Valet can save the day for late FIU students

You're late for class and you can't find a parking spot. You circle and circle the campus parking lot -- minutes tick by -- that 11 a.m. class has already started -- and there's just no place to park.
Florida International University has the answer:

Valet parking -- just like you would use at a South Beach club, but much cheaper.

''My best customers are students running late to an important exam,'' said Omar Rivera, the new valet parking attendant at Florida International University's west Miami-Dade campus.

FIU's University Park campus is the first state school in Florida to offer valet service on campus to students and guests.

The price: $5 for the first two hours, $12 a day tops.

''Valet parking is meant to offer convenience. Why can't college students have that, too?'' asks Jorge Zuluaga, president of Gold Star Parking Systems of North Miami, the company awarded a three-month pilot contract at FIU's main campus.

A month into the program, business has been muted under the blue umbrella at Rivera's kiosk at the main Graham Center building entrance.

Most days, his six clearly marked parking spots are filled only half the time.


But some students are already hooked.

Alejandra Torres, 27, a foreign student, dropped her car off on her way to the registrar's office. It was her third time using the valet.

''I think it's a wonderful service,'' she said, rushing away.

Noelia Madiedo recently dropped off her red Mustang and headed to class. Attendant Rivera, in his blue Polo shirt and sunglasses, was there to greet her with a smile.

Several students haven't tried the new service yet, but appreciate it being there.

''Hey, next time I'm running late, I'm there,'' said electrical-engineering student Shawn Gunness, 22, who recently arrived on campus but chose to meter park instead.


Bill Foster, FIU's head of parking and transportation, said valet service fits FIU's student population. ''We are a commuter school,'' said Foster.

For now, the university is not taking a piece of the action from the valet parking, just allowing Gold Star to offer the service for the convenience.

''Our contract is for zero money,'' FIU spokeswoman Maydel Santana-Bravo said.

``This is a service we are offering to the community and for people who visit us once in awhile; if students want to use it, they're welcome.''

A decision will be made by late April on whether to continue the service on campus, Foster said.


Gold Star, one of Miami-Dade's oldest valet companies, says it is confident the service will catch on soon.

''We're convinced that by the end of the semester students will know where we are and begin to use us more,'' Zuluaga said.

Students pay about $77 a semester for access to the campus garages and other lots. Meter parking, which is closer to campus buildings, is offered at $1 an hour or $8 a day.

Like most college campuses, FIU has far more students -- 38,000 -- than parking places -- 14,000.


Valet parking has caught on in other parts of the country.

Columbia University in New York just inked a contract. The trend began in California. The University of Southern California, a college valet pioneer, now charges $10 for the first two hours.

In South Florida, Zuluaga is hoping his valet service will spread to other local university campuses -- opening up a new niche for his industry.

Final exams later this spring will be a good test for the valet parking stand at FIU.

''I'm ready,'' Rivera said with a broad smile.
The Miami Herald
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