Wednesday, April 22, 2015

How I Told Commuter Services to Stick It

"Good intentions score big, good actions score bigger"
–Mark Fischetti, Scientific American
Yesterday, in honor of Earth Day, I did something I've been dying to do for some time.

I told Commuter Services to stick it!

Actually, that's an over statement.  I called them up and politely cancelled my parking pass.  Although Earth Day provided some motivation, the cancellation was the result of several factors, not all environmental.  Depending on your situation, you might be able to do it too.  Skip to item 4 if you don't want the back story.

I've always been a multimode commuter.  For many years this involved biking in the summers and driving in the winters.  I was never a bus fan primarily because I found it so inconvenient, but circumstances have changed and the bus has become my primary mode of commuting.  Here's why.

1. The development of smart phones and bus-tracking apps.  I no longer waste time at the bus stop.  I get ready to go to work, fire up a bus tracking app (I use UTA tracker), and then do something productive until the bus is a couple blocks away.  During the winter, I don't stand outside freezing.

2. Campus construction.  Have you driven to campus lately?  It's an unmitigated disaster!  New buildings going up everywhere.  Parking lots torn up left and right.  My bus stop is actually a couple of minutes closer to my office than any of the available lots and, if the close ones are full, it's five minutes closer.  The bottom line here is that items 1 and 2 make the bus is almost as fast as driving, although I have a short commute and a fairly reliable bus line.

3. The Northwest Parking Garage.  This is the 350 stall monstrosity that they are constructing on 100 South just west of the Sutton Building.

The U talks a pretty good game about sustainability, but we have a long ways to go until we are committed to a less car-intensive future.  My disgust with this project has made it even easier not to drive to campus.  Further, if I want to park in the garage when it's done, I have to upgrade to a $870 T permit.  Nada.  Not going to happen.  I guess that's one way to financially incentivize the use of mass transit, but it's a pity they couldn't do it without building the garage.

4. The availability of day passes.  Nearly all of us need to drive to campus from time to time.  Encouraging more mixed-mode commuting is one way to reduce the demand for parking and traffic on campus and Commuter Services now has a day parking pass option on its web site!  I don't know when this appeared and it's very hard to find.  In fact, it doesn't appear explicitly under the "Parking on Campus" drop down menu on their main page, on the Parking Permits FAQ page, on the Faculty/Staff Permits Page, or on the Student Permits Page.   Basically, if you don't know about this option, you have no hope of finding it.  Call me paranoid, but one has to wonder if they really want to promote it.

In any event, here's what you need to do.  Go to their online parking portal and click on "purchase permits."  Login and keep boring into the pages.  Eventually you'll get to a page entitled "select permit and permit agreement" and lo-and-behold, there they are.  Half and full day rates.  Sweet!

I haven't actually tried to day park in this way yet, so I don't know how well it will work in practice, but financially this is a great option for a mixed-mode commuter like me.  An A-Pass for a faculty member costs $414 a year.  At the $10/day A-lot rate, that's 41 days of parking a year.  I don't come anywhere near that right now.  Alternatively, the daily U-lot rate is only $5 and that's probably what I'm going to do while I experiment with this daily parking approach.  Of course, an annual U-Pass is only $115 (23 days of parking) and maybe that would be easier for convenience, although available U spaces are usually far from my office and the days I drive I often need to get on and off campus quickly.

Bottom Line
If you are or are considering mixed mode commuting with only infrequent parking on campus, temporary full and half day passes are available on the commuter services web site.  You may be able to axe your parking pass.

Unfortunately, it's not immediately obvious how to do this on the Commuter Services web site and the need to login to a web page and buy a permit each time seems overly cumbersome.  What is ultimately needed is either a smart-phone app that one can just tap once or twice to buy the permit upon arriving on campus OR a system in which you sign up and their automated license plate scanning system simply dings you everytime it scans your plate.  

For students, I'm not sure what's available, but think you are constrained to the $115 U permit, so your savings going this route might be minimal unless you drive very infrequently.


  1. I would LOVE an auto billing option as you suggest. I usually only drive to campus on poweder days (ie: not very often this year). I'd happily let them ding me $5 for every 4 hours block of time they catch me on campus.

  2. Instead of making us search for an obscure day pass online, every member of the U community without a parking pass should receive a free pass for good for 4 free days during the semester -- days when you absolutely, positively have to have a car. This would make it easier to opt out ... I think a couple of universities already do this, maybe Georgia, but don't quote me on that ...

  3. The U is a commuter school meaning most of the people coming to campus on a daily basis live outside the "practical to us mass transit" bubble. I used mass transit for years going to school at the U from the south valley area and looking back I remember it as a prison sentence really, for the time mainly but cost also. My bad experiences are in no way overshadowed with peace of mind and such. One approach the people in charge are not willing to compromise on is why not take the commuter part out of the equation. I know this is nails on the chalkboard to PHD wielding professors (no offense Dr. S) but the student does not need to be in a seat for 50-75% of the stuff they are currently required to be in a seat on campus for these days. Let technology solve our tradition driven problems. Everyone likes to laugh off what places like SLCC and UVU are doing about problems like this but dont get a head of yourselves, good ideas dont always come from the "best" schools.


  4. Deven,
    What do you mean by "I remember it as a prison sentence really, for the time mainly but cost also"? There shouldn't have been a cost, if you were a student. Your U - card serves as a pass for Trax, bus, front runner, etc.

    1. The time spent traveling cost me time at work or completing school work (reading on a train doesn't begin to cover engineering curriculum) or with my family. All causes I consider more important personally then supporting mass transit, unfortunately in my case at the time mass transit was my only option. Yeah tuition included the cost of the transit pass, I didn't intend on bringing tuition cost into the discussion but I think we can say we still cover the actual pass cost within the tuition breakdown at the end of the day.

      All I'm saying is that mass transit is one solution to a complex problem, I dont think its the best, not even top 5. And no I'm not a gun flingn' redneck liberal hater, I'm a problem solver.

    2. You think those rants are crazy be glad I'm not jacking this thread with my solutions to eliminating the red inversion days. :)


  5. Congratulations and thanks! Next step: bicycle commuting