Increased enrollment, overcrowded parking lots and misused parking spaces have created a plethora of parking troubles for USM students. The university is discussing parking as a priority, said Chief of Police and Senior Director of Public Safety, Noel March. USM community members have come together to implement a variety of solutions to help accommodate motor vehicle congestion on campus.
Jean Paquette, the Director of Auxiliary Services in Portland, has been at the forefront of administering a new parking plan.
Paquette was hired in July 2017 and started a Parking Committee shortly after. The committee of 30 individuals that represent a variety of campus departments, meet monthly to discuss parking at USM.
“So far, the parking committee has already tackled a number of parking issues. It is a trial-and-error process, we are learning a lot as we go,” said Paquette.
Two months ago, USM put out a Request For Proposal (RFP) to find a solution to help the university modernize the hardware and software on the parking garage in Portland.
“What were looking at is making an investment to drive money specifically into parking,” said USM President Glenn Cummings.
The details of the new software and hardware are not concrete, but could include the use of student IDs to access the parking garage in Portland. For students, the fee for parking would be built into their tuition.
Cummings said that staff would have to pay an additional fee for parking, unless parking is included in their contract.
Another idea from the parking committee includes charging organizations hosting large events a fee for parking.
To help decrease the amount of cars on campus, the university signed a contract with the METRO bus system. The parking committee hoped that by providing service beyond two campuses, commuter students could get to school via METRO and leave their cars at home.
“We were hoping, and our projections showed that this could happen, is that we would have a three to four percentage decrease in car usage because the METRO service is so good,” said Cummings.
Cummings said that the university has not yet seen that decrease in car usage that they were hoping for.
The parking committee is also working closely with the Office of Sustainability to reduce the number of people using cars to get to class. Aaron Witham, the Director for Sustainable Programs at USM, said that his department has an Eco-Rep Program, comprised of 15 to 20 students. The Eco-Rep team has taken on the issue of parking as their primary focus this semester.
Witham said that their main focus is the large population of individuals who could give up driving their car to class. If the issue of parking is tackled from an environmental perspective, it would be more cost effective for students and faculty, he said. “Building additional parking such as a garage could cost around $30,000, funding which USM could use for other measures,” said Witham.
One way they are working on this is by creating a carpool program on campus. Through this program, drivers and riders will be able to find each other. There is already an app picked out for the program and it is planned to launch by Spring 2019.
Another option is the “buyout program.” Students may be given monetary incentives to give up their parking permit for a year.
The Office of Sustainability is also promoting bike use among students and faculty. Witham demonstrates his dedication to sustainability by always biking to and from the school.
March said that they mowed to allow for cars to park on the grass island in the middle of the parking lot behind Wishcamper in Portland. This added approximately 50 to 100 additional parking spots.
Additionally, the Portland campus parking garage is currently being examined for opportunities to free-up a few more parking spaces there. For example, two old USM police cars were parked on the ground floor, taking up two parking spaces. March put the cars up for sale to remove them and free those spots.
In terms of expanding the garage, Cummings said that if it was to be built upon, it would have to be built out towards Glickman because the bedrock cannot support building upwards.
“Where you come out of the parking garage now, we’d go out another 25 yards,” he said. Additionally, Cummings added that in the master plan, the university would build housing underneath the building, on either one or two levels, for residential students who reside on the Portland campus.
In terms of public-use-parking on campus, Paquette stated that USM has been communicating to large groups to find alternative transportation to the university. For example; taking an Uber or being bussed from a hotel.
Paquette said that students should expect to see changes in parking by Fall of 2020.
USM community members may park on campus as long as they obtain a proper parking permit and adhere to campus parking guidelines.
The USM Public Safety Parking, Transportation, and Pedestrian Guidelines states that all vehicles parked on USM property must display the university hang-tag unless parked at a meter.
Parking permits can be acquired at the Parking & Transportation Services office which is located on the first level of the Parking Garage in Portland. The hang-tags are valid for both the Gorham and Portland campuses. Students are not required to pay an out-of-pocket fee for it, but are charged a $110 transportation fee that’s included in their tuition. The fee also supports transportation projects, parking and busing between campuses.
The USM Public Safety page states that having a valid parking permit does not guarantee parking on campus, especially during peak hours.
March said that enforcement efforts on campus are increasing. Being almost half-way through the fall semester, he said that students and staff are accustomed to their schedules and weekly routines with respect to parking their cars on campus.
“We will now be looking for vehicles that are not in the correct lot, not displaying a current and valid parking permit and also seeking cars that do not belong in campus parking spaces (cars belonging to people who are not members of the USM community who use our parking spaces yet have no official business on campus),” said March.
He added that community members must take the safety-based restrictions on handicap spaces and fire lanes seriously.
“It’s important to remember our ‘Philosophy of Fairness.’ Parking tickets are issued so that everyone is treated fairly, we do so especially on behalf of those who follow the rules and who expect those who don’t to be held accountable,” said March.