Daniel Vargas

Daniel Vargas created his own database in his study of on-campus parking problems at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. He said a survey he emailed to 5,500 recipients shows that most students believe the parking policy causes problems and doesn’t deliver the parking students are paying for with their permits.

KEARNEY — A yearlong study by a junior mathematics and economics major has confirmed what students at the University of Nebraska at Kearney have suspected for years: Their university issues more parking permits than there are stalls.

“I didn’t believe my friends when they complained about it, but then I started having problems finding places to park. They do oversell the permits, and it’s really causing problems,” said Daniel Vargas, 19, a native of Colombia who will begin his third year at UNK in the fall.

A campus official disputed Vargas’ findings.

“There’s always parking on this campus. You can always find a parking spot, it just might not be as close or convenient as everyone would like,” said Todd Gottula, senior director of communications and marketing.

Vargas disagrees.

Based on data from 2018-19, he learned UNK has 3,207 parking stalls, but issued up to 3,700 permits. He also learned the daily dash for a stall is like clockwork, despite what a campus official told him. “I talked to the parking director. He told me they overissue the permits because not everyone is using them at the same time. I didn’t think that was a reasonable explanation.”

According to Vargas, daily crunch time begins around 8 a.m. as commuter students begin arriving at campus. The spike occurs sometime between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., and then steadily tapers off until about 11 a.m.

UNK agribusiness professor Frank Tenkorang assisted Vargas with his research, which included emailing 5,500 surveys to students, faculty and staff. Vargas said he was hoping for a 10 percent return, so it surprised him when he received 1,200 responses — a rate of nearly 22 percent.

The idea to explore the parking issue came to Vargas after he watched a Fox News report about parking issues in the United States. He said the Fox report said the U.S. is overbuilt for parking. There are about six stalls per person nationally.

That contrasts with UNK, he said, because there clearly are fewer stalls than the number of permits that students purchase.

Gottula said UNK’s administration is aware of the parking issue and has studied proposals to add spaces, including construction of a parking structure. That idea proved too costly and would require bumping up the cost for permits. Current annual rates are $230 for administrative, $145 for faculty, $130 on-campus residents, $115 staff, $105 commuters and $75 for what are termed “perimeter” spots.

Gottula said UNK has been able to add about 35 stalls by building a lot near the former Luke & Jake’s Barbecue restaurant east of the Warner Hall administration building.

Vargas believes it is OK for UNK to charge for parking, but it’s unfair to overissue permits and leave students believing they are assured a parking stall.

He believes parking meters might be the answer to UNK’s problems, but he’s not talking about placing meters at all 3,207 stalls. Instead, Vargas suggests a system similar to what parking garages use. As vehicles enter, drivers are issued time-stamped tickets. When they exit parking, they pay for the time their vehicle was in the garage.

Some people who heard his suggestion say the plan would be too expensive, but Vargas counters that at least students wouldn’t be paying for permits that may or may not net them a parking space.

Gottula said UNK officials are open to suggestions. “If somebody has an idea to make it better we’re all ears to that, but a lot of times what looks good on paper doesn’t really work.”

Vargas isn’t certain whether his study will compel campus officials to change their policies, but he said the amount of effort and feedback that went into it is credible proof the current approach causes problems and creates hard feelings when students buy permits.

“I think they know how much they are overissuing, but they don’t see it as a problem,” he said.