UNION COUNTY, NJ — Parking at Kean University has been a longstanding issue, as every fall new and returning students and faculty contend with each other over a limited number of spots. And beginning this year, there were a few less free spaces available.
As of the last few weeks, Kean University students can no longer park at the Union NJ Transit train station parking lot for free. They can park, but they must pay along with the daily commuters who use the lot.
Previously, Kean students were allowed to park in the lot for free if they could find a space once peak travel hours ended. Due to a high volume of commuters, NJ Transit has ended this program.
“Because of the agreement between the Department of Transportation and NJ Transit, it said when the ridership was averaging 80 percent, the parking would no longer be available to Kean students for free,” said Ron Manzella in an interview last week. Manzella is the business administrator for Union. “As of Sept. 1, Kean can still park there, but they can’t park there for free.”
The issue of charging students to park followed months of complaints from commuters, as LocalSource reported in November of 2014. At that time, the issue of parking at the train station was a hot topic on the Union, NJ Residents Forum online, with dozens of commuters complaining about a lack of spaces, and some mentioning Kean students.
“I feel really bad for the students who have to drive around for so long looking for a spot,” posted one resident in the online forum last November.
According to Manzella, Union asked for help in looking into the problem.
“We asked the DOT to do the test needed for examining the parking lot,” Manzella said, “because we were getting a lot of complaints from residents because they didn’t have a place to park. And over the years, the station steadily grew to the second busiest on the line in terms of ridership.”
The matter of parking has been a hotly debated issue at Kean University for a number of years. James Castiglione, president of the Kean Federation of Teachers, in the past shared his feelings on the issue with LocalSource, even calling the situation a “nightmare.”
“Administrative mismanagement has resulted in parking at Kean becoming a nightmare, even under the current conditions of low enrollment at Kean’s Union campus,” Castiglione told LocalSource in September of 2014. “Parking, always a challenge, has now become an academic crisis, preventing faculty and students alike from getting to class on time and thereby undermining teaching and learning at Kean.”
Catiglione, while more muted when reached earlier this week, said this issue is still very likely a problem.
“It certainly seems to be a problem for the students,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “In fact, I had a student arrive 30 minutes late to class this morning because she couldn’t find parking.”
Castiglione said he knows of many professors that give students some leeway during the first week or so of the school year, but he ultimately pointed out that the issue is not a new one.
“If you go back to the bonding that the university did a decade ago,” he said, “that bonding was going to be explicitly for a student parking deck. And that money got redirected to other building projects, that have had the effect of decreasing the amount of surface lot parking available. So it’s a double whammy. The amount of parking spaces have gone down for various factors, and they didn’t build a parking deck like they should have.”
In a statement provided Tuesday to LocalSource, Kean admitted parking can be a “challenge,” but also talked about the multitude of options available to students.
“Parking on the main campus at Kean University can be a challenge at certain times during the day,” said a statement provided by Margaret McCorry, director of media relations for Kean University. Parking currently is available to all students on the Main Campus and East Campus, and at the Green Lane Building and STEM Building. A convenient shuttle service helps students and staff navigate the campus when parking is not immediately available adjacent to academic buildings. All parking is free to students, a benefit that is not offered universally at New Jersey college and universities. While we continue to seek additional parking facilities, we encourage the Kean community to take public transportation, with incentives such as the Quik-Tik partnership with New Jersey Transit that gives students a 25-percent discount on monthly bus, train or light rail passes.”
And while the university says they are trying their best, it might not be enough for some as the 2015-16 school year gets underway.
On Tuesday morning on Twitter, on the page of one user who calls his or herself “Not Dawood Farahi,” — a page usually critical of the university — one follower shared the following remark.
“Kean could at least buy some property for more parking spaces bruh. Not no … table,” a reference to the $220,000 conference table purchased by Kean last year.
Another user on Tuesday morning tweeted “Parking here at Kean is bananas in pajamas b. I’m bout to go home,” on the same page.
In fact, a quick search of popular social media sites displays a large amount of anger directed at the school from alleged students for failing to provide ample parking going back to 2012.
Last year, for instance, students were able to park on the soccer field behind the campus and given a free shuttle to get them closer to their classrooms. But this action only caused someone to create an online petition on the website change.org, asking for President Dawood Farahi to fix the problem.
The petition received 340 online supporters, many of them posting anger-filled comments before petering out almost a year ago. Another petition on the website received nearly 1,000 supporters and asked for the firing of Farahi, but that, too, petered out about nine months ago.
The school year at Kean University has only just begun, and only time will tell if parking issues at the school will have a profound effect or simply be a nuisance.