After the UofA reached its highest enrollment in history, some students have expressed frustration with how campus crowding has affected parking availability.
Enrollment this fall totals 29,068 students, according to the university’s Sept. 10 enrollment report. Around 27,500 students were enrolled in each of the past five years. During that time period, 1,238 parking spaces were added to campus. Still, students across campus have noticed a squeeze on favorable parking options this fall.
Molly Eslick, a freshman who lives on campus, said the parking dilemma often makes her reluctant to leave campus once she has found a decent spot.
“(The lack of parking) makes it difficult to get to classes on time, and I never want to go off campus because I’d have to deal with parking when I come back,” she said.
Off-campus students like Abby Windholtz, a senior, have expressed similar frustrations over delays making it to campus obligations.
“Besides just getting to classes on time, it’s also harder to get to the events hosted on campus,” Windholtz said. “Traffic has been bad and the buses are always late. There aren’t many reliable ways to consistently get to class on time.”
David Wilson, director of communications for Transit and Parking, said it is not uncommon for students to request the construction of new parking lots. However, such an effort is more complicated than it seems, said Wilson.
“Sometimes people say we need to build more parking, and we understand why they say that,” Wilson said. “But the question is where, and how much that costs. Nobody wants to start putting parking lots in front of Old Main where all the pretty green lawn is.”
Every new parking spot built costs $6,000 on average, according to Transit and Parking. That means a lot with 100 spots could cost upward of $600,000, not including the cost of buying land. The department is self-funded through income from citations and permits, and the university itself does not assist with such costs, Wilson said.
“There’s often a misconception,” Wilson said. “People think there’s no parking anywhere, and what they really mean is there’s no parking right now where they want it.”
Wilson said he recommends students build more time into their commute to find parking as the UofA continues to grow.
Bailee Smith, a senior who lives twenty minutes from campus, said she usually leaves her home an hour and forty minutes before her first class begins at 9:40, and tries to park in Lot 74.
“Personally I plan ahead and leave my house really early, but I’ve had some close calls with my morning classes,” said Smith.
Wilson thinks many students overlook lot options that are less crowded but farther from the center of campus, he said. Wilson said Lot 99, the commuter lot south of campus, has some days where 800 of its 1,100 spots go unused. Student and commuter parking permits allowing people to park there cost $26.21 and $106.89 respectively this year, and there is no cap on how many Transit and Parking can sell.
For green student lots around campus, Transit and Parking typically sells between 5,000 and 6,000 permits per year. Compared to 2019-2020, the last pre-pandemic school year, 762 more permits have been sold this fall, for a total of 6,402. Still, Wilson estimates between 2,000 to 4,000 of campus’ 14,815 total spaces are left empty on any given day.
“There are times when some lots do fill up, but that happens every school year,” Wilson said.
Parking far from central campus is always an option, albeit an unpopular one, but it comes with additional challenges, such as the added reliance on Razorback Transit buses. Smith has experienced this dilemma first hand.
“The one thing I have noticed is that the buses have hit capacity extremely fast with everyone being back on campus,” she said. “That has been my biggest issue because it affects when I’m actually able to get to class and if I’m on time or not.”
Wilson said Transit and Parking has experienced a shortage of bus drivers this year, a current phenomenon at many universities across the country, including the University of Michigan, the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the State University of New York at Buffalo. The department recently hired five new drivers, but there is no set date for when they will complete training and begin work.
In the meantime, Wilson said he expects parking issues will improve as the semester progresses.
“Every school year, things get better after September,” Wilson said. “There (will be) less congestion as everyone gets more familiar with campus.”