Supervision, Fees, and Waivers

Approximately 1 out of every 20 public skateparks in the United States are staffed. Maintaining on-site staff and/or supervision generally introduces more problems than it solves.

The decision to supervise the skatepark is usually the result of other perceived requirements. For example, the Parks Department may feel that the best way to provide legal protection is to require all skatepark users to have signed waivers on file. (There is little evidence that this practice has provided any practical protection from lawsuits in the skatepark context.) This practice introduces an operational cost. Administrators must maintain the policy, and law enforcement will be required to communicate and enforce the policy. When implemented, this simple decision will require hours of City staff. The net result of not enforcing the policy will be widespread violations by the skateboarding community. (A risk precaution that is not communicated or enforced offers no protection at all.) So, the City is required to staff the policy and to enforce it. To prevent the wholesale distribution of unpopular fines to local youth, it is determined that the only practical solution is to staff the skatepark. The desire to create a safe recreational facility has burdened the Parks Department with an additional full-time employee (FTE). To offset the costs of that FTE, Parks then decides to charge a small usage fee…and suddenly skateboarders that might use the skatepark daily are returning to the streets, and the skatepark has failed to meet its goals AND has become a financial burden on local government.

The potential patrons that are turned away by entrance fees will usually exceed the value of those that are willing to pay. A hypothetical community consisting of 100 skateboarders that all skate 4 times a week have a new skatepark that charges a fee to use. The skatepark charges $5 to enter, and 40 of the local skaters are willing to pay it once a week for a gross revenue of $200. If the skatepark charges a mere $1 to enter, 80 of the 100 skaters will pay it three times a week for a gross total of $240. No scenario comes close to covering the cost of supervision, much less actually generating profits. Although these ratios are fictional, most supervised skateparks in the United States struggle to meet their operational expenses.

Fees are a burdensome expense to a dedicated skateboarder. Many skaters ride every day, and those that live near the skatepark are likely to visit it several times a week, if not more. Even a small entrance fee, such as $1, can add up to $20 a month, or $240 a year. Younger skaters may have difficulty producing even a dollar, and the safe, fun public facility that was created to provide these youth with something to do is suddenly unattainable. For those that cannot afford it, pride may prevent them from begging or bartering for access. In other words, just because a facility may practice a “nobody turned away” policy for lack of funds, it doesn’t necessarily mean that people will feel comfortable admitting that they cannot pay to enter. Entrance fees will always deter some individuals from using a facility and introduces an economic requirement that should have no place in your public skatepark.

Supervising the skatepark will produce a non-sustainable situation and can alienate the youth for which the facility was created.

The City of San Jose, California produced a 56,000 square foot skatepark…one of the largest in the world. To protect its users (and capital investment), the Parks Department staffed the facility and charged patrons $5 to use it. For a skateboarder nearby, this fee is a curse. A devoted skateboarder that rides four times a week would spend $1,040 per year to use the facility. For most youth and parents of teenagers, this is a prohibitive expense. The skaters returned to those places where they may not be wanted while the new skatepark lay dormant. In 2011, the City was facing a park closure…three years after opening. Supervising the park exacerbated this funding problem.

Public skateparks that require fees, waivers, or a residency card tend to burden Parks administrators and law enforcement without tangible benefits to the community.

When supervision is inevitable, it’s valuable to have skatepark staff that are themselves skateboarders. This experience allows staff to implicitly understand the social rhythms and norms of skateboarding culture. As skateboarders, park patrons are more likely to defer to staff’s authority. By comparison, a non-skateboarder may be dismissed by patrons as an out-of-touch outsider with no connection to the patrons.