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Opinion: UCLA must provide more flexible parking permit options during COVID-19 pandemic

The entrance and exit to UCLA Parking Area 2. UCLA Transportation failed to provide students flexible parking permit options during the transition from online to in-person instruction. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Chelsea Westman

Feb. 21, 2022 10:19 p.m.

Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated that commuter students who purchased a prorated permit between Jan. 21 and Feb. 16 must pay $193.50. In fact, commuter students who purchased a prorated permit between Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 must pay $193.50. The original version of this article also incorrectly stated that UCLA Transportation minimized options for commuters. The original version of this article also incorrectly stated that students had three days to make a decision on permits. In fact, students had three days to decide whether to cancel their permit for a full refund.

This post was updated March 11 at 9:59 p.m.

Commuters face several barriers when trying to access on-campus parking, and during the recent surge in COVID-19 cases, UCLA Transportation only added to some of these Bruins’ stress.

Shortly before UCLA announced that in-person instruction would resume Jan. 31, UCLA Transportation sent an email to students Jan. 11 informing them of their parking permit options for the remainder of the quarter.

According to this email, students had the option to cancel their normal parking permits, which grant access to on-campus parking lots for the entire quarter, including what remained of the online learning period. Students could also buy a prorated permit, a more flexible option that only charges them parking fees for the amount of time remaining in the quarter upon the permit’s purchase.

Here is the catch: Students had only three days to decide whether to cancel their permit for a full refund, and the parking permit refunds decreased the longer it took for them to cancel their permits. Permits for commuter students, which cost $258 per quarter, were fully refunded before Jan. 15. However, the quarterlong permits were only refunded at a 50% rate between Jan. 15 and Jan. 20 and a 25% rate from Jan. 21 to Feb. 6, according to the UCLA Transportation website. No refunds are being given for anyone requesting cancellation after Feb. 6.

This last-minute announcement was unfair and failed to accommodate students during a particularly challenging time. Giving Bruins only three days to make a decision about a pricey permit paid out of pocket shows a lack of regard for those who must adapt to already volatile COVID-19 policies.

Although the full refund period window has passed, UCLA still has the chance to turn things around and not repeat its mistakes in upcoming quarters. After all, another pandemic-related campus closure may be just around the corner.

To make matters worse, students have to worry about securing their refunds in a timely manner. According to the UCLA Transportation website, it can take anywhere from six to eight weeks for students to receive refunds for their canceled permits.

Chanelle Leva, a fourth-year anthropology student who commutes from Orange County, said she canceled her permit entirely for the winter quarter and is waiting for her refund to be processed.

“I just think the general messaging was very hard to understand at first with the fees and everything, so I guess it just kind of sways commuters not to purchase (a permit),” Leva said. “But if it were up to me, I don’t think I would pay for (a prorated) permit.”

While permit refunds decrease with time, so do prorated permit fees. For instance, students who purchase a prorated permit from Jan. 21 to Feb. 6 have a 75% prorated fee, and those who purchase one from Feb. 18 to Feb. 28 have a 50% fee. This means commuter students who purchased a prorated permit between Jan. 21 and Feb. 6 must pay $193.50, and students who purchased a prorated permit between Feb. 18 and Feb. 28 must pay $129.

Stella Oganesyan, a fourth-year anthropology student who commutes from the Sunland-Tujunga neighborhood in Los Angeles, said she canceled her winter permit for a prorated one.

“I’m literally going to be going (to campus) one or two days a week for five weeks, but this is the cheapest option that I have,” Oganesyan said. “(The permit) was still almost $200, so I pretty much got like $70 off just to go for the next 10 days.”

Oganesyan added that she felt the process was frustrating and the prorated fees were confusing.

The point of the prorated permits is to be flexible. Unfortunately, they are anything but.

Prorated permits were offered on a first-come, first-served basis starting Jan. 15 as opposed to a need-based system. This means a student living in Westwood has an equal chance of obtaining a permit as someone who commutes hours to campus, depending on when they were able to come to a final decision and take the necessary steps to get one.

UCLA Transportation said in an emailed statement that if learning returns to being fully remote, it would examine all possible situations and come to the best decision for refunding students who purchased a permit for that period.

UCLA also temporarily discounted the daily parking rate from its original price of $14 to $6.50 until the end of January for professional school and commuter students.

UCLA Transportation could have made it simple and at least kept the $6.50 rate for the rest of the quarter.

Now that it is the last full week of February and many classes are either fully in person or have implemented special hybrid options, students who purchase all-day parking permits are back to paying the original $14 or $20 rate, depending on the lot.

The university also could have allowed commuter students and existing permit holders to have priority for prorated permits, eliminating anxiety over losing their original permits.

Instead, UCLA Transportation put students in a frenzy to retain parking security while adhering to new masking and testing protocols for the in-person transition during midterm season.

“I believe moving in the middle of the quarter for in-person (instruction) has been very difficult for students and faculty equally, so I just hope the administration can learn from this and hear our voices of frustration to be a little bit more transparent for future quarters,” Leva said.

Quantifying refunds as a means to save money is counterintuitive and stressful for students who have no time to make a confident decision.

Instead of adding more unnecessary stressful parking regulations, students deserve more flexibility with their options during uncertain times.

The omicron variant isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, and students already face the burden of figuring out their plans to return in person with no guaranteed hybrid options in place.

It wouldn’t hurt UCLA to offer Bruins accessible parking choices.

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Chelsea Westman
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