||Schofield Hall 218|
||Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004|
UW-Eau Claire Eases
MAILED: Dec. 10, 1997|
EAU CLAIRE -- Some Eau Claire city buses are full, and spaces are available at any given time in at least some parking lots at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.
In other words, the university's recently implemented parking plan is helping ease the parking crunch on campus as intended.
Thanks to revised transit routes and increased parking permit fees, hundreds of members of the campus community -- many of whom drove cars to campus in previous years -- are taking buses to the university or parking on the fringes of campus and hopping a bus to central campus.
"I'm really pleased that the major problem we've had this fall is that the buses are too full," said Charlie Bauer, vice chancellor of business and student services. "It's just wonderful. And it's apparent that ridership is increasing almost day by day. Clearly people now have a viable alternative to driving."
The popularity of riding the bus -- which members of the university community can do for free by showing their Blugold card -- has increased as people have become aware of the service and as temperatures have dropped. For example, the bus rider count for the week of Nov. 10 was 8,311, up from 5,894 the week before.
"I'm very pleased," said Gary Bartlett, coordinator of parking and transportation at UW-Eau Claire. "I had a feeling it could work because I've seen bus service work in other communities with universities."
Sales of parking permits to students dropped by 18 percent this year and sales of faculty and staff permits dropped 5 percent, Bartlett said.
"In the past, the bus schedule was not designed to serve the university community," Bartlett said, noting university and city transit representatives worked closely to develop routes. "We have about 7,000 students who live off campus. We're meeting their needs, and that's something we hadn't done in the past."
Earlier this semester, the city's 45-passenger buses were carrying as many as 80 people at a time, and there were still students who couldn't ride, Bartlett said. In response, the city added buses to university routes at 7:35 a.m., 8:35 a.m. and 9:35 a.m. to help ease the pressure, he said. And evening and Saturday services were added, again meeting student needs as never before, Bauer said.
"The two lines that are designed specifically for the university are loaded," Bauer said. "The impression is that it's having an overflow effect and spilling into the rest of the system."
Students take the bus all over Eau Claire, Bauer said, noting that getting students outside the university area benefits students and the community. For example, one student takes the bus to DeLong Middle School to volunteer in its mentoring program. In the past, that same student struggled to get a ride so she could participate.
In addition to providing a convenient alternative to driving to campus, parking officials also raised permit prices, increased fines, reserved spots so faculty and staff could buy a guaranteed space, and added spaces in lots on the fringe of campus.
"The success we're having is the result of all of those things happening at once," Bartlett said. "Had permits stayed at $35 instead of being raised to $60, we would have sold just as many permits."
"The idea is to make people think carefully about whether they need to drive to campus," said Kevin Gatzlaff, president of the Study Body and one of the plan's creators. "That way, the people who really need the spots will have an increased chance of finding them."
Students have complained about the increase in parking fines, which now range from $10 to $50, Gatzlaff said. "But it's difficult to take the position that it should be cheap to park illegally," he said.
Many people who live close to campus said that in past years they'd buy a permit because it was an inexpensive safety net in case it rained or got bitterly cold, Bauer said, noting that 21 percent of permit holders in past years lived within a mile of campus. Once they had the permit, many drove because it was convenient, he said.
As a result, parking problems escalated despite new spaces, Bauer said. By fall, UW-Eau Claire will have increased the number of its parking spaces by 45 percent since 1982, yet problems continue, he said.
The $250 guaranteed permits in the Hibbard and Phillips lots have successfully addressed the needs of faculty and staff who must leave campus during the day, Bauer said.
"We've heard nothing but glowing remarks from those who were willing to pay for the service," Bauer said. "There are those who didn't purchase them and still see pressure on the Hibbard and Phillips lot and they aren't as pleased. But the lots in the core of the campus are always going to be in high demand. There is nothing we can do to release the pressure on those two lots."
The parking and transportation services staff surveys all lots two days a month to determine vacancy rates at peak times of the day, Bauer said. "So far, we've been able to find vacancies -- and lots of them -- in the Water Street and Fine Arts lots at any time of the day," Bauer said. "At no time has there not been a space available somewhere on campus -- and they're available in some abundance."
"Our campus populations' parking needs are being met," Bartlett said. Ample spaces exist on campus but it's up to drivers to use the lots with available spaces. Buses stop every 20 minutes at fringe lots so people parking there can ride to central campus.
While students, faculty and staff initiated the cooperative agreement, it wouldn't have worked had it not been for the efforts of the city transit commission and management staff, Bartlett said. The city purchased special equipment, revised routes and added buses at busy times.
And, he said, it wouldn't have worked had students not agreed to pay $10 per year for the service.
"It took the students involvement and commitment to try this for it to work," Bauer said. "I'm proud of the partnership among students, administrators and faculty that made this thing go."
Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Updated: Dec. 10, 1997