MERCED — Some UC Merced students say they are unhappy with the university's transportation and parking services.
They say parking on campus is limited, and numerous parking tickets continue to be issued. The penalties are difficult for some students to pay, especially since the university doubled its parking fines.
University officials say they must enforce the parking violations to ensure parking is available for those who pay for permits. But they say they are aware of students' concerns and have addressed reoccurring ones, including complaints about the Cat Tracks bus system.
The fines went up from $25 to $50 last fall for for metered parking violations and for failing to have a valid permit -- the two most frequent parking violations, said Brenda Ortiz, a UC Merced spokeswoman.
The increase was approved last spring by the Transportation and Parking Services Committee, Ortiz said.
Junior William Torrez said the tickets add up quickly. He said it's not fair that the most common tickets have now doubled.
"That was ... a big deal," the 20-year-old from San Bernandino said. "It's a big expense for students."
UC Merced issues citations for 42 different parking violations, and only two increased, Ortiz said. The committee that made the decision consists of faculty, staff, undergraduate students and graduate students.
The group did an analysis of fees at other colleges, and decided to increase the two most common violations to boost revenue for transportation and parking services. The additional funding will be used to help the university build more parking lots, Ortiz said.
UC Merced's parking fines are in the middle of the pack when compared with other colleges and universities, Ortiz said. "They definitely don't want us to be the highest," she said.
They may not be the highest, but students say they are among the most strictly enforced violations.
Freshman Isabella Nelson said she has received three tickets in her short time at the university.
One of those times, she said she got a ticket because the date on her parking permit was not visible. "I appealed it," she said, adding that she was successful in the appealing process.
Karin Groth, director of transportation and parking services, said the parking regulations are very clear. Officials enforce those regulations for the integrity of those who pay for parking permits.
Students say those are not the only problems, pointing to freshmen living in university housing being banned from parking on campus.
Nelson, who is originally from Southern California, said she lives on campus, but a car is a necessity to be able to go home and to get around Merced.
"There's not many places that are walkable," she said.
Groth said UC Merced started restricting freshmen, who live on campus, from parking there about four years ago because of a lack of parking. Some students can be exempt based on certain circumstances.
She pointed out that UC Merced is not the only college campus to do that.
In addition, the university has a partnership with Merced College to allow freshmen to park their cars there.
Other students such as Jessica Lopez use the campus transit system. But she said that doesn't come without issues, either.
The 20-year-old from Los Angeles said the buses are always full and sometimes students get left behind. It's happened to her, Lopez said.
"That's a problem," she said. "I think it's necessary to add more buses if you are adding more students."
Groth said officials are listening. "We try to make changes when we can and when resources will allow," she said. "We have had one route in particular that continued to have more riders than the bus could handle so we addressed that.
"We've added routes based on response rate and the overall feedback that we get from our riders," Groth said.
Reporter Yesenia Amaro can be reached at (209) 385-2482, or firstname.lastname@example.org.