Elizabeth Wilks Parry
The Oxford Eagle
Parking is an issue that has affected every member of the Ole Miss community. Finding a convenient place to leave one’s car is virtually impossible for both faculty and students alike.
“As with any major university parking is an issue. Most want to park right next to their building and this is just not possible,” Director of Parking and Transportation Mike Harris said. “So I would think the major issue would be one of convenience, or lack thereof. It is not that parking is not available. It is not as convenient as most would want it to be.”
Harris has worked for the Department of Parking and Transportation at Ole Miss for the past year and eight months. One of his most difficult tasks is always “fighting the constant negativity.”
“The fact is we have a limited amount of [parking] spaces, and we are doing all we can to get the most out of those,” Harris said. “The things we do are not always popular.”
Park-N-Ride was an alternative program recently added to the university that offers less expensive parking at off campus locations. There are lots located at the Jackson Avenue Center and on the corner of Highway 6 and Old Taylor Road.
“As we grow, parking on campus becomes less and less,” Harris said. “When it comes down to building an academic building or parking, the academic building always wins. So we had to find a way to accommodate growth as best we could and also offer cheaper permits for those who want that option. This is where the Park-N-Ride lots come into play.”
Courtney Cone is a sophomore community assistant in Stewart Hall on campus, but did not register in time for an on-campus parking pass. Instead, Cone purchased a Park-N-Ride decal and utilizes the Oxford University Transit Bus to access her car at the lot off Old Taylor Road.
“It is difficult to get to my car because the buses don’t run at the exact times they are supposed to,” Cone said. “It can take me up to 45 minutes to reach my car. I would much rather be able to park on campus.”
A parking garage has also been added to campus to help create more available space. It is available to anyone on an hourly basis, or a parking pass may be purchased for $550 per semester.
“I knew commuter parking was very difficult, so I emailed [the parking department] and told them I was interested in a parking garage permit and I got one,” Ole Miss Sophomore Jocelyn Cropper said. “It is a little pricey, but the best thing is that I have covered parking. It is conveniently located next to the Turner Center, and I have a guaranteed spot every single time.”
Many changes have been implemented to the Ole Miss parking system this academic year – from limiting the number of commuter and residential permits sold to implementing new software for registration.
The university has also added apps that show available parking in commuter lots and allow students to pay parking meters from their phones. The parking department is implementing a lot of new programs to help better an unsolvable situation.
“We have just received approval to construct a new residential parking garage, which will begin construction next semester and open in fall of 2017,” Harris said. “We also are working on a new internal shuttle loop on campus. This will circle the interior of campus and offer transportation around campus in an efficient manner. We hope to have it ready to go by fall 2017.”
On average, 40,000 to 50,000 citations are written a year, typically bringing in $1,000,000 annually, but not all tickets are given to students. Around 20 percent of students receive citations while 80 percent of the citations written are given to visitor, vendors, construction workers and whoever else might be illegally parked on campus.
“The funds from citations and permits go for several different things,” Harris said. “The transportation system that operates takes a little over $1,000,000 per year. Then you have construction of parking lots and annual maintenance on parking lots.
“There is also debt service payments, such as on the garage. It runs $1,300,000 annually. We are a stand-alone department. We get no funding from the state or tuition. All our funding for these items must come from permit [sales] and citations.”
There will always be conflicts when it comes to parking, but Harris and his team are doing the best they can to come up with solutions that help please as many people as possible. Harris described the “parking formula” to help clarify the issues campus will always face.
“Write down three words, ‘Cheap, Enough and Convenient,'” Harris said. “Now choose two of those. You will never have all three. So if you want cheap and enough, parking is not so convenient. This is an example of Park-N-Ride.
“If you want enough and convenient, then it won’t be cheap. This is an example of the garage. And if you want cheap and convenient, it won’t be enough. This is what we are experiencing on campus.”
Having only been at the university a brief amount of time, Harris said he loves being part of a team of committed professionals who are all working to meet the growth of Ole Miss.
“I would hope that I can communicate the real issues we face as a landlocked and growing university,” Harris said. “I need to help others see the strain this puts on our infrastructure, in a way that they can see the need to move forward with additional transportation and parking solutions.”