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February 27, 2014

Parking director sympathizes with customers' frustrations

By Aaron Cutteridge

Cleveland is held in the grip of another tempest of snow. Roads are slippery and cars are bouncing from lane-to-lane on the street, jockeying for the fastest route around town. You turn down East 21st Street from Chester Avenue to enter the CG, or Central Garage located behind the Music and Communication building only to find the “Lot is Full” sign blocking the entrance.

Mashing down on the accelerator pedal, the car slides on the snow-covered road, but you hold the car under control and race up to Euclid Avenue. Coasting through the red light to turn right on to Euclid Avenue, a glance at the clock on the dashboard reveals you have two minutes to get to class. Your leg tenses up as you inch the accelerator down further, racing to East 17th Street to try your luck in the WG, West Garage, nestled behind the Business Building.

The lot attendant barely looks up from whatever he is looking down at, sitting in his booth, as you bounce hard over the speed bump and make a hard left turn behind the booth, then a hard right turn to go down the ramp to the lower level of the garage and find a lone parking spot. Bringing your car to an abrupt stop, throwing the gear selector handle into park, you grab your bag and run off to your class in main classroom, already five minutes late for class.

Director of Parking Services, Ben Rogers, can sympathize with your pain if this is an experience you’ve had navigating Cleveland State University’s parking facilities.

Regarding the myriad of complaints Parking Services maneuvers through every semester, Rogers said, “I’m one as well and everyone in my department is too. If they park on campus they have a permit. A lot of people think the parking department’s out to get as much as they can and we’re out to charge everyone everything, but at the end of the day, I’m paying the same thing as the next person’s paying.”

Parking Services is what Cleveland State deems an auxiliary unit which reports to Campus Support Services. As a result of this designation, no state funding or any academic funds are channeled to Parking Services for upgrades or new projects.

“A lot of people think that there’s a lot of issues and problems that just go unheard,” Rogers said. “Unfortunately, being a self-sustainable unit, we’ve got to be able to fund it before we can design it, before we build it, before we can get it, before we can install it [and] before we can launch it.”

Parking Services has plans to fully automate the core parking garages during the summer of 2014, once the agreement is finalized. The raise in the parking rates when the parking system went to the green and white tag system was done, in part, to fund this project.

“Pretty much all of the auxiliary units are self-sufficient. Anything in our budget, we’ve got to fund internally,” Rogers said.

Parking availability is still the main issue around campus, but Rogers pointed out that SG, or South Garage, next to the Wolstein Center runs, on average, at 40 percent vacancy. The convenience factor that people want to park next to the building where they have class creates the impression there is no available parking. Walking two blocks from SG to the campus is something no one wants to do in inclement weather, but parking is available for green and white tag parking pass owners.

Parking services launched a Twitter feed and a Facebook page in the summer of 2012 during the parking transition to help owners of parking passes locate parking. Twitter and Facebook are updated often during the day with available parking spots in the core garages along with helpful driving suggestions.

Less than 820 people follow the Twitter page and less than 340 people follow the Facebook page. “We’re cognizant of it [the low number of followers], and we, as a university, try to piggy-back on each other’s Twitter feeds . . . to try to expand,” Rogers said.

Campus events, the foot notes of citations and the literature included in the parking passes that are mailed to people also contain information on the social media sites that can assist in finding parking. “We try not to hand out things at the garages to inconvenience people,” Rogers said. There is a consideration to hold something like a raffle to get more people engaged in the Parking Services social media websites.

As a goodwill initiative to students as a way of saying “we understand a lot of people have a limited income”, students don’t pay the same parking rates as faculty and staff. “It’s not that the teachers and faculty are necessarily charged a premium,” Rogers said, “It’s the other way around that the students are getting a discount off of what the university rates are.”

The prices charged for the parking meters, while higher than surrounding communities and even downtown Cleveland, were devised with an expressed intent to motivate “short-term” parking. People parking at the meters will be less inclined to park for longer than two hours if they have to spend $1.50 an hour for parking. This tactic is done specifically to open up more parking spots throughout the day. Twitter and Facebook update early in day and on average post 8 to 10 updates on parking availability. The updates normally do not continue past noon, assisting with finding parking during the peak hours.

The parking lot automation, the potential for mobile apps and signage to advertise available parking on the street and a new e-commerce website launching within the next few months are all designed to help make the parking situation more amicable.

That’s the name of the game,” Rogers said. “You’re looking at 20,000 people and only 4,000 parking spaces.”