After a four-hour-long backup at the East Carolina University parking garage on Sept. 7, ECU Parking and Transportation explained the situation that occurred during that evening and reminds faculty, staff and students that the garage will return to its original $1 per hour parking garage service.
Lani Smith, junior intended nursing major, said she became accustomed to the gates of the parking garage opening around 5 p.m. due to her routine of going to the Joyner Library late at night to complete homework. Smith said on Sept. 7, it took her about 20 minutes to be able to park on the third floor. Smith said she tried to get answers from ECU Parking and Transportation workers about what happened but they were not helpful with her questions.
“He (an ECU Parking and Transportation worker) was just very rude and I was trying to get more information from him but he just wasn't really, you know, just kind of trying to get me to go away I guess,” Smith said.
When Smith left the parking garage around 11 p.m., she said it took her about 15 minutes to exit the garage and she still had to pay to exit despite the gates being temporarily opened around 9:25 p.m. Smith said she called ECU Parking and Transportation the following day when the worker over the phone said the garage will be switching to its original pre-COVID-19 24-hour operation.
Smith said she has spoken with other ECU students on Facebook who said the parking garage change is an inconvenience since ECU Transit buses stop running to student apartment complexes around 7 p.m. She said some students have late classes or are on campus all day, and those people appreciated the fact the gates were open past 5 p.m.
“I spoke to him (an ECU Parking and Transportation worker) (over) the phone and basically his whole argument was that they (ECU Parking and Transportation) were losing money and that the state (North Carolina) sees it as lost revenue,” Smith said. “Which, in my opinion, it seems like the school (ECU) and the state and parking services care more about, you know, making money than people's academics.”
Smith said she does not have $200 to purchase a commuter pass and it would also be a safety concern for her as a woman to park across campus even if she had a parking pass. The parking garage is connected to the Main Campus Student Center and by the library, Smith said, so it would be less than a two-minute walk if someone had to walk late at night to get to their car.
ECU Parking and Transportation Enforcement Supervisor Joshua Puckett said in an email statement that since the parking garage opened in 2019, ECU Parking and Transportation has always charged $1 an hour to park inside the garage. He said ECU Parking and Transportation reserves the right to allow customers, both permitted and hourly, to park for free when COVID-19 impacted campus operations in 2020.
Puckett said ECU Parking and Transportation also reserves the right to close the gates and resume normal operations as needed. However, both options must be limited, Puckett said, or ECU Parking and Transportation would not be able to operate, maintain or build new parking options for the campus community.
“ECU Parking and Transportation receives no state funding or tuition dollars to operate,” Puckett said. “Capital funds utilized to build, renovate, maintain and operate parking assets such as the (parking) garage or surface lots must come from revenue in the form of permits, events and hourly parking fees.”
As the university began to welcome back faculty, staff and students for the fall semester, Puckett said ECU Parking and Transportation transitioned the gates from free-flowing, or fully opened, back to the lowered position to resume normal garage operations. During the start of the semester, Puckett said ECU Parking and Transportation provided hassle-free parking options across campus for two weeks.
When ECU went fully virtual due to COVID-19, Puckett said ECU Parking and Transportation suspended citations in all student parking zones. ECU Parking and Transportation allowed students who needed to park outside of the normal 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. business hours the ability to temporarily park inside the garage, Puckett said. This was intended to allow students to access the student center, recreation center and the library temporarily without having to pay for parking, he said.
“After this two-week period, parking operations including enforcement and the garage resumed normal business operations. The parking garage is designed to be a short-term parking option for the campus community,” Puckett said.
False information was spread throughout the ECU student body that parking was free after 5 p.m. inside the garage, even before COVID-19, Puckett said. It was the false information, Puckett said, that led to the events of Sept. 7 evening. He said the simple explanation to the Sept. 7 event, was the welcome back grace period ended and the garage resumed normal operation.
Puckett said when there’s a large number of customers attempting to exit the garage at the same time, delays will occur. To reduce these delays, Puckett said the best option for students is to purchase a parking permit and then remain in their assigned residential or commuter parking lot and utilize ECU Transit to navigate campus.
“ECU Transit has COVID(-19) measures in place for both passengers and drivers that adhere to the university COVID-19 protocols,” Puckett said. “Moving forward, please remember the (parking) garage will be $1/hour 24/7.”
Mattie High, senior science education major, said the parking garage changing to its original service was inconvenient but understandable on the university’s part because they need the money. Even though the gates being open at 5 p.m. originally was convenient, High said, students took avantage of it.
High said on Sept. 13 the parking garage was backed up again around noon when she tried to exit the garage. She said everyone in the garage had to wait for 40 minutes until a police officer arrived and let people out without paying. The parking garage also did not allow any new people into the garage when it became backed up, according to High.
“I definitely think that the situation that happened last week (Sept. 7) is repeating itself,” High said. “It looked like they (ECU Parking) were working on one of the paid things and that everybody was being forced to go through just one, but then they got so backed up it was just dangerous.”