Parking spots fall by more than 2,100; enrollment grows by about 1,600
Even before USC closed a parking lot near the Carolina Coliseum, the university had removed more than 2,100 spots in three years, while adding nearly 1,600 students.
Bond documents show that there were 14,692 parking spots on campus at the end of this January between parking lots and garages. But in January 2011, the earliest available year, there were about 16,822, a decrease of 2,130 spots or more than 12.5 percent.
At the same time, university records show that enrollment grew by 1,591 students.
That drop doesn’t include the Coliseum parking lot that closed earlier this month or the lot that will be closed later in the year, which account for 669 spots, according to USC spokesman Wes Hickman.
Add them in, and there will be about 2,800 fewer spots, a drop of 16.6 percent over three years.
The Coliseum lots will be replaced by a pair of privately built apartment buildings that will include 721 parking spots, according to city records. The first building will open in Fall 2015 and the other in Fall 2016.
Hickman said that the university still has parking capacity — there are often spots available in Discovery and the Athletics Village Garage, he said — but students might not be able to park right by the buildings they’re headed to and might have to use campus shuttles more.
“There is a plan. There is capacity. Does it necessitate a change in behavior? Probably so,” Hickman said. “We have to recognize that in a thriving urban environment, you don’t park right outside the place you’re going to work or you’re going to class.”
USC doesn’t have a parking problem, he said. Instead, it has a problem of perception because it isn’t as “easy and abundant” as it once was.
The majority of the spots that USC lost were surface parking, mostly grass and gravel lots, like one near the Public Health Research Center on Assembly Street, Hickman said.
The loss of surface parking is part of the reality of the growing development of Columbia’s downtown, Hickman said; parking garages are a more efficient use of space.
And because the university can’t use state funding or tuition money on parking, those garages, which are far more expensive than parking lots, have to pay for themselves.
That means students could face a steep price increase. A year of parking in USC’s lots costs $80. A year in garages costs as little as $600 and as much as $720, and those prices have risen over the past three years, helping increase USC’s parking revenue.
The university expects to bring in $4.8 million this year, a three-year increase of 23.7 percent. The cost of a parking permit rose as little as 6 percent for Horizon and Discovery garages and as high as 23 percent for Pendleton Garage.
For Justin Nix, a doctoral criminal justice student, that’s problematic. Since he first enrolled at USC in 2005, he said he’s seen parking near the Coliseum dwindle, meaning he’s spent 30 to 40 minutes looking for a spot before giving up.
Because USC opened Discovery to permit holders, he’s OK for now. But he said he can’t afford a garage permit next semester.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Nix said.
Hickman said it’s possible that USC will build more garages and add more surface lots, but the university hasn’t set a timeline to do so.
Still, he said the university wants to keep prices down by keeping the parking office efficient, and that means USC doesn’t want to build too many parking facilities.
“We’re going to make every effort to keep it as affordable as possible, understanding that parking has to be self-sustaining. So if we need more of it, it has to pay for itself,” Hickman said. “Nobody’s getting rich off parking.”
USC has added shuttles and could add more, Hickman said. It regularly evaluates how the buses run, it’s redrawn routes and it’s looked into replacing their loops with point-to-point service. The university is also looking to make the campus more bike- and pedestrian-friendly.
Jonathan Holt, president pro tempore of student senate and a second-year political science and geography student, agrees with the administration that parking lots aren’t a good use of USC’s space.
“I think it comes back to rethinking how we do transit in general. I’d like to see USC do a better job of working with Columbia for buses,” Holt said, saying that schools with expensive parking supplement it with convenient transit. “Our student culture is that you have to have a car, and you kind of do if you want to get around town.”