Today I purchased a parking pass at my new employer – and I had lots of choices. Being the “economizer” that I can sometimes be, I decided to get a pass for Zone 3 parking.
To park in Zone 3 cost only $225 (per year). While to park in a zone right next to my building would cost me $828 and one that is a few hundred yards further away would cost $364. What does my choice reveal about me? Well, first, it demonstrates how poorly I know the University. Had I spent a few days here before purchasing my pass, I would have selected the middle of the road option for $364, for argument’s sake let’s just assume that my choices were between the nearby lot and the faraway lot.
ASIDE: the annual cost of maintaining a parking space on campus is surely closer to $1,000 than it is to zero, so these prices appear to me to be low, if anything – particularly after arriving on campus during a busy time this morning.
Having just walked from Faraway lot to my office at a typical brisk pace, it took me 10 minutes on the nose from the time I shut the car door to the time I opened my office door. If I parked nearby, it would take me no more than 2 minutes. For the sake of exposition, let’s say that I will drive to campus 250 times during the course of the year, by parking in the Faraway Lot I have added 8 minutes per day, each way, to my commute time than if I had paid for access to Nearby Lot.
Was this a smart decision? I have no proper definition of smart to offer, but consider this. I “saved” a total of $603 for the year by parking in the Faraway Lot – this is the benefit of parking there. Did I commit a common economic error and not consider the costs? The major cost of parking there is the 4,000 minutes (2.67 days!) that I have added to my commute time each day. And this does not consider the discomfort of that walk when the temperatures here in Rochester plummet to below zero.
If I were posed with a question such as, “How much money would you require to have your life shortened by 2.67 days?” (do I get to pick WHICH days are eliminated?) the answer would surely be greater than $603. It probably would be higher by two orders of magnitude (STUDENTS: if a gun were to my head and I were asked to PAY to avoid losing this amount of time, do you think my answer would differ, and why?). So, did I make a good decision?
Your gut reaction (and mine) would be “No Way!” But my behavior actually seems to place a value on my life that falls right in the mid-range of risk studies that attempt to be more precise. If I expect to live 75 years, that is roughly 10,300 days of life. If I price 2.67 days at $603, then my actions indicate that I value my life at not more than roughly $6.2 million. That’s certainly more than my life insurance company thinks I am worth! Thus, my revealed behavior seems to indicate that I made a decision that squares with what most other people do when they make decisions about driving faster, buying a car, and various other life decisions.
Of course, the difference for me is that parking further away entails no risk, and that I could be doing a lot of interesting things with those 2.67 days each year. But I still think I made a good decision. Maybe this has something to do with it? Or is it something else?