After years of student complaints about how hard it is to find parking at Montana State University, the campus is changing its parking system to try to reduce frustrations.

The new system will also raise prices for parking permits and streamline parking enforcement.

The confusing system of SB, E and F parking permits is being replaced with Bobcat, Bison and Moose permits. Each lot will be marked with an animal icon. Animal images are intended to be clearer to people than the current system of letters.

The price of parking is also going up. The most popular SB standard commuter permits and E permits cost $205 last year. New Bobcat and Bison permits will cost $220 a year, a 7% increase.

Before SB permit holders could park at several different lettered lots, but now permits can’t be mixed. Only vehicles with Bobcat permits can park at Bobcat lots.

“Parking can be frustrating,” said Michael Becker, MSU spokesman. “Obviously we want people to park at the university and not spend an undue amount of time looking.”

Students have long griped that MSU oversells the number of parking permits compared to the number of actual parking spots. MSU used to sell twice as many permits as spaces for some permits, according to the university’s website.

Overselling will still happen, but now there will be caps on the number of permits sold, which should mean more turnover and more open parking spaces, Becker said. The university sees some overselling as reasonable because not everyone parks on campus at the same time. It plans to adjust overselling rates, based on experience with the new system.

“By putting limits, we can oversell by a certain percentage based on historic turnover to try to ensure there are available spots when people need them,” Becker said.

With a cap on the number of Bobcat permits, once those are sold out drivers will have to buy either a more expensive Elk or Wolf permit, or a cheaper but more distant stadium lot permit.

There will be no cap on permits for the stadium or Moose (F) lots, the least expensive at $80 a year.

Students who will live in the dorms and want to buy parking permits can do so online through the MSU parking website ( starting Aug. 17. Permits for faculty, staff and commuter students went on sale Aug. 1.

Parking stickers and hangtags are things of the past.

Instead parking enforcement crews will use new drive-by scanners that check each license plate against a database of parking permits. That should allow them to check lots more quickly and improve enforcement, Becker said. Enforcement will start the first day of classes.

The confusing and unsightly clutter of signs in parking lots is being reduced, replaced by fewer signs at the entry to each lot. Each lot will also be marked with a number — the parking garage will be No. 10, for example — to reduce confusion for visitors and others.

Visitors will have to download a Passport Pay-by-App to their smartphones to pay for parking. The cost is $5 for the first hour and $2.50 an hour after.

Professors who used to buy reserved permits to park in the Linfield Hall lot have a choice of an Elk permit ($540 a year) or Wolf permit ($400). Parking garage permits are $610 a year, up from $525.

The most central and exclusive parking lot is closest to Montana Hall, which takes an Eagle permit ($840 a year). There’s a waiting list for that lot, which is not oversold, Becker said.

Owners of low-emission vehicles can get a 20% discount on their parking permits. Family and graduate student residence parking will cost $140 a year, up from $126.

More handicapped parking spaces will be added near the site of the former North Gym to make up for spaces lost north of Roberts Hall because of construction of the American Indian Hall. Becker said in the future, the Centennial Mall will be extended east so the new American Indian Hall will open onto the mall, not onto a parking loop.

Designers are hoping to create a new drop-off loop for pedestrians heading to the Centennial Mall, to replace the old drop-off loop in front of Roberts Hall, but the parking spaces there will not return.

Gail Schontzler can be reached at or 406-582-2633. Follow her on Twitter @gailnews.

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