Everything I learned about parking on campus (and things I had to unlearn)

Date Published: 
Tuesday, September 15, 2015

"Parking at UNCC >stinks< >sucks< >insert expletive here<.." This is one of the first things you hear about when you get to campus. Close behind is:

  • “There are no spaces on campus!”
  • “Why do they make parking passes so expensive?”
  • “There are velociraptors in Lot 6A! RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!” (I want this one to be true.)  

Parking is a hot topic that's largely been blown out of proportion. In truth, Parking and Transportation Services is full of hard working people and without them parking on campus would be worse than the busiest Wal-Mart on Black Friday, or even Force Friday. Their job is necessary. They are not the Galactic Empire, minions of Sauron, or Justin Bieber.

I have worked as an intern at Auxiliary Services for over a year now and in the process, have learned so much about parking at this university. Many of the perceptions I had as an undergraduate student changed completely after interactions with PaTS staff. These people, many of whom are students, go about a job that maintains order in parking areas. They often endure hateful reactions from those who don't understand that enforcement personnel are really looking out for the best interests and safety of everyone who parks at UNC Charlotte.

Dear readers, I ask you to take a moment, step back and look at the whole parking situation with me. I may not lead you to a place of respect and understanding for the role of PaTS, but hopefully at least, your opinion will be more informed.

You Don’t Have to Put on the Red Light

Do you want to avoid getting parking citations? All you have to do is follow the rules and get a permit. Please. I beg of you. Be a good citizen of Niner Nation and park on campus legally. If you are unable to get a permit you can use visitor parking or get a temporary permit for as many days as you think you'll need for $6 per day (which is $4 cheaper than the Visitor parking day rate). You will have peace of mind and won't dread that walk back to your car wondering if you'll have a penalizing yellow envelope on the windshield.

There's no denying that the price of a parking permit is high and you'd rather spend that chunk of money on absolutely anything else. On this there is unanimous agreement! But there's a reason permits cost what they do. Read why if you want to know and while you're at it,  if you want know where that money goes, PaTS publishes those numbers every year. Here's last year's numbers.

You Got What I Need

There are almost as many parking permits as there are flavors in a Baskin Robbins including some lesser-known money saving ones.

  • Commuters and Faculty/Staff can save a little money by purchasing remote lot permits for Lot 6A (which has a shuttle stop right there) and Lot 27 (a walk-in lot). I purchased a Lot 27 permit last year and loved it. I saved $240 and found the lot is just a small distance from two bus stops.
  • Only on campus twice a week? There’s a permit for that.
  • Only have night classes? There’s a permit for that.
  • There is even a web widget to help select the best permit for you!
  • Graduating in December and you can't buy a Fall-only permit? No worries! Turn in your permit at the end of the semester and you'll get a prorated refund.

Don’t Stop Til’ You Get Enough

One of the most common complaints I hear from peers and colleagues is that there are not enough parking spaces. While the count numbers prove that's not true, it's a belief rooted in everyday parking experience. Here's what I mean: when you go to a place that does not have a mass population coming and going at the same time, like for example the grocery store, the number of people there at the same time as you rarely seems extraordinary. You arrive and park in the closest spot available. Sometimes you get that primo space in front and sometimes you don't, but you almost always can see the door to where you're going from your parking spot. But it's not like that on campus. Thousands of people are looking for a place to park at highly concentrated times, 9 a.m., 11 a.m and 1 p.m., and, being human, they all want to park as closely as they can. Unfortunately the closest, most central lots and decks fill up quickly and stay that way until after the rush, around 2 p.m. or so. That’s just how it works when class schedule determines the ebb and flow of cars. But our expectation is based more on the grocery store parking experience. That's why I see people drive around the Union deck, circling over and over again like characters in a Scooby-Doo episode. They don't realize that there are other open spots elsewhere on campus. Anything beyond West Deck or East 3 seems far out; add to that the price you paid for a permit and having to park at the far reaches of campus becomes an indignity. Totally understandable!

Many commuters and staff don’t even know where North Deck is (with its thousands of empty spots every day) or that it has a shuttle stop right at the entrance! Parking at CRI Deck when you have zero classes on that end of campus seems completely counter-intuitive! But it’s not! If you come in to campus at peak class times, it's best to park in lesser used areas like these. They all have shuttle service and in the end, can save you lots of time.

Baby You Can Drive My Car

Let’s say your car breaks down and you need to use one belonging to someone else, like a parent or friend or a rental. A common misconception is that you can just hang your tag on the other car and be good to go. But if you do, you’ll get a citation and that’s not fun for anyone. PATS needs to keep track of what cars are registered to what permits to make sure they are being used correctly. If they didn't, the black market for stolen permits would thrive!

So here's what you do in that situation: go to the PATS office with the loaner vehicle's registration and they'll tell you want your options are (solutions vary based on who the car belongs to, if it's a rental and how long you'll be driving it). If you didn't bring your permit and need a temporary permit for the days you're driving the loaner, PaTS will fix you up with that, too. As a permit holder, you won't be charged for the temp permit (up to 10 days worth depending on permit type).

Relax

To all those for whom this is your first year parking on campus, don't stress; everything is going to be ok. After the first month of class, parking patterns shake out as people become familiar with schedules and parking area alternatives.

To those who make parking into a mythical beast that cannot be quenched, I ask that you please just abide by the rules and don’t take it out on people in orange. They are looking out for all of us. Just remember that parking illegally without a permit is really stealing a space from someone who has bought a permit.

And one more thing: if you need to load/unload near a building, be mindful of tow-away zones. Always call PaTS first. They will advise you where you may safely load or unload and give permission to do so for 15 minutes. Or you could use your Delorean and travel back and forth through time again and again creating multiple versions of yourself to help get the job done. However, this would cause a rip in space and time resulting in the destruction of all human existence. So better yet, call 704-687-0161 and inform PATS. That way you won’t be cited and then you’ll be happy, clapping along like a room without a roof.

If you've read this far...

...thanks for doing so! I hope this blog contribution has helped your understanding of why parking is so different here and that the people whose job it is to maintain parking order are not the enemy. They really want to make sure that everything runs as smoothly as it can on a pedestrian-centered campus with an overwhelming majority of commuting students.

Let's be excellent to each other and PARK ON, DUDES!

— Patrick W.

photo of Lot 6 during peak class time (11:00 AM on a Wednesday)

A lot more commuters are using the tip to park in Lot 6 and take shuttle, finding it's easier than circling full decks. Even at peak class times, there are many open spaces there and in other lower-demand areas.

Two maps: one of high-demand parking areas, the other of lower demand areas.

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Editor's note: As marketing intern for Business and Auxiliary Services, Patrick Wisniewski has produced videos for parking, meal plans, College Colors Day and the opening of South Village Crossing. He also presented Meal Plans and Parking information to all incoming students at SOAR throughout the summer. When he completes his master's program and leaves us for bigger and better things later this year, you may for a time see the Auxiliary Services building draped in black.