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Should We Charge More For Coveted Parking Spaces?

At some colleges, administrations are uprooting the byzantine parking systems they are known for and putting in a more market-driven solution.

Should We Charge More For Coveted Parking Spaces?
[Image: Parking lot via Shutterstock]

For anyone who has tried to waltz into a college campus and figure out where to park, you know that school parking systems tend to be confusing maze-like messes.

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One reason is all the categories of drivers–student, visitor, faculty, parking pass holder, etc.–that must each park in their designated place, with the prime spots and lots usually closed off to people without the right sticker.

Campus spaces tend to be scarce, and they cost a lot to build–an average of $18,000 a space in a parking garage. Now, according to a story from Inside Higher Ed, some colleges are rethinking this strategy of subsidizing prime parking spots and charging a whole lot more for them.

Unable or unwilling to pay to continue to build more and more spaces, and also concerned with their campus environmental footprint, schools like Oregon State University and the University of Pennsylvania are starting to introduce a pricing system called on “demand-based parking,” in which the best spots cost the most. The idea is to charge enough that people will have more incentive to use public transit or ride a bike. This fall, Oregon State will begin charging $100 a month for permits to high-demand lots.

The parking demand problem is not only an issue on college campuses. In cities, street parking–which is often free or cheap–is one of the most incorrectly valued urban assets. Cities pour funds into reducing traffic congestion and air pollution, and then effectively undermine it by making parking so easy. Researchers at Drexel University recently conducted a large survey in which they found that cities with more expensive parking also had the highest public transit use. In fact, a startup in San Francisco recently attempted to monetize these price distortions by using a smartphone app to create a private marketplace for public parking spaces (they were quickly shut down by San Francisco city authorities).

Often microcosms of cities themselves, if college campuses solve their parking woes with better pricing structures, it could mean big changes for how everyone pays to store their cars.

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About the author

Jessica Leber is a staff editor and writer for Fast Company's Co.Exist. Previously, she was a business reporter for MIT’s Technology Review and an environmental reporter at ClimateWire

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