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Speaking Out

Parking as a Research Issue

We have recently become aware that the cars of our students and faculty who do not have daily parking permits (very few students do) will be towed from lot No. 1 and others, so Im told, on nights and weekends if they do not purchase a permit for those periods, costing $50 for students and $300 for faculty. This decision, abruptly announced, has a negative impact on the conduct of research, which goes on 7 days a week, 24 hours a day in our laboratories. Students and faculty who come in evenings and weekends are obviously giving their time outside of normal working hours do to important work--work from which the University benefits, not only from overhead recovery. Absent permission to park, they would have to take public transport and subject themselves to the routine threats to personal safety that one finds in our environment.

Lot No. 1 is generally nearly empty nights and weekends, with the exception of events for which an attendant is present, in which case everyone without a permit must pay. (At other times, there is no attendant, so one could not pay even if one wanted to.) Thus, this new policy cannot be justified on the basis that there is insufficient space to accommodate evening and weekend parking.

Not only are students and faculty impacted, but so are occasional visitors. Two attendees at the Electron Microscopy Society dinner meeting, which occurs in the LRSM fairly regularly, had their cars towed last week. They had been used to parking beside our building for years. If anyone thinks this is a good way for a research university to interact with the scientific community, please let us know.

If the purpose of the towing is to keep unauthorized people off our property, this could be accomplished by a special permit given at cost, say $10, to the people who need to come in off hours. (This permit would be valid only in a designated near the workplace and not when the lot is used for parking for sports events, etc.) If the purpose of the off-hours fee is to generate income, the amount generated could not possibly compensate for the ill will, threats to personal safety, and interference with research work that this policy is causing.

The $300 fee for faculty is a fair fraction of the annual daytime fee. It would make economic sense for them to buy a daytime sticker, assuming space was available (which it isn't in lot No. 1). This would induce them to convert from public transportation to the automobile in the daytime, which is counter to what the University is supposed to be doing to combat air pollution. (Public transportation is not a viable option off-hours because of the infrequent schedules.)
This is obviously a decision that should not be made by administrators who have not considered the consequences of their actions. If there was a study of this issue that included inputs from informed faculty, please let us have the results and conclusions of that study. If there was not, then this policy should be suspended immediately pending such a study. It does not serve a putative intellectual community well to be seen as incapable of making administrative decisions based on logic and analysis.

--Charles McMahon, Professor of
Materials Science & Engineering

Response to Dr. McMahon

Thank you for your letter and for the opportunity to remind the Penn community of the campus-wide policy for parking nights and weekends that became effective in March, 1997.

The Night/Weekend Parking Policy was designed to contribute to a safer and more secure campus environment by restricting parking in many of the core surface parking lots to permit parking only for faculty, staff and students who must be on campus during unusual hours. Copies of this policy are available in the Parking Office (898-8667) and on the Transportation and Parking web page (

A brief history on the formulation of this policy is in order. In response to safety/parking concerns expressed by faculty and graduate students at a meeting of University Council in October, 1996, the University theCouncil Steering Committee requested a draft parking proposal that responded to the specific issues and concerns that had been raised. The parking proposal went through several reviews and revisions before it was finally published OF RECORD in Almanac February 25, 1997, page 16. However, additional comments and concerns were expressed after that publication which resulted in modifications to the policy that were published in Almanac April 8, 1997, page 5, along with a notice that strict enforcement of night/weekend parking would begin on April 14, 1997. For the month of April, enforcement of the policy included sending copies of the policy to all parking permit holders, posting the policy on the web and throughout campus, and placing courtesy notices (which included the complete text of the policy) on all vehicles that were parked in violation of the new policy. The towing contractor was not authorized to begin removing illegally parked vehicles until the first week in May.

The primary mission of Penns parking program is to provide access to the University for all who require it. Parking policies and procedures have been established to satisfy that mission and they provide for various permit options for faculty, staff and students (including free evening parking in peripheral lots), special arrangements for visitor/guest/event parking, and enforcement which is costly and unfortunately necessary given that demand for parking at Penn is far greater than the supply. A review of all parking rules and regulations (available on previously listed web page) will support the genuine efforts being made in support of the academic and research goals of this institution.

--Robert Furniss
Director Transportation & Mail Services

Return to: Almanac, University of Pennsylvania, October 14, 1997, Volume 44, Number 8