Various borough documents over the past two decades define student parking in the town of West Chester as a “concern,” a “negative impact,” a “nuisance” and a “pervasive problem.” Given the unequivocal disdain for student parking and traffic in the borough, it seems to me the only civilized choice for us, as students, is to remove all of our cars from the streets of West Chester. This way, the township won’t have their streets cluttered with dirty student cars, nor will they have to deal with a large portion of the $5–6 million a year that they rake in from parking tickets, meters and garage spaces.
You can perform a quick check-up on the health of a system by asking the following: if everyone does what they are supposed to, will the community flourish? In the case of the borough, which issued $1.2 million in parking violations in 2019, or 7% of the total revenue generated, the answer is decidedly no. Looking at the steps the borough has taken in recent years to cut back on student parking lots, deny students parking by putting a cap on student housing, increase the price of garage parking, place meters on previously open parking spaces and countless other measures, a pattern begins to emerge. If “solving” the issue of student parking is a priority for the borough, they could be going about it much more directly.
Of course, the response might claim that drivers would not simply stop using cars and instead use metered or off-street parking, theoretically eliminating the revenue from violations in favor of revenue from paid parking. On-street parking, at $1.50/hour, is 28% higher than the national average of $1.17/hour, and parking passes for the Chestnut Street garage have increased from $50 a month in 2012 to $60/month in 2016, seeing a proposed increase to $90/month when the contract renews. The attempt to eliminate WCU’s Lot C and meter other free spaces around town would only create more of a problem for students living in the borough. At the point where parking becomes a choice between a stream of tickets and paying exorbitantly expensive parking rates (and getting ticketed anyway, see below), the distinction between violation revenue and paid parking revenue becomes little more than semantics.
Not that I am convinced that eliminating or even reducing violations is the borough’s goal at all. The 2018 Parking Guide by Design Management (DESMAN) pushed two contradicting narratives about violations, which intersected at its recommendation that additional parking enforcement staff should be hired to “improve enforcement which will equate to less scofflaws and increased revenue.” So which is it? Is parking enforcement a “necessary evil,” as the plan says, designed to crack down on ne’er-do-wells who flout parking laws, or is parking enforcement a tactic to “[increase] revenue?” If more enforcement causes less parking violations, how could it increase revenue? If more enforcement means more revenue, why would you want people to stop violating the law? The hawkish zeal of the parking authority, combined with the sheer amount the borough receives in parking violation, indicates that the true intent of enforcement sits closer to increasing revenue than ensuring that no-one parks illegally.
As a recent example of this intent, a friend recently received a ticket for parking in a “Snow Emergency Zone” after last week’s storm. The recommended process for enforcing parking protocols during Snow Emergencies, according to the same 2018 guide, is to notify residents by 3 p.m. and not begin enforcing until 9 p.m. At 10:45 a.m., while my friend was at work, a police officer drove down the street yelling through a bullhorn that all cars should be moved out of the Snow Emergency Zone. The ticket she found later that day was marked 11:11 a.m., less than half an hour after the “warning” was issued. The status of a Snow Emergency can be found on the borough’s website, which begs the question of how the borough expects students to look for something they’ve never been told exists in the first place.
Three days later, she received another ticket for parking more than 12 inches from the curb, which she did because a pile of snow on the curb had blocked her passenger from opening their door.
They’ll ticket you for parking where they plan to clear snow, they’ll ticket you for parking irregularly because of the snow they moved — and why shouldn’t they? The borough entered 2021 with a $600,000 deficit, in no small part because of a 26% reduction in parking revenue because of the pandemic. Lacking, among other sources of revenue, a large transfer from the parking fund to the general fund, this deficit almost caused the borough council to dip into its emergency reserves. The “pervasive problem” of student parking supports a massive cash inflow that finances vital operations. Dale Umbenhauer, an independent auditor hired by the borough, called the amount that the borough uses from its parking revenue to pay for non-parking expenses “problematic” in a meeting last September, saying that “it is obvious the Borough is subsidizing the general operations of the Borough from parking.” Umbenhauer also stated that West Chester generates the most revenue from parking of any of his clients.
The role that students play in this vital revenue stream is not lost on those who oversee its operation. The borough manager, Mike Perrone, and the assistant borough manager/parking department director, Sean Metrick, both stated that they looked forward to students (and their cars) returning to the town in September. “Support our businesses and bring your cars — bring two cars,” said Perrone in a recent Daily Local article.
As students, we just can’t win. The borough needs our traffic, our parking fees, the revenue generated from violations issued on a hair-trigger, but will continue to complain about the blight of student parking wherever possible. So again, let me suggest that we give the borough exactly what they claim to want. I would like to see how long it takes before they admit that student parking is a good problem to have.
Brendan Lordan is a fourth-year English major with a Journalism minor. BL895080@wcupa.edu