Parking fees, equity, and the environment

by Emilio Sauri, English

I want to thank Stacy D. VanDeveer for his comments on the parking bargaining posted yesterday on the FSU blog. Professor VanDeveer’s comments provide a useful perspective on how we might approach the issue of parking as a bargaining unit. That said, in the spirit of collegial debate, I’d like to respond to the three points he makes in his post.

I agree that the money must be taken from other places, but that does not mean it has to be taken from other places in the university to subsidize cheaper parking. The point unions on campus have been making both in public statements and collective actions is that the state legislature’s refusal to address and ultimately alleviate UMass Boston’s legacy debt unjustly burdens our faculty, staff, and, more significantly, our students, who overwhelmingly face a number of financial pressures just to attend college and get to campus. To put it another way, I’m not entirely convinced that our only available choices are either to pay higher parking fees OR to subject university programs, facilities, and services to further cuts. There are other choices available to the administration and the legislature, and to think otherwise is effectively to let them off the hook.

I could be mistaken, but this second point seems to equate driving with a kind of class privilege. If that is the case, then I can’t help but think this obscures some other important factors. While it is true that people with higher incomes tend to own cars, it is also true that in the course of the last 20 years we have witnessed an increase in lower-income households moving to the suburbs and peripheries of major metropolitan areas like Boston across the country. Students and staff who hail from the suburbs do not live in the city because it is simply too expensive. But this also means that those who come from lower-income households and drive to campus would face even greater financial stress. When taken into consideration with job responsibilities and familial commitments (like dropping off and picking up children from school or day care), driving seems less like a privilege than a necessity.

Further, I’m not entirely sure the proposed parking fees scaled by income take into account the fact that the disparity between those who have to be on campus five days a week and those that don’t. To take one example, TT professors (like myself) need not be on campus five days a week, while most staff do. So, even though paying an increase of $3-6/day may not impact me as much, staff are likely to see an increase of $15-$30/week ($60-$120/month) in parking fees–while, at the same time, getting paid way less than I do. On this view, a genuinely progressive policy would include returning state funding of public transportation to previous levels. But while we fight for such policies off campus (and continue to fight on campus for a greater T pass subsidy), we ought to ensure that our more vulnerable students, staff, and faculty can get here without shouldering the burden of our legislature’s inability to address the situation.

No doubt the environmental impacts of driving are high, and we should all remain committed to fighting further degradation both locally and globally. Indifference to such impacts is not an option. At the same time, I worry about shifting the burden of this environmental crisis onto the less affluent members of our community. Indeed, as is well known, the effects of global warming have affected the poor disproportionately not just in the US but across the globe. For this reason, I think we need solutions that will tackle the degradation of our environment in systemic ways, and that requires changing the way we do things, again, on the level of state funding, including funding for public transportation. Private firms can incentivize their employees to drive less and take more public transportation, but, again, with money comes options—you can live closer to work, ride your bike (when it isn’t freezing), or take an Uber (you really shouldn’t do that either). These, however, are also options that are not equally available to everyone. Which is just to say that we can both fight for systemic solution off campus AND on campus avoid having the economically disadvantaged members of our community pay the price for continued environmental destruction.

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