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Many students and faculty have experienced driving in circles around Cal Poly’s parking lots in search of a spot. By noon, the parking lots are full and students aren’t able to use the permits they paid hundreds of dollars for so they wouldn’t have to walk to class. 

“For my 12 to 2 p.m. class on Mondays and Wednesdays, it’s been really, really hard to find a parking spot,” liberal studies senior Brayden Schauer said.

Commuting students had the option of buying a quarterly or annual parking permit for this year. According to Transportation and Parking Services, Cal Poly sold more permits than parking spots. 

Cal Poly had 2,998 commuter parking spots available. By week four of fall quarter, 3,105 commuter permits had been awarded to students.

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“I lived downtown this year,” Schauer said. “It is necessary for me to have a parking pass because it would take me an hour to walk to school.”

Despite having the permit, Schauer said it takes her a while to find a spot — which she said made her late to classes the first week of school.  Instead of sitting in classes, Schauer said commuters spend their time following people who are leaving in order to take their spots.

“It just really extends our time in the morning just to get to school because we have to plan out the time that it’s going to take to find a spot,” Schauer said.

Not being able to find parking causing students and faculty to be late for class is not a unique problem this quarter. 

According to the director of Transportation and Parking Services, Marlene Cramer, the beginning of every year always creates increased traffic to campus.

“Every fall we have this issue and it’s in all the areas,” Cramer said. “We have the staff complaining that there [are] students parked in their area. It’s just a matter of trying to figure out where everyone needs to be.”   

Cal Poly expects to make about $5.7 million through parking services for the 2022-23 fiscal year. This includes operating revenues, interest income, as well as revenue from fees. Of that total, parking fees are expected to contribute about $4.6 million to Cal Poly’s revenue this year, according to budget documents. About $612,000 in revenue is projected to be generated from parking fines, as well. 

“We do oversell those areas because commuters are coming and going,” Cramer said. “There’s always an oversell in those areas so that we account for that turnover and are able to sell more permits for students.”

Cramer explained that the difficulties in parking are created by students who don’t follow the rules and take the risk of getting a ticket on campus. Other students simply may not know where to park. The three Orange lots located off of Highland, Via Carta and Village Drive are given to those with commuter permits.

“We have the issue of students that don’t have permits in those lots, parking in those lots,” Cramer said. “It’s a little bit of a learning curve in terms of making sure that those students that don’t have permits, don’t park in those lots.”

Despite the difficulties students and faculty have been having with accessing parking, Cramer said that Cal Poly would actually have to reduce parking spots in the near future.  

“We are going to lose more parking in the future and the campus is going to be growing, so that means that there’s going to be less and less options for parking on campus for students,” Cramer said. 

Additionally, Cramer said that in order to allow students who live off campus to still park on campus, the school will eventually prohibit second year students required to live on campus from bringing their cars to school, just like the freshmen.

“If you’re living here on campus, the thought is you don’t need a car as much as a student commuter living off campus,” Cramer said. 

In order to help relieve the traffic and lack of parking on campus, parking services hopes students will take advantage of more sustainable modes of transportation. Cramer said the carpool permits and the Mustang Shuttle are good options to use to get around campus.

“We would prefer not more cars to be on campus, but more students, staff and faculty to use sustainable transportation options versus driving, so trying to strengthen all the programs that we do in terms of slow transit, regional transit, van pools, carpools, Zipcar, which is very popular with the students,” Cramer said. 

For commuter students like Schauer, having a permit is necessary, but she still has to find off-campus parking for half the time she’s on campus. 

“I can’t not park on campus because of where I live,” Schauer said. “I do kind of regret it because I feel like I could find a spot more in the neighborhoods or something, and not have to spend the money, just because that’s what I’m doing on Mondays and Wednesdays anyways, but it’s definitely nice to have a pass.”

Industrial Engineering senior Mackenzie Henderson experienced the difficulty in searching for a parking spot daily. She had a parking pass last year, and never had problems looking for a spot. But this year, it’s worse.

Henderson had to cancel a school meeting at the last minute due to the lack of available parking, despite leaving her house an hour before her meeting started. She had to rely on a team member to fill in her spot. 

“I just think it’s ridiculous,” Henderson said. “It feels like a waste of money because I view the parking pass as a guaranteed spot, and it’s not fair that I have to park far away or not even find a spot.”

Delaney Jacobs contributed reporting to this article.