By MEGAN RODRIGUEZ
Published March 28, 2021
Texas A&M Transportation services is taking several actions in an effort to make up a more than $16 million deficit caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The adjustments will mean higher parking prices for some people.
Changes will include “significant budget cuts” in operating expenses, postponement of capital projects for at least the next two years, elimination of 28 budgeted positions through a hard hiring freeze and adjustments to some permit prices. Students, faculty and staff with parking permits are not the main people who will be affected by rising costs.
Purchases for annual parking passes are down about 6%, but Transportation Services Director Debbie Hoffmann said that visitor and event parking being down by more than 70% is what led to the greatest financial strain on the budget. Transportation Services is an auxiliary organization, which means it does not receive funding from A&M and must operate completely on funds from people paying to park.
“We never like to examine parking rates,” Hoffmann said, “and to add more burden to our customer group. … People paying to park covers the expenses of our operation, and so when all other avenues have been utilized, we look to that as a last resort.”
But all the efforts will not completely make up the $16 million deficit, which has accumulated since the start of the pandemic, and Hoffmann said that it will take years for the budget to fully recover.
Permit pricing is being affected in several ways.
For one, there were three groups of annual pass holders who have been receiving free parking — disabled veterans, retirees and members of the media who opted for a parking pass.
Transportation Services will no longer offer free passes for those in the media. The same was going to be true for disabled veterans, but A&M has agreed to pay for those. Currently, Hoffmann said that about 270 disabled veterans have free parking passes. Had the change gone through, she said the veterans would have been required to pay half price.
A&M is also helping to pay for retirees. Starting in the fall, new retirees will need to pay $50 for parking permits. However, people who already had a free retiree permit or those who will retire on or before Aug. 31 can have the cost covered by the university for the next five years.
Hoffmann said that paid parking permits go up in price by about 3% each year. This year though, 16% of customers will see a higher increase than that. Very few faculty, staff and students will be included in that as Hoffmann said most of the higher costs will go toward service, vendor and contractor parking. She said those groups will be told about alternatives to the passes they currently hold so that people can have the option to buy a permit at a price they are used to seeing.
Annual permits are set to expire in August.
“It was such a relief and we are so thankful to the university for being able to fund some of the permits, for example the disabled veterans and the retirees,” Hoffmann said.
Capital projects that are being delayed include improvements to several parking lots as well as street and sidewalk repairs across the campus. A couple of the postponed street projects include Throckmorton and Coke streets.
Hoffmann said Lot 51 was slated to be renovated this summer, but that has been postponed. She added that it is probably the lot in the worst condition on campus.
When asked about why COVID-19 relief funds via the CARES Act were not used to help Transportation Services, Hoffmann said that depending upon the nature of the award program, not all costs are eligible for reimbursement under CARES. She added that in addition to transportation-related costs, the university incurred a significant level of COVID-19-related costs related to instruction, facilities and other student service areas.
Bus services on campus have also been changed in minimal ways, Hoffmann said. For example, some routes have fewer buses running on them, so people cannot get picked up on those as often. She added that a portion of Transportation Services also receives some funding from A&M.
The on-campus bike share program Veo is not impacted by the adjustments. Hoffmann said that the contract with Veo is not revenue based and simply grants permission for the company to operate at A&M.
The third-party rideshare program A&M used, Zimride, shuttered at the end of last year due to the pandemic, but Hoffmann said efforts are being made to find a new rideshare company.
Many people have been disappointed with the changes, but for the most part customers are understanding, Hoffmann said.
“Change is always hard,” she said. “We do not make decisions about changes in prices lightly. We understand that it is impactful to people’s budget and their discretionary income that they have. We work very hard to provide alternatives that would keep people at the same rate or a lower rate so that they could choose to maintain that budgetary line in their income.”
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