Ole Miss pushes park-and-ride

By Errol Castens/Daily Journal Oxford Bureau

OXFORD – Faced with less parking space than ever in some areas of campus, University of Mississippi officials are adding convenience and raising incentives for students and employees to use perimeter parking areas.
Two shuttle loops into campus from large but distant parking lots will run every five to seven minutes from early morning to mid-afternoon. Parking permits for the perimeter lots will cost $20 compared to the usual $85 fee, and as with all other Oxford-University Transit routes, university faculty, students and staff ride free.
The reason for the change is simple: More students are coming to Ole Miss, which means more buildings are needed, which leaves less space for vehicles.
“We’ve lost a lot of parking. Three new dorms on Rebel Drive added 865 beds to campus and very little new parking,” said Isaac Astill, director of parking and transportation at Ole Miss, who formerly helped manage those services for some 30,000 students and 20,000 employees at the University of Utah.
“These express routes will get people from the exterior lots on campus faster than it would be for them to park in a commuter lot and try to hoof it into that same area,” he said.
One new Ole Miss shuttle route will run from the South Lot just off Highway 6 at Old Taylor Road, delivering riders via a new connection to Manning Way to Astronomy Circle, a block south of the Lyceum.
Another will go from the University’s Jackson Avenue Center – the old Walmart location in the east end of Oxford Mall – to drop off at Paris-Yates Chapel and Guyton Hall, for those who need to be on the west side of campus. Both park-and-ride loops will have two buses running from 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., with one bus from 2:30 to 6 p.m.
“We wanted to give employees enough time that they didn’t have to worry about getting off right at 5 p.m.,” Astill said. Since parking enforcement (except for disabled and other special spaces) ends at 5 p.m., he added, “Students with afternoon classes can go back and bring their cars in closer if they have a night class.”
Yet another new route will shuttle lunchtime riders between the Lyceum Circle and downtown Oxford.
Another Ole Miss parking change starting this month will be campus residence parking designated by zones – east, central and west – rather than specific lots reserved for individual residence halls.
Astill said new bike and pedestrian routes both on and off campus, paid visitor parking and tiered parking permits are among additional approaches considered for the 2013-14 academic year and beyond.
“Faculty and staff in the core of campus are paying the same prices commuters are,” he said. “We need to make it equitable, so that the closer you are, the more expensive it is.”
While periodic Oxford-to-Memphis and Oxford-to-Jackson shuttles might someday enable some students to leave their cars at home, Oxford’s distance from transportation and population hubs means most students will continue to arrive in town by car.
“We want to encourage people if they do bring a car to campus, to park on the exterior and utilize other transportation to get around campus,” Astill said.
Many Ole Miss commuters are already using public transit to get to campus. Ridership from student-oriented off-campus apartments “gets larger and larger each semester,” said Ron Biggs, manager of Oxford-University Transit. “During peak times of the day, especially in the morning, our buses are full.”
errol.castens@journalinc.com