Monday, February 05, 2007

Nassau Community College has driven up the cost of parking on campus

One thing I miss about living in southern California is the availability of valet parking practically everywhere one would want to drive, including the supermarket and public library. When I first encountered the practice, I thought it was over-the-top, like some scenes in Bravo TV's Real Housewives of Orange County. However, I quickly grew accustomed to giving my keys to parking attendants and going about my business, then calling for my car and having it brought right to me. The service wasn't free but the convenience was worth it, especially when I had lots to carry or when it rained.

(If you've heard the song: "It Never Rains in Southern California," don't believe the hype.)

Back home in New York, valet parking seems to be reserved for high end destinations. Finding free parking at lower-end, crowded locations - even in some suburbs - can be a real pain in the posterior and the cost of paid parking can put a sizable dent in one's wallet.

Consider, for instance, Nassau Community College in Garden City, a Long Island suburb. It's a commuter school in a bedroom community, where I have rarely found it convenient to park. Visiting many buildings on campus has required guzzling gallons of gas to search for an available parking space and then hiking a considerable distance.

One rainy day, in particular, when visiting to videotape a racquetball class (for a cultural documentation project), I had to lug my equipment, laptop, purse and umbrella from the far end of the West 4B Student and Visitor Parking Lot all the way to the Physical Education Complex (which abuts the far east end of West 5 Staff Parking). As I crossed that soggy plain, I mused: "By George, what I wouldn't give right now for the privilege of paying for valet parking."

Ironically, paid parking is now not a privilege, but obligatory at Nassau Community College. A recently introduced directive has driven up the cost of parking on campus from zero to five, seventeen fifty or forty five dollars, depending on the semester. Those are fairly high-octane fees for some students. However, unlike valet service, the parking premiums are unlikely to crank up convenience to drivers. (Parking spaces can't be reserved and parking attendants will not be hired.) Rather, what those fees (and fines for parking violations) will undoubtedly do is fill up the coffers of Nassau Community College (and of the Nassau County Traffic and Parking Violations Agency).

The Nassau Community College Student Vehicle Registration Program must have been mapped out by some alchemist, who saw the bumper crop of cars on campus as gold in them thar hills. (I know it's a stretch to refer to the same site as a plain and as hills, but down-rev, Bev. Haven't you ever heard of artistic license?) Although some students take public transportation or carpool to campus, most drive there directly from work and elsewhere, and the demand for parking is inelastic.

The new parking rules are effective this semester. I'm familiar with the details because I helped a less computer-savvy friend register two vehicles online. The rules offer no bulk discounts or transferable parking passes for students who drive multiple cars or free passes for the "Winterim" and Summer terms. Moreover, the vehicle registration fees are neither refundable nor pro-ratable for students who withdraw early or register late.

I personally care about this development because I frequently visit Nassau Community College for various reasons. As a visitor, I won't have to pay to park on campus but will bear an opportunity cost: stopping at the Public Safety Office (which is nowhere near where I usually park) to get a temporary vehicle pass.

If I sound like I begrudge Nassau Community College its new revenue source, don't get me wrong. "Render unto Caesar" and all. Moreover, according the January 2007 letter addressed by the Vice President of Academic Services to registered students, the program has worthwhile motives: "to accommodate the parking needs of the campus as well as provide additional security on campus."

There's just something about the tone and text of the school's Vehicle Registration Program Information Sheet that guns my motor. Here, take the wheel and read this excerpt for yourself:

Q. How much does the program cost?
A. The cost is $17.50 in the Spring and the Fall semesters. In the Fall ONLY an annual permit is available for $45 which is good for the academic year (Fall, Winterim, Spring and Summer). Registration for the Winterim is $5, as is registration for the Summer terms. Students are strongly encouraged to register their vehicle online and pay by credit card so that waiting in long lines to make payment by cash or check can be avoided. Please note that there is "no extra charge" for credit card payments.

Q. Does this guarantee a parking spot?
A. All vehicles must be registered to be legally permitted to park on campus. However, registration does not guarantee a parking space in any particular parking area. In time the program should prevent non-registered vehicles from parking on campus, thereby making more space available for registered vehicles. There is currently ample parking available on campus for all students although some spaces may not be conveniently located.

Q. Is it necessary to register?
A. Unregistered vehicles will be subject to summonses and towing. The summons will come from Nassau County, not the College.

Q. What will the money collected be used for?
A. The fees will be used to repair Nassau Community College's Parking lots and enhance security on campus.

Q. Why do I have to register more than one vehicle if I intend to bring more than one vehicle on campus?
A. If you cannot decide to bring only one vehicle on campus you must register every vehicle that you intend to bring each semester. If you have a problem with your registered vehicle we will accommodate you with temporary permits on a very limited basis. However, remember that three registration fees for one semester are cheaper than one $90.00 summons.