, but that my sob story did not warm the heart of some faceless administrator enough to lower or void my fine.

In my final attempt, I submitted a second appeal, which ended in a $5 fine. Although I was relieved that I did not have to pay a fine which was more than my annual permit cost, the process left a bad taste in my mouth. Driven by my disdain, I undertook the process of uncovering a seedy and heartless bureaucracy, or so I thought.

The following is a comparative analysis on the costs of parking at NIU, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Washington State University in Pullman, Wash. The information on NIU and SIUC was gathered from Kristin Mommsen, NIU director of parking services, and Brian Mager, SIUC administrator of traffic and parking, while the information on UIUC and WSU was retrieved form archival data on those universities’ websites.

The preceding universities were chosen for the following reasons. UIUC has about 4,000 more students than NIU, whereas SIUC has about 4,000 less. WSU was chosen because it is an out-of-state reference point that is a comparable institution to NIU.

The mean annual permit cost for NIU students is $55. UIUC, however, charges their students $540, while SIUC and WSU charge $177 and $281, respectively.

Whatever, I figured NIU would be cheaper in permit cost, and that is why they are such hawks when giving out citations.

Citations issued and amount of citation revenue in 2009: NIU: 36,500 citations, $598,000 collected. UIUC: 42,500 citations, $850,000 collected. SIUC: 38,888 citations, $700,000 collected. WSU: 26,519 citations, $638,080 collected.

Ah ha! Even though NIU leads Illinois universities surveyed, Washington State University issues far fewer citations. This is probably due to the fact that WSU forgives most minor offenses.

Amount of citations reduced or voided: NIU: 22 percent voided, 24 percent reduced, totaling 46 percent. UIUC: N/A. SIUC: less than 4 percent. WSU: 16 percent.

Geez, NIU reduces or voids almost half of its citations issued, most likely beating the other universities combined. Well, that must be because the other universities offer better parking services than NIU.

Number of students, number of parking spaces and ratio of students per parking space: NIU: 24,424 students, 12,500 spaces, 1.95 students per space. UIUC: 28,000 students, 15,754 spaces, 1.77 students per space. SIUC: 20,000 students, 12,000 spaces, 1.66 students per space. WSU: 25,526 students, 6,782 spaces, 3.76 students per space.

Note: Parking spaces and parking space ratio includes faculty parking without consideration of number of faculty.

Hmm, even though NIU has the highest ratio of students to parking spaces of Illinois universities surveyed, it is most likely optimal. Not every student is on campus at the same time and .77th of a person is just another person. So, given the amount of money NIU students spend for permits, citations issued and amount of parking, I have to say thank you NIU parking services for doing a great job.

Sometimes it is too easy to jump to brash conclusions about things we may feel are unjust. Parking tickets, no matter the issuer, has to top the list. Although, one must think: where we would be without parking services? Our professors would be crankier due to students parking in their spots, and without enforceable zones, students would drive around aimlessly looking for the closest space.

So, next time you get a parking ticket do not curse the issuer, but rejoice that the system works.