Parking expenses and downtown living lead to drop in car use at UI, nationally

BY DORA GROTE | APRIL 20, 2012 6:30 AM

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Samantha Sammons would rather walk in downtown Iowa City and across campus than drive a car.

"You don't need a car because you're in walking distance of everything or you can take the bus," the University of Iowa freshman said. "I haven't had a car [in Iowa City] all year, and I like it."

Sammons' college life without a car reflects that of young people across the nation and at the University of Iowa.

Registered UI student car storage permits decreased from 1,377 in October 2004 to 702 in October 2011, according to Dave Ricketts, the UI director of Parking and Transportation.

"That summer [2005] gas prices began to skyrocket, and our numbers began to drop," he said. "People are also living closer to downtown and plus, it's the cost of owning and operating cars. Parents are not supporting students taking cars to schools."

Hawkeye storage permits — available to students living in UI residence halls or UI family housing — cost $306 for a nine-month permit.

Sammons, who lives in Slater, said paying for parking is costly on a college budget.

"I'd only like to have a car for the convenience of driving home," Sammons said. "I wouldn't drive it around Iowa City because paying for the Hawklot is so expensive, and, well, parking anywhere is just so expensive."

According to a National Household Travel survey, people age 16 to 34 nationwide drove 7,900 miles per capita in 2009 and 10,300 miles in 2001 — a 23 percent decrease.

However, auto loans — approximately $15,000 — at the University of Iowa Community Credit Union are up 53 percent for young adults between 18 and 22 so far this year, said Jim Kelley, the vice president of marketing at the credit union.

"The [credit union] provides education to young adults, which is something they need when shopping," Kelley said as a possible reason for the increase. "Not many other banks or credit unions do this."

Though UI graduate student Katie Jones owns a car, she only uses it when absolutely necessary.

"I don't use [my car] to get to school or to go to my job at school — I walk or take the Cambus," she said. "But I have a second job in Coralville, so I use it to get there and to run some errands — like if I go to Hy-Vee to get a lot of groceries."

More people have signed up for Iowa City bus passes, Ricketts said, and fewer are using the library parking lot. Hancher commuter permits also dropped from 711 in October 2004 to 318 in 2011, he added, because flood damage wiping out the Voxman Music Building and Studio Arts buildings.

Jones, who plans to stay in Iowa after graduating, said she intends to continue using her car as little as possible.

"Most communities in Iowa are built around the assumption that you have a car," she said. "Iowa City is one of the rare places in Iowa, I think, where it is easier to bike, walk, or bus."

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