GRAND RAPIDS — Long regarded by Grand Rapids Community College students as a source of extreme dissatisfaction, GRCC administrators didn’t need the Michigan Hill Parking Taskforce to tell them there was a parking shortage.
But when the report identified that GRCC was short about 700 spaces last year and that the parking demand on the hill was going to create a projected deficit of 1,711 spaces by 2007, the school knew that it was time to implement a strategy to mitigate that shortfall.
Now — through a combination of new leasing agreements, construction, facility management and expanded shuttle service — GRCC says it will nearly wipe out its parking deficit by year’s end.
“We put a tremendous amount of time, money and resources into addressing our parking issue this last year,” explained Eric Mullen, director of student activities.
“Just visually we have seen tremendous progress.” He said student drivers seeking parking places formerly backed up on Bostwick to Michigan Street, often spilling over to adjacent blocks as far as Fountain Street.
“We don’t have those lines like we used to. If you have a mental picture of what it used to look like, it’s just incredible.”
The most visible initiative is the Raider Card program, a multi-function ID, debit and parking card named after the school’s mascot.
A technology common on many university and college campuses across the nation, the system attaches debit card capabilities to the GRCC student ID card. Students use the card for cafeteria access, bookstore purchases and other transactions, as well as access to dormitories and other secure areas.
While the majority of colleges continue to use semester-long parking passes instead of integrating the parking card, urban campuses like GRCC have found the card valuable in upgrading complicated pay-as-you-go discount parking programs.
The Raider Card replaced GRCC’s long-standing token program this semester, solving a great number of management problems associated with that system, but more importantly, ending its abuse.
“People would be able to access tokens in a lot of different ways,” Mullen said.
“We were even aware of scenarios where someone would come and register for one class, get a valid ID, drop the class for their refund and use that ID to purchase tokens all semester.”
Without an ID, anyone could buy a day’s worth of the white three-hour tokens or black four-hour tokens for a fraction of the cost of parking elsewhere downtown. With an ID, students could buy as many as they could afford.
GRCC believed that many savvy downtown employees were taking advantage of the $1.25 parking tokens, as were a significant number of Kendall College students.
Integrating the Raider Card with the GRCC enrollment database, however, means that the moment a person ceases to be a student, the card becomes useless.
Without the use of the card, use of the GRCC ramps reverts to the cash rate of $1 per half hour, comparable to other downtown parking ramps.
“That is something that is very hard to quantify a return on investment — the ability to control who is parking,” said Peg Burns, GRCC executive director of financial services.
“It’s a gray area,” Mullen said. “The question mark is how many spaces did we free up for students by taking total control over who has access to parking? My personal estimation is somewhere between 50 and 75 spots.”
Automating the process has streamlined operations across campus. The parking ramp lines move faster and require less manpower, which could result in an eventual reduction of labor costs to facilitator Ellis Parking.
Campus-wide, the card has consolidated cash transactions by relieving many offices of token vending.
The card can also be used to make purchases in the campus bookstore and Student Activities Office and for access to the Ford Fieldhouse locker rooms. Eventually, vending machines, food service, some off-campus merchants and campus printing will accept the Raider Card as a payment option. The school hopes to convert all door access from key to card in the coming years as well.
Students can place money on the cards via five different Cash 2 Card kiosks, on the GRCC Web site, and through the GRCC cashier’s office.
To help offset the $500,000 investment, the school has raised its discount parking base rate to $2, and for the first time ever will require staff and faculty to pay for parking.
“We saw this as a tool to better manage our parking resources and I think we’ve seen a better student experience on that end,” Mullen said.
“In the downtown community we’ve made a huge impact on how traffic is congested and the impact on our neighbors. Now we’re looking at future ways to expand the program so that our students have easy access to the services they want.”
One of the most reliable methods of measuring student satisfaction is monitoring direct complaints.
In past years, Mullen’s office would field dozens of complaints a day from students and staff regarding lack of parking, traffic congestion, long waits and missed classes. This year, there have been only two such complaints, and unlike last year, Mullen’s office can provide solutions.
GRCC was able to acquire 150 spaces on a long-term lease from Ellis with the opening of the new central transit center. Ellis worked with GRCC to convert the old transit center on Ionia Avenue into premium parking for GRCC students.
For $200 a semester or $350 a year, students are guaranteed access and a parking spot in the off-campus lot two blocks away. Students are expected to pay from $120 to $150 a semester for on-campus parking.
A playground and green space on Barclay Avenue adjacent to the library is currently being converted into a 122-spot surface lot. Cycon Enterprises of Grandville is expected to complete the $350,000 project by the end of the month.
Another new construction project has opened up even more parking spaces for students. The completion of the downtown GVSU parking ramp opened up over 300 parking spots in the city’s DASH shuttle program.
According to the Michigan Hill Parking Taskforce report, ridership for the DASH program to the Hill district increased 333 percent from 2002 to 2003.