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Parking pricing is easy!

Have you ever wandered through a large parking lot that is filled up to the brim with cars, but are frustrated by the 10 handicapped spaces left wide-open within steps of your destination? Of course doing away with the handicapped spaces altogether will have no impact on you, that is like leaving $20 on the floor and not expecting someone to pick it up.

The ideal parking policy (in my view) is one where good spaces are not sitting idle 95% of the time, yet that there is always a space available in one’s preferred location if you wish to park there. We all understand that handicapped spaces are empty a large portion of the day. So how can we eliminate this waste but still make sure the genuinely needy have access to these spaces? How about this: anyone can park in a handicapped space at any time so long as the spaces are available. The second that a person parks in the final available handicapped space every single person parked in a handicapped space incurrs a large fine (charge). And with modern technology, this could all be done without monitoring by a parking authority (we can employ something like an EZ-Pass device).

On a similar note, given the advances of modern technology, it is somewhat surprising that parking authorities have not developed more dynamic pricing policies. While we have moved in a positive direction by assigning different prices to different lots (nearby lots cost more than faraway lots) and different prices at some different times (e.g. you can park anywhere on campus after 7:00pm), there are still lots of efficiency gains to be made. For starters, the current parking policy is very labor intensive (does this explain the lack of a push for more technology?) – as attendants must comb the parking lots all day long making sure the appropriate cars are parked in the appropriate spaces. This takes a lot of time, even on a moderately sized campus like UR. Rather than issuing parking stickers for each car that registers to park, how come we do not issue EZ-Pass like devices to them? Then, one single parking attendant on a scooter, or in a car, can zip around campus in minutes to check who is parked properly and not.

Aside from the obvious labor saving benefits, such devices would enable more efficient pricing of parking spaces. Right now, I always have to park in Zone 3 (quite far away). There are several problems with this

  1. First is that on days when I have special needs (such as when I am running late, or have several things to carry to my office) I really do not have any options to park closer to my preferred destination.
  2. Second, there are many days when the lots closer in to our destination do not fill up (though I must admit they seem to have gotten pricing right here, many lots are near capacity by mid-day).
  3. Third, I pay the same price no matter where I park in Zone 3. When I get here at 7:00am, I am a good 5 minute walk closer, in the same lot, than if I were to arrive here by 9:00am. Clearly paying the same price for two far different locations is not optimal.
  4. Finally, parking pricing does not vary by time of day, day of week, or other special event going on (with the exception of all lots being free after 7:00pm).

Employing an EZ-Pass device would overcome every one of these problems. Parking could be priced based on the specific space you are taking, on what day you are using it, and on what time of day. I am curious if anyplace is experimenting with such a program. I doubt it would be popular beyond a tiny group of nerdy economists, but it seems to make an imminent amount of sense to me.

The same colleague who proposed the handicap parking policy from above thinks we should park on campus generally in the same way. All parking is free until the very last spot in a lot is taken up. At that moment, every car in the lot is charged a fee (it can vary depending on where in the lot you are).

One Response to “What I Learned at Lunch”

  1. Michael says:

    On a similar note, I’ve noticed on our city streets that handicapped parking spots have no meter.
    On my campus, I park about a two minute walk from a very large parking lot for free. These spots are generally unknown to the student group. At the parking lot I take a free bus ride into work. So it is about 15 to 30 minutes (usually 15 minutes, but sometimes you just miss the bus) when there is a parking garage right across from my building. Parking permits for that garage run about $165/school year, but spots are free after 5pm.
    So am I devaluing my time? I don’t think so. A couple extra minutes doesn’t have the same value as a larger block of time. Plus, I actually enjoy the walk because it goes over a creek (I am addicted to fishing) and is nice to spend some time out of the house but not quite at work. Although these opinions can change with some weather. I also got to now my bus drivers last year when I only had to walk down the hill from my apartment to get to that same spot. I like talking with them. One other thing is that spending is a bit different than earning money.
    Another thing is that spending money is not quite the same as earning it. Our budget is fairly tight, so even though it’s small to some extent, things like parking fees can add up and nickle and dime us to death. I’m quite happy with my choice to walk a bit further for free than pay.

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