BLACKSBURG — As usual, parking lots at Virginia Tech are too small, to the dismay of students, as construction on campus disrupts the convenience of driving.
The reduction in on-campus parking has implications for the university’s growth and climate goals, said Lindsay Belshe, the school’s vice president of auxiliary and business services.
Her office employs about 20 people and oversees parking, fleet, permanent and air transportation services, she told the university’s board of visitors at an informational meeting Monday. With so much construction going on at Virginia Tech, parking is limited.
“Campus growth will continue to disrupt parking on campus,” Belsche said. “We need to constantly monitor and adjust how we assign and allocate parking, as well as encourage participation in alternative modes of transportation.”
There are at least 2,000 fewer parking spaces at Virginia Tech than in 2020, according to university data for the Blacksburg campus. Belshe said that the current parking space is 14,255 and more than half of it is marked for students.
“According to the master plan, we will continue to move student parking to the edge of campus,” he said.
There are approximately 8,000 parking spaces for students and 4,000 spaces for staff across campus, Belshe said. The remaining 2,000 spaces are for service vehicles, visitor parking and other uses.
“The university’s strategic goals and objectives for campus development are implementing the addition of campus facilities to the land bank areas near the North Academic District while simultaneously reducing parking spaces in this area,” he said.
With so many construction projects — as many as 15 construction projects underway at one point this past spring semester, a spokeswoman said — to replace parking lots, Virginia Tech is also trying to meet certain campus climate goals by 2030, Belshe said.
“Transportation Services is trying to do our part to help … to reduce single carrier vehicles going to campus,” Beleshe said. Also reduce transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions.
Customer input also influences parking services decision-making, said Mr. Beleshe. Of the 2,000 respondents to the university’s transportation survey, 75% of students and faculty said they drive a single car to class.
“We asked them to rank four things we should consider when designing parking. The top three are: convenience … affordability and accessibility,” said Balshe. “The last factor was sustainability, which ranked lowest.”
The results of those surveys may indicate differences between universities and student needs.
Recent graduate Andrey Staroselski said he wants fair appeals for his parking tickets and clearly posted parking signs. Despite paying $350 for a parking pass, he said he was ticketed for leaving his car in the wrong spot because the leaf covered the sign.
“People are saying they’re getting tickets in places they shouldn’t be getting tickets,” Staroselski said in a January phone call. “We are actively trying to pay our school parking fees.”
After unsuccessful attempts to appeal the ticket, he said he is calling for parking service reforms in an online petition that has garnered more than 1,000 signatures. Another 2020 petition with more than 6,500 signatures is asking Virginia Tech to reverse a policy change that prohibits open parking on weekends and after 5 p.m.
“It’s funny, I don’t even bother driving to class. I personally am a cyclist,” said Starsolski. “I’m always late or I have to leave ridiculously early if I drive.”
He said he started the petition not because of the parking accident itself, but because he wanted to help other and future students.
“I’ve been gone too long, it won’t last long. But if this is happening to me, it’s happening to everybody,” Staroselski said. “I feel like we need to somehow empower the students and hold them accountable.”
According to university spokesman Mark Ouzarski, parking services do not issue tickets if they do not need them.
“Parking citations are designed to prevent people from parking in unauthorized spaces. We use citations not as a source of revenue, but to try to change behavior,” Ouzarski said in an email. “Revenue comes from user fees: permits and visitor parking applications.”
In fact, state law requires ancillary university services such as parking to be self-managed, Balshe told the Board of Visitors this week.
“This means that no tuition fees or funds from the Commonwealth can contribute to the work,” he said. “That means the parking lot has to pay for itself.”
Virginia Tech lost more than $1.1 million on parking and transportation in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to the university’s budget documents. Previously, the department had not recorded a net loss since 2015-16, documents show.
Owczarski said the coronavirus school closures caused that recent drop in revenue.
On the other hand, the university is budgeted to earn $2.6 million in revenue for parking and transportation services in the 2022-23 fiscal year, and $18.2 million in revenue, according to documents. Revenue from 2015-16 hovered around $15 million or less than the year before, data show.
Increased demand, system reforms and inflation have resulted in significant increases in budgeted revenues, Ouzarski said.
Of the current year’s total revenue of $18.2 million, sustainable transportation such as Blacksburg Transit, the bike park and other properties are budgeted to receive the most revenue, at $8.2 million. Compare that to about $7.6 million in revenue from parking services this year, plus $2.4 million from flight services, according to figures provided by the university.
“Any surplus revenue in any fiscal year is reinvested back into the divisions and supports both short-term and long-term initiatives,” Oukzarski said in an email. “Saving money for future parking is an example of that.”
A new parking garage approved by the Board of Visitors in March will begin construction on North Campus next year. It is expected to cost $26.3 million, according to capital expenditure plans.
And it’s already partnering with the city of Bluesburg to build a $36 million multimodal transportation facility on Perry Street. It will serve as a hub for carpooling, bike-sharing and bus services such as Blacksburg Transit, Virginia Breeze and SmartWay, Belsche said.
“Blacksburg Transit, operated by the city of Blacksburg, provides bus service. For Virginia Tech, the fare is already paid,” Belshe said. “The average weekday ridership is 21,000.”
While there are fewer overall parking spaces on campus today than there were a few years ago, there are still plenty of open spaces available on any given day, she said. But those spaces may not offer students a quick walk to class.
“We audit parking regularly, and there are about 700 spaces available every day,” Belsche said. “These are all around.”
Luke Weir (540) 566-8917