Staff Q&A: Larry Bell

Larry Bell

Larry Bell knows parking. As director of Business Services, he’s in charge of all the campus garages and parking lots.

Position:
Director of Business Services

Length of Service:
5 years

Sidelight:
Bell grew up in West Philly and attended wrestling and fencing summer camps at Penn.

STAFF Q & A/The man in charge of Penn’s garages and lots tells us where to park it.

Larry Bell WG’89 has two words for Penn commuters who rely on parking meters when they bring their cars to campus: permit parking. Of course, as director of business services and the person directly responsible for parking and transportation at Penn, Bell has a professional stake in the matter. But since parking is an unavoidable fact of life, and a sizable headache, for many Penn people, we figured it was time to sit down and talk ramps and rates with the resident expert.

Q. Is there a waiting list on campus for parking?
A.No, that’s a misconception. You may not be able to park in the lot that’s one block away from your job but at this point in time we do have enough parking for people who want to park. Just in the past three years we’ve added a lot at 40th and Walnut streets that has about 800 spaces and we built a lot on University Avenue with over a thousand spaces for the University.

Q.But with all the new construction going on, won’t many surface lots be going out of business, including the one at 34th and Chestnut?
A.What we’ve heard is that lot’s going to be going out of service in June of next year.
So if you park there it behooves you to look and see if you want to be a permanent parker. It’s cheaper, too, rather than paying the $10 you pay there every day. The permanent lots average out to about $6 a day. Actually less because its taken out pretax.

Q. That’s quite a sales pitch.
A.Also, there’s no price increase this year. That hasn’t happened since I’ve been here.

Q. How did you manage that?
A.One of the things I’ve been trying to do is figure out ways to give us better utilization of the spaces that we have. We’ve started sending people out every day counting the number of empty spaces. Whereas before you might want to park in that lot and they’d tell you that it was full, we’ve been able to open up spots.

Q. Back to the question of construction, though. How does that affect the big picture?
A. As the University continues to develop spaces more and more people will be parking in garages. There won’t be so many flat lots anymore. We tend to know it’s coming, we just don’t know when. Obviously the University loses a great deal of revenue when a lot closes but we all know we’re here for academic purposes. That’s number one. It does make it tougher to operate, though. When you have a flat lot there’s hardly any cost to that, but the last garage we built cost about 30 million dollars. Someone has to pay the debt on that. We just have to be more diligent in understanding what the demand is for each area and really watching the costs.

Q. Why aren’t there more underground parking garages?
A. That’s very expensive. I think the benchmark for building a garage is anywhere between $15,000 and $20,000 a space. That’s how they calculate it. If you go underground it’s almost double that because of all the equipment. The University does have some underground parking, but not much. You run into problems like water leaking into them. Also there’s a creek that runs right under the campus, so there are areas where you couldn’t do it even if you wanted to.

Q. What plans do you have to improve parking at Penn?
A. We’re putting cameras in every garage, at the entrances and exits, and we’re working with public safety to upgrade the emergency phone systems. We’re also repairing elevators, which seem to break all the time. We get a lot of complaints when those things are down. Probably this time next year we’ll also have a web site for staff to go and sign up for parking. That’s the kind of technology we should have around here.

Q. Do deans and other top University people get any special treatment?
A. We do have what are called departmental spaces. The rate is a lot higher, but that person is assured of a space in a particular lot. The Health System uses a lot of them for their doctors. There are some lots that are right next to buildings and that department might want to have their deans right there. We have plenty of parking now so we really haven’t had those kinds of issues. We play no favorites here. Judith Rodin paid for parking just like everyone else. She had three spots: one for her, one for her son, and one for her chief of staff. Yes, she paid.

Originally published on September 9, 2004