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Interim President Joseph Alutto: Parking shortages unrelated to privatization

OSU’s Board of Trustees voted in June 2012 to lease OSU’s parking operations to QIC Global Infrastructure for 50 years and $483 million. Credit: Kayla Zamary / Design editor

OSU’s Board of Trustees voted in June 2012 to lease OSU’s parking operations to QIC Global Infrastructure for 50 years and $483 million.
Credit: Kayla Zamary / Design editor

Some students and faculty frustrated with parking on campus might not find solace in remarks Interim President Joseph Alutto made to the University Senate last week.

Alutto said Thursday parking shortages on campus are the result of poor planning from the administration, and that space will continue to be tight until the numerous parking garages under construction are reopened.

“We had made decisions about what this university needs going forward in terms of construction, and in the process, eliminated some parking that will eventually come back in a year or two,” Alutto said.

Alutto added the issues did not have to do with the new parking vendor.

“But what we didn’t do effectively, I don’t think, is to plan for that interim period when we were going through that adjustment,” he said. “We have formerly available parking spaces which are now used as lay-down space for construction equipment, so it’s no longer available for parking. We have taken down garages without thinking carefully about the sequencing that needs to occur to make sure that parking space is available. That has nothing to do with our vendor.”

Alutto’s comments were a strong rebuke of the assumption by some who believe the privatization of campus parking is to blame for space shortages.

OSU’s Board of Trustees voted in June 2012 to lease OSU’s parking operations to an Australian-based investment company, QIC Global Infrastructure, for 50 years in exchange for a up-front payment of $483 million. CampusParc, which handles the day-to-day operations of university parking, began managing those systems in September 2012.

Alutto told the University Senate that faculty, staff and students should accept that reliance on West Campus will be the new norm for the foreseeable future.

“My personal view is that’s not going to be resolved until we accept the fact that we’re going to have to do distance parking, and then have an adequate transportation system to get people back and forth to (main) campus,” he said.

His comments were prompted by Neil Tennant, a faculty senator and philosophy professor, who had approached the microphone to articulate the frustration of many of his peers.

“I’ve been here 23 years, and I commute in from the west side of campus every day, and this is the first year in my experience at Ohio State that it has taken me up to one and a half hours to find a parking space when I have a committee meeting or a lecture,” Tennant said to Alutto. “I speak to you as the top officer of the university, asking you to, please, lean on CampusParc and make the case that faculty who drive in to do their work don’t waste one and a half hours at the beginning of their creative day, because if it accumulates through the year, that’s the equivalent of two or three published papers.”

Tennant’s remarks were met with loud applause from the Senate body.

While saying the administration was to blame for parking shortages, Alutto conceded CampusParc was likely at fault for operation inefficiencies.

Tennant said he was speaking on behalf of many of his colleagues, and articulated the “oft repeated complaints” about an ineffective parking communication by CampusParc.

“The parking signs outside the garage will say ‘full’ at times when the roof is empty, or the parking sign outside the garage will say ‘keycard open’ when no, there’s not a single space available,” he said. “You waste 20 minutes going in and driving to the top and driving all the way down again. It happened to me the other day at four garages in a row … There is a huge problem of inefficiency and just plain ineptitude on the part of CampusParc.”

Alutto said he wanted to hear more about issues of inefficiency, and that legitimate efficiency problems on the part of CampusParc need to be addressed.

In the past, CampusParc representatives have made remarks about the OSU community misunderstanding what is in the vender’s control.

“CampusParc is often blamed for things we cannot change without OSU’s approval, or for things that were actually prescribed in the concession agreement, such as parking rates, who can purchase specific permits and who can and cannot park in specific places,” said Sarah Blouch, president of CampusParc, in an April Lantern article.

Tennant’s remarks came on the heels of similar concerns that came up at a Sept. 19 Faculty Council meeting.

At that meeting, faculty expressed frustration particularly about the lack of parking spaces at garages near the Wexner Medical Center. Referencing two closed parking garages, one of which had previously been reserved for faculty and staff, and the other for faculty and patients, a faculty member said she suspected CampusParc would make those garages patient-only when they reopen. She added that the administration has said it is currently uncertain of what the ratio of parking spaces will be once they reopen.

The privatization of parking has been a controversial topic amongst some faculty since it was first proposed in 2011.

Ninety faculty members signed an open letter to the administration in 2012, advising against the privatization of parking. That letter was written by Enrico Bonello, professor of plant pathology, Paul Beck, professor of political science and Linda Lobao, professor of rural sociology and geography.

An internal survey of 1,252 faculty was also conducted in 2012, and about 84 percent said they disapproved of the parking proposal.

In a Sept. 23 interview with The Lantern, Alutto described contracts like the parking privatization as a necessary evil.

“Without that, your tuition would be much higher. It’s a trade-off,” Alutto said. “Would I prefer not to have to do that? In some cases, sure. But would I prefer to increase tuition to offset that income, given what I think is this dual mission of access and excellence? No. I’d rather be able to achieve excellence but not on the backs of students and that’s what those affinity agreements allow us to do. It’s a very important part of the overall resource list of this university.”

Executive Vice President and Provost Joseph Steinmetz said he thinks the parking privatization was “a wonderful idea” in an interview with The Lantern Tuesday.

“Parking, by the way, in every university, is the worst topic there possibly is. There’s never enough, it’s never in the right locations and it costs too much,” Steinmetz said. “Shifting it into a private company to run is a big step to take but the generation of $483 million that now allow us to hire additional faculty is worth these kinds of deals and it’s the things we’ve got to do.”

Much of the $483 million from the deal will be used to hire 500 new faculty members in the next decade.

The privatization of “non-essential assets” was a plan first proposed by former president E. Gordon Gee, and something Alutto plans to continue. Alutto said at University Senate Thursday the university will continue to look at other assets to monetize.

“Nothing is off the table … there are a number of those assets that we should be looking at and asking the question ‘Are we retaining them because we’ve always had them, or are we keeping them going simply because they are core to our mission and who we are as a soul of this institution?’ Those are difficult decisions, and there has to be wide conversation and discussion about them,” he said.

Alutto said the administration would keep future potential privatization considerations private until it becomes likely that real changes could be made.