Beginning this month, premier members of the Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center, located at the University of California, San Francisco’s Mission Bay campus, will have to pay for the privilege of parking near the facility. When the Center opened in 2005, three hours of free on-campus parking was included with premier membership. These members now have to pay for parking, at a discounted peak rate – between 8:30 a.m. and 4:45 p.m., weekdays – of $2.75 an hour for up to three hours, $4 an hour thereafter; and for all other “off-peak hours,” $2.75 for three hours of parking, $4 an hour beyond that timeframe. Un-discounted parking rates for the general public are $3.75 for under an hour, $7.50 for one to two hours, $11.25 for two to three hours, and $15 for three to four hours. UCSF officials cited increased parking demand and growth in Mission Bay as the reason for the change.
Gym members aren’t happy with the new policy, and question the motives behind it. Greg Goddard, a Missouri Street resident, became a Premier member in 2006, attracted by the three hours of free parking, paying a special rate of $65 a month for those aged 60 and older. Goddard estimates that the new parking fees will add $5.50 a day to his fitness expenses, in aggregate tripling the amount he spends monthly to workout.
“For seniors on fixed income, living in San Francisco, where the cost of living is astronomical, this is a severe strain on our budget to keep up our health and fitness,” expressed Goddard. “We feel this decision was made with no transparency, and discriminates against the disabled and seniors who joined the gym, the ease of parking being a prime factor in the contract. We would like to request an exemption for existing members who are disabled and seniors. We do not mind a reasonable fee increase of 10 percent, but to pay for the new parking fee increase will double or triple our costs.”
Goddard emailed his complaints to UCSF administrators and the Board of Regents, who responded by reiterating the policy change and rationale. The University had offered a $55 a month “Off-Peak” Premier membership for current members to help offset parking costs, an opportunity that expired last month.
Mary Jane Mikuriya, an 82 year old Mississippi Street resident, has been a Premier member since she was in her early-70s. A diabetic who exercises at the gym to manage her blood sugar levels, she’s upset by the policy change, which’ll “dramatically” increase her expenses.
A Change.org petition was created by Indiana Street resident, William Jones, to urge UC Regents chairperson Monica Lozano, UC president Janet Napolitano, UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood and other University officials to “grandfather” existing Premier members with the original parking agreement, offering three free hours. The appeal states that University marketing encouraged prospective gym members to sign-up for Premier status, touting such benefits as complementary parking, and that imposition of fees will cause financial hardship to elderly persons and those on fixed-incomes. The petition drew more than 530 signatories. Some signers questioned the basis for assertions of increased parking demand, claiming that the parking area hasn’t been overcrowded. Jones calculated that the additional charges could add between $600 and $2,000 in added annual costs for members.
“Many of us joined Bakar Fitness and Recreation Center as Premier members before the gym was opened,” Jones commented. “Being a Premier member costs us extra in monthly dues for added benefits. One of the promised benefits is for three hours free validated parking included in our package. In the past, Bakar has reduced or eliminated many added benefits and for the most part, we have to simply look the other way.”
According to Clare Shinnerl, UCSF associate vice chancellor for campus life services, seniors are offered discounted membership, and the reduced parking rate offered in the new structure is quite competitive. “We have to have parity in our parking rates,” explained Shinnerl. “We’re an ultra-urban campus, and parking is very limited. There has been a lot of growth in the area, and we need to all practice better methods to get to campus. Seventy percent of UCSF employees do not drive alone to work. They walk, bike, shuttle, carpool and vanpool. We’re asking the larger community, not just employees, to consider other modes. These other options are greener and help reduce traffic congestion.”
According to Shinnerl, a comprehensive analysis conducted on UCSF’s parking inventory indicated that demand has exceeded supply. Another study, comparing the Bakar Fitness & Recreation pricing to other facilities, found that the University’s gym memberships are competitively priced.
“The last thing we want to do is build lots of parking and encourage everyone to drive,” Shinnerl added. “So, we know we have to manage the capacity. That’s why we’re able to provide a senior discount to off-peak members. We want everyone to think about this precious resource. This is really about a cultural shift.”
Gym members can use UCSF’s shuttle system for free. The Green shuttle stops at 499 Illinois Street, 654 Minnesota Street, Fourth Street near Campus Way adjacent to the Owens Street Garage, and 185 Berry Street. It runs weekdays from 6 a.m. to 7:15 p.m., between two and four times an hour. The shuttle’s Gold line connects with Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital; the Red and Yellow lines stop at the 16th Street Bay Area Rapid Transit station.
“Everyone who drives to UCSF—patients and their families, our medical staff, research scientists, staff and students and visitors, as well as the Premier Fitness center members at our Parnassus campus—must pay for their own parking,” Shinnerl emphasized. “The only reason that UCSF subsidized the cost of parking for Premier Fitness center members at Mission Bay was because when the facility opened 15 years ago there was excess parking and the gym was underutilized. With the opening of the new hospitals at Mission Bay and additional construction planned, the parking lots are now near capacity. It no longer makes sense to offer free parking to Premier Fitness center members, when the lots are full and everyone else must pay. Subsidizing parking for these members also takes away from investing in programs, services, and equipment for the fitness center.”