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Students Protest Parking Privatization

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Student David Gurecki holds a sign during last week's protest. Another demonstration will be held in Bloomington on Friday, April 12. - HANNAH LEYVA
  • Hannah Leyva
  • Student David Gurecki holds a sign during last week's protest. Another demonstration will be held in Bloomington on Friday, April 12.

A small group of students and faculty set up a table in the southwest corner of IUPUI's Taylor Courtyard last Wednesday, ready to hand out flyers and ask people to sign letters.

Instead of approaching people with the usual, "Hi, would you like to help us out by signing our petition?" they took a much more direct route by asking, "Hi, do you park on campus?"

With a commuter campus like IUPUI, the majority of the answers were yesses. It's no secret that IUPUI has a big parking problem, especially at the beginning of semesters and in the colder months when fewer people walk or bike to school. Add to that the lack of public transportation options, and sometimes getting to class in a calm and timely manner can be a difficult task that requires strategic planning.

These protesters, however, are worried about how parking is managed, not the number of parking spaces available on campus.

Following the lead of cities such as Chicago and Indianapolis and other college campuses like Ohio State University, the Indiana University Board of Trustees is looking to privatize parking at its two largest campuses, IU Bloomington and IUPUI.

Instead of having the facilities run by Campus Parking Authority, a non-profit group controlled by the university, the rights to parking will be sold to an outside for-profit corporation for a large unspecified up-front fee.

"Privatization is being promoted under the banner of 'parking monetization,' the idea being that the university could collect much more money from its parking operations than it currently does," IUPUI Associate Professor of Economics Marc Bilodeau wrote in a blog on the issue.

What this means for students is simple: the prices for parking will increase.

According to David Gurecki, a member of Students for a Democratic Society, which has been leading the campaign against privatization, the parking company can raise prices at a maximum rate of 32 percent a year. In the worst-case scenario, he said, that means the rate of the least expensive annual parking pass could double from the current $252 price to $532 by 2018.

"It's essentially a tuition hike," said Xander Gieryn, another member of Students for a Democratic Society.

Students would not be the only ones affected. Employees, particularly those in the campus parking department, could see a decrease in their wages and benefits, or worse, be out of a job altogether. Faculty and staff passes would also increase in price.

IU officials have not said how much the school will be paid by the company for the contract, which is expected to be a 35 - 50 year lease. They have also not specified what that money will be used for, other than to pay off debt. Goldman Sachs has been hired to advise the university.

While it's maddening for Gurecki and Gieryn to see more fees being levied against students in a time where tuition, books and other college costs are also going up, the students' biggest problem is with the school's lack of transparency on the issue.

Students gather to sign a petition and letters to Indiana University President Michael McRobbie as well as to make protest signs. - HANNAH LEYVA
  • Hannah Leyva
  • Students gather to sign a petition and letters to Indiana University President Michael McRobbie as well as to make protest signs.

"There has been a huge lack of democracy in this process," Gieryn said. "There have been no minutes posted, no timeline for events, no question and answer sessions, no public forums. There hasn't even been IUPUI student representation, because he's in class when they're having their meetings in Bloomington."

IUPUI representation on the matter is crucial. While Bloomington has a bigger campus in size and population, IUPUI's location and commuter culture requires more parking spaces, meaning that it, as Gieryn put it, is "the biggest cash cow."

Students for a Democratic Society said that university officials may have been in talks with companies for about a year, but most students and faculty did not find out about it until last fall.

"Politicians are in no hurry to inform the public," Gurecki said. "They should allow the students and staff to be informed and have a voice."

Because of this lack of information available to the masses, the group has taken it upon themselves to get the word out.

"Students aren't aware yet, but students are getting aware," Gieryn said. "Everyone I've talked to so far is against it: faculty, staff, students - everyone."

Their next step is to take action before it's too late. If the university sells off its rights to parking, there won't be anything the students or staff can do about price increases or wage reductions.

"IUPUI will lose its voice in parking fees," Gurecki said. "The parking company will be an unchallengeable monopoly."

At 9 a.m. on Friday, April 12, Students for a Democratic Society will be driving down to Bloomington to deliver the hundreds of petitions and signed letters asking IU President Michael McRobbie to stop privatization. They will join students from IU Bloomington outside the president's office to protest, and are inviting any one who wants to come help their cause. To them, that should mean everyone.

"Privatization is not inevitable yet, at least if we react promptly enough and mobilize employees and students. There is no reason to take it lying down and begin negotiating privatization terms," Bilodeau wrote in his conclusion. "Nothing good can come out of it. This should concern all of us."

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