The Arizona Desert Lamp

Garage sale

Posted in Campus by Connor Mendenhall on 5 February 2009

It shouldn’t take an econ student to see what’s wrong with this sentence, from a recent Daily Wildcat article on parking prices:

The desire for more alternative modes of transportation to the UA campus is the driving force behind a three-year process of gradually increasing parking prices, which commences in fall of 2009.

Wait a minute, it’s not the demand for parking permits? Nope. It’s demand for more “programs,” of course:

The price hike is being implemented because PTS can no longer support the services it provides to students or develop new environmentally friendly programs with the current rates, current PTS director Patrick Kass said in a presentation to the Advisory Council on Jan. 26.

“Most students don’t know that PTS receives no government funding,” [PTS marketing manager Bill] Davidson said. “Every program we have is funded through parking permits.”

Heaven forfend that PTS sells permits to students in exchange for money–there’s got to be some kind of government funding in there somewhere, right? Demand for permits has long exceeded parking capacity at UA, but parking revenue rarely goes towards expanding lots or building new garages. Instead, we get this:

50 percent of the money from the parking permits would go into funding alternative ways for students to get to campus.

Sun Tran expansions, bike and car sharing programs, carpool parking passes, increased Cat Tran routes, and new bike paths are some of the programs PTS hopes to fund with the increase in prices.

Alternative transportation options are great, but college students shouldn’t need help buying a bike or reading a bus schedule. When I buy a parking permit, I’d like the money I spend to go towards garage maintenance, attendant salaries, PTS’s rapid response golf cart jumper-cable brigade–but not to subsidized bus passes or Cat Tran. Rocket skates and dirigibles are awesome ways to commute to school, but I drive–and I’d prefer to park with the service that offers me the best spot at the lowest price. Unfortunately, PTS  is the only game on campus, and they’ve got a different offer: “an equitable and quality service within the scope of available resources.”

There are two ways to fix the campus parking crunch: build a big ugly garage, or set prices for permits closer to where they would be in a competitive market. As the article explains, new garages are tough to build. Today, parking expansion is held up by UA’s “financial plight” and campus space limitations (though spending all the permit revenue on a garage would surely help a little bit). That leaves smarter permit pricing–which would be a great way to raise additional revenue and clear up crowded lots.

Parking prices are currently tiered–garages cost the most, then various “zones” of surface parking, which decrease in price as they get farther away from campus. It’s a better system than a flat price for every spot, but the perennial parking crunch suggests that a lot of those prices aren’t high enough. But some of them are too high. My freshman year, I parked in a lonely south-of-Sixth lot that rarely filled up. Fortunately, it would be easy to make permit prices more responsive to student demand with a simple online auction for each permit instead of a set price for each tier. PTS could create an online system, or hell, just list them on eBay. The best spots in the Cherry garage might end up hideously expensive, but they’d go to the students who value them most, and an overall increase in permit revenue wouldn’t be a surprise. Even better, remote spots might get cheaper, and although it might not end complaints about high prices, it would certainly cut down on the number of cars wandering undead across campus for hours each morning looking for open spots.  (Talk about an environmentally friendly program!)

But I’ve got an idea for another auction: sell off PTS altogether. Cheap and plentiful parking isn’t part of UA’s educational mission, and PTS breaks even at best, despite their monopoly on student spots and total control of parking at athletic events. Instead, UA ought to sell off or license the rights to campus parking to an outside provider–or even better, to more than one. PTS took in $14 million last year, so the sale of parking rights could go a long way in relieving the current budget crunch. Time for a garage sale.

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5 Responses

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  1. Jimi Alexander said, on 5 February 2009 at 10:41 am

    As a student that takes the Sun Tran buses from my home in midtown to campus every weekday, I can tell you that the recent hard luck times have made the buses very, very frightening indeed. It seems that the worse the economy gets (dating back to the 2001 recession), the more drunk, disorderly, and roughneck customers board the bus. I used to be able to do homework on my laptop back in August before things got really bad; now, I do my best to keep it hidden lest it attract the eyes of some junkie who just got fired and would think nothing of tossing me over Olive Underpass if it meant he’d get my machine.

    The subsidized U-Pass for the buses is a joke: I’m a low-income student (probably the only sort that forces themselves to bear the indignity of riding city buses) and the cost of $12/month is far better than the UA’s deal of $240-something for the academic year.

    For me, riding a bike to school is not an option: I’d be a sweaty, exhausted mess upon arrival if I did (not to mention that Tucson drivers are infamous for running down bikes). Car-sharing will never happen for me, because I have yet to see any UA student who lives further east from campus than I do. I have yet to see more than three people (including the driver) on a CatTran at any time, so I fail to see why it even exists.

    I intend to get a car over the summer, but the prohibitive costs of the permits means that I’ll have to park in some scary lot well away from campus. (South-of-Sixth? Really? I’m surprised you still HAVE a car! That neighborhood scares the crap out of me.) Dunno if selling the garages to a third-party would make the costs any more bearable, but there definitely needs to be some sort of changes to PTS.

  2. Connor Mendenhall said, on 5 February 2009 at 11:08 am

    I rode Sun Tran home from school for two years back in high school. Vivid, yes, but a good knife and a commuter scowl go a long way–and I doubt that anyone’s out to toss your body under the Olive underpass as much as just soil their seat and yammer. The South-of-Sixth problem was solved by driving a ’92 Mercury Topaz, and spending all year hoping someone would steal the damn thing already so I could get rid of it and maybe upgrade to an ’89 Camry or something.

    I don’t know if private garages would make the costs more bearable either. I’m pretty sure parking demand seriously exceeds supply, so I wouldn’t expect it. But it would certainly give the operators stronger incentives to build parking capacity, and hopefully they’d do so.

  3. Connor Mendenhall said, on 5 February 2009 at 11:10 am

    And by “I wouldn’t expect it” I mean, “I wouldn’t expect it, at least in terms of the average price.” Those south-of-Sixth lots (which really aren’t that bad–students live there, too!) might well come down, especially in the more stabby areas.

  4. The Arizona Desert Lamp said, on 25 March 2009 at 1:07 pm

    […] too simple. We’ve explored several ideas for increasing quality without affecting price, decreasing price without affecting quality, and doing both with the Michigan model. In the long term, the […]

  5. […] for spots, increasing both the optimality of spot allocation and funds received. One could even sell off off the entire PTS piecemeal, using some of the funds for a stand-alone system. In fact, you could […]


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