Friday, March 20, 2015

Death Taxes and Parking

Published in VC's Notes on March 20, 2015

Death, Taxes and Parking

Thank you once again for the comments and questions you are submitting in response to my columns. I read every one of them. You are presenting a variety of issues-some large, some small-but they all give me insight into what you are thinking and dealing with on a daily basis.

I'm sharing your input with the appropriate leaders who can act on this information where possible. Some of the issues are large and intractable, so achieving real improvement will take time and persistent effort, but that's even more reason to take them on.

About one-sixth of the comments I've received deal with some aspect of parking, including the shuttle service and the ability to get around campus. So today's topic is parking.Â

I want to be right up front about this: compared to where we were three years ago with parking, yes, it is bad. When you're searching for the last space in the last row of the overflow lot along West Street, it's really bad. Especially when it's raining.Â

And while most of the comments I have received have expressed frustrations, there are some who have shared that free parking only ten minutes away is a great improvement over where they last worked or went to school. In addition, I want you to know that as I hear and read your comments and concerns about parking, I agree with all of you. This is not a situation of right or wrong. All parties bring up valid issues, but when you do the math, we simply cannot place all who want to park in the closest garage in that garage.  Â

The most important thing to remember is, the worst of this is temporary.   When Garage C comes online beside the School of Dentistry about 18 months from now, we'll have almost 1,000 additional spaces on campus. The Meridian mixed use housing project, well under way on Lakeland Drive, should take an additional 200-300 cars out of our system around the same time. These and other developments will relieve pressure on the stadium lots and provide more spaces for not only employees but also patients and visitors on the core campus.Â

The other thing I encourage you to do is to keep parking in perspective. All campuses struggle with this issue. And even in our current situation, UMMC stacks up well against peers. To assess that, we did a quick survey of five academic medical centers in the Southeast to compare ourselves on factors like access and cost. Here's what we learned:

  • Only two of the five campuses provide free parking to some segment of their employees. In contrast, our stadium lots are free to all who park there. UMMC is the only campus in the group that does not charge students to park.

  • Three of the five campuses operate a shuttle service, but two of those charge a fare to ride.

  • Our highest parking rate--$78 for garage parking-is on the high side. The average for garage parking is around $50.  Bear in mind, this cost is a reflection of choices we've made to provide free parking and shuttle service to the vast majority of our employees and all of our students. Â

With all that said, there are things we can and will do in the near term to improve the status quo. Our shuttle service is better than it was, but not where it needs to be. The fact is, the farther our employees are asked to park from their workplace, the better the shuttle service needs to be. Keep your eye out for improvements in the weeks and months ahead.

Several of you have asked about carpooling. In order to carpool, we would need to reserve a sizable number of spaces fairly near campus for people who carpool with two or more riders. Managing this activity requires additional resources for registration and enforcement. Despite that, I will ask our campus Parking Committee to assess the feasibility of carpooling. An effective system would ease our parking load and is the right thing to do for the long run from the standpoint of sustainability.

Security of our parking areas is always a concern, but we have seen a stepped up security presence at the stadium. Kudos to our campus police for enhancing their visibility.

We have seen an uptick of enforcement activities in the past few months and that will continue. We need everybody to obey the rules and understand that cheating will bring consequences.Â

My top priority and greatest concern is that we provide adequate parking for PATIENTS and their families. This is an intimidating campus for patients and visitors.  Let's welcome them to our campus with a parking place.

It's only natural to want a parking space right outside your worksite, but the density of our campus won't accommodate that for most of us. That's why our system for allocating preferred spaces based on role and seniority needs to be fair and transparent. We also need to apply it with enough dexterity so that rare exceptions can be made when they make sense. I'm relying on our Parking Committee to be the impartial group that administers our parking policy, which you can find here.

Finally, I want to thank the members of our administration and faculty who have willingly given up their assigned on-campus parking and relocated to the stadium for the selflessness and leadership they have shown.

With a mobile workforce and a growing campus, keeping up with our need for adequate parking is a constant challenge. Our parking system will never be perfect. But I pledge to you that we will keep it as affordable and as convenient as we possibly can, on our path to A Healthier Mississippi.





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