Free student parking

October 31, 2013 at 6:24 pm

Ah, parking. Just one root of so many traffic problems.

Outside Truman College.

Outside Truman College.

I saw this while walking home today. It’s outside the entrance to the Truman College parking structure in Uptown. Opened in 2011, it provides free parking to Truman college students. There are 1,138 spaces.

The building also holds the student services center, but 85% of the building is parking – seven stories of it. At $54,000,000, it’s hardly cheap. The cost is nearly $40,000 per space. $14,000,000 was paid for by the state, $30,000,000 by the City Colleges. $10,000,000 of the cost was paid by Wilson Yards TIF funds.

Yes, Tax Incremental Financing funds – funds that should generally be used to improve the community.

The garage is larger than the school itself. Image: Truman College.

Daniel Clifton, PR for City Colleges, said at the time of construction that he hoped the garage wouldn’t be used, lest it attract too many students to drive and create more parking problems.

Just think about that for a moment.

When I called to ask if the garage was ever over capacity, the secretary on the phone said she “didn’t think it had ever filled up.” While it’s not the most reputable source for historic figures, I couldn’t get a hold of anyone in charge of the garage. Nonetheless, perhaps because of Truman’s proximity to the red line and two bus routes, more students still choose the convenience of mass transit (and the extra study time it provides!). Taxpayers still financed an expensive parking structure that never fills, and charges students nothing for its use.

When I was a student at UW–Milwaukee, the school purchased an entire hospital that it would redevelop into classrooms, offices, and other uses. There was a large parking structure attached. When the deal was finalized, the garage was opened to students – for free. You can imagine what happened.

With over 30,000 students and a large commuter population, drivers flocked to the relatively small garage and it was often full before 9 AM. It was a classic case of a supply shortage. Wonder why we never took a look at it in my economics courses…

Wonk-wonk. P2 is the optimal price for parking. P3 is what happens too often: price is set too low, and the quantity demanded is much higher than the quantity supplied.

In fact, entire parking policy became a hot subject (and arguably, the only subject) for the Student Association elections the following spring, mainly by promising to work with the city to reduce the bordering residential streets’ 30-minute and 1-hour parking time limits (likely because too many students would park in the free spaces all day long). Subsidizing the old hospital garage cost over $200,000 for a year, and the SA asked to subsidize another campus parking garage by raising each and every student’s fees by $26. Not asking only students who park to pay, but asking everyone to pay for it.

The old hospital’s parking garage. By 9 AM there would be a line of cars here and/or a “lot full” sign. Image: TMJ4.

Something’s wrong with that. Especially when the cost of a reduced-fee bus pass is already included with the tuition fees. I understand that some students have to drive all the way to school instead of parking at a remote lot or using public transportation, but asking every student to pay for this is foolish. Not just because inviting more cars to an urban college campus is not a good idea, but there isn’t possibly enough parking to accommodate all of the students that would be paying for the parking they’d never use. That is, if they wanted to use the parking they’re paying for, there just wouldn’t be enough space for it.

Perhaps universities should get out of the parking business.

Edit: I do want to clarify that Truman College has always offered its students free parking since the garage was built. It is not new, but they are advertising it outside the school as of Oct 31.