AUSTIN (KXAN) — Parking is tight at the University of Texas. Two hours before a men’s basketball games, fans doze in their cars, making sure they do not miss out on the closest spot, but others are facing an even more difficult challenge. Their claim: UT is selling spaces meant for disabled drivers to any driver willing to pay more on game day.
Several complaints concerning potential safety and accessibility problems spurred KXAN to find out what’s legal. Because of the Americans with Disabilities Act, UT must designate two percent of the first 1,000 parking spaces as handicapped; then just one more for every 100 spaces after that. School officials say they are actually doing better than the minimum.
However, many of those spots are not all that convenient or close.
“If we didn’t get here so I can park, we’d be by the tennis courts,” said Lester Johnson. He and his wife, Mary, get to the Erwin Center at least two hours early to find a spot.
Both have respiratory problems and Mary uses a walker to help her get around. Because of their health issues, getting one of the limited number of handicapped spaces closer to the arena is paramount.
Mary says there are simply not enough handicapped spaces close to the Erwin Center.
“I don’t think there’s enough parking for anyone on campus,” Millstone added.
The university says construction of its new medical school next door is taking up a lot of room.
“We have a lot north of the Erwin Center that has lost half of its spaces, and those spaces were predominately ADA spaces,”said Linda Millstone, ADA Coordinator at the University of Texas.
“That left us with a deficit of about 26 spaces,” added Bobby Stone, director of parking and transportation for UT.
Around the Erwin Center you’ll find more than 3,300 parking spaces for basketball fans on game night. Legally, that means UT must reserve just 44 for disabled drivers.
And right now, even with the loss of some spaces to construction, the school says it has three times that number.
“We have at least 100 spaces more than we’re required to have by law for basketball,” said Millstone.
But many of those aren’t so close. If you’re not one of the lucky ones to get an ADA parking space in the parking lot directly next to the Erwin Center, you have no choice but to find another parking lot. One options means crossing a busy intersection along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard at Red River Street.
Ultimately, getting a close spot could come down to how much you’re willing to pay.
“It depends on how deep your pockets are, where you get to park,” one Longhorn fan said.
Handicapped parking, close or not, is just $7. Several spaces near the arena are reserved for Longhorn Foundation members who fork over at least $600 to request their preferred parking.
What of the people who feel like the university gives more of a priority to members of the Longhorn Foundation than to the disabled?
“I don’t agree that that’s true,” Millstone said.
“They have a tremendous parking problem to begin with,” said Longhorns fan Albert Machaud. “Many of the season ticket holders, we’re old and we are handicapped. A lot of us.”
Like a lot of fans, Lester and Mary are not prepared to pay much or willing to walk very far, so they’ll just have to keep showing up early and waiting for something to change.
“When they had the whole area available it was much easier,” Lester said, “because all that area back there was also handicapped.”
Once construction wraps up the school says there will be about 180 ADA spaces for basketball game fans next season, and more than it has had before.
The university says it will look into whether the school can provide more ADA parking spaces for those who need them.
This includes evaluating their parking plan for football games at Darrell K. Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium and events a Bass Concert Hall. We also dug up UT Parking Audit that officials say proves their parking is ADA compliant.