Ask the majority of students who have cars on campus whether
they have felt somehow persecuted for their possession of an
automobile, and they will unfailingly answer “yes.”
Though Ann Arbor’s traffic and idiosyncratic road system may
not make driving an easy task here, the clear standout on the list
of car complaints is parking. Students who park their cars in Ann
Arbor run scared before a long list of liabilities, from the
absence of — available spaces to fly-by-night — changes
in city parking policy and the depredations of landlords looking to
squeeze an extra buck out of visiting guests and even tenants
themselves. Often these liabilities go above and beyond the
inconvenience and scarcity of space created by a crowded city, and
cross the line into straightforward unfairness.

It’s easy to see why Ann Arbor’s parking situation
is tight: 40,000 students increase the city’s year-round
population by fully one-third, and many of them make their homes in
the area closest to where they attend classes. Not only that, but
the city itself is also a popular shopping and dining destination
with high office occupancy rates. Clearly this is not a low-demand
location. Looking directly at the options for places to park, there
happen to be structures, street spaces and lots everywhere. The
only problem is that they’re reliably crowded, full or
unavailable to students for one reason or another — cost
being high on the list. So far the situation makes logical sense.
Sit tight, it gets rougher.

Many students who bring their cars to school — on the
basis of availability or because of the high price of a parking
permit at the building where they live — park on the street.
Street parking, private roads excepted, falls under the supervision
of the City of Ann Arbor. While the city does a good job of keeping
streets clean and seasonally plowed, it also relies heavily on
parking fines to gather revenue. Some students who have visited or
lived in Ann Arbor during the summer will attest to the fact that
parking fines are rolled back in the off-season. A $20 expired
meter ticket becomes a $10 ticket when students leave town. I
rediscover that sliding scale to my joy and dismay every
spring.

The city also occasionally imposes parking restrictions on
streets without advance warning. Recently my friend was panicked to
discover that North Thayer Street was set to become a no-parking
zone the day after she found a spot there. She found out by
strolling past her car that evening.

Let’s turn now to the ever-changing rhythm of the seasons.
There was that time on Christmas Day when the city declared a snow
emergency. All cars parked on the streets had to be moved to the
opposite side of the street or elsewhere by midnight, or their
owners faced a huge fine. While some students who left their cars
in Ann Arbor over the holiday season took the risk of snowfall and
came back to that risk’s expensive consequences, the snow
emergency mostly caught permanent residents’ visiting friends
and families unawares. It then extracted, where applicable, all or
part of their Christmas bonuses out of their pockets.

The summertime brings further hassle. During Art Fair, many
landlords who manage buildings with large parking lots sell spaces
to visitors at a premium. In 2003, while living at a building on
South Forest Avenue, I returned from a trip to Meijer to find a
group of men blocking the entrance to my lot. They closely checked
for my $150 parking permit, and waved me on. I entered the lot only
to find that it had run out of conventional spaces.
“Oops,” the men said, “just park on the
grass.” I had been told upon signing my lease that parking on
the grass would result in a fine. Now the management had loftier
profits to worry about, so they bent the rules just this once. I
didn’t appreciate the favor, nor the 10 minute effort of
maneuvering my minivan into the tight space.

Speaking of profiteering, some students and their guests may
have discovered the hard way that parking enforcement can be
pointedly extortionary. The police circle the Central Campus
residence halls during the move-in week and issue tickets to
parents and students temporarily parked on the streets near their
dorms in order to move in large appliances and furnishings that
could be dangerous to carry over long distances.

What’s more, some landlords tow their tenants’ cars
when their parking passes aren’t displayed in exactly the
right place. Though the permit might be visibly taped to the inside
of the front window, the landlord chooses to tow the car because
the permit isn’t in the exact space demanded in the legal
agreement; let’s say the rearview mirror for the sake of
example.

Nobody ever said that parking in Ann Arbor was going to be easy.
Taking a car to school carries certain risks and responsibilities.
Still, I’m not even asking for ease or convenience. I’d
be happy with ordinary fairness.

Faichney is an LSA senior and a member of the Daily’s
editorial board.

 

Here’s what you need to know about the University’s
MRide program, which began Aug. 1:

-Presenting your Mcard upon boarding any AATA bus excludes you
from paying the fare

-Look for changes to AATA service beginning on Jan. 23.

-In order to decide what changes should be made, the University
and the AATA is hosting three meetings:

-Today from 4 to 7 p.m. in the Crofoot Room of the Michigan
Union

-Tuesday from 2 to 5 p.m. in Room 4 at the Michigan League

-Wednesday from 3 to 6 p.m. in the Atrium of Pierpont Commons
(across from the Campus Information Center)

-If you are unable to attend these meetings, e-mail Chris White,
the AATA’s manager of service development, at
“mailto:cwhite@theride.org”>cwhite@theride.org.

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