Monday, September 06, 2010

College Parking - A Short Rant

I don't think I am giving away any campus secrets when I say that parking is a very divisive issue in UCD, as I am sure it is in many colleges. I can't resist raising this issue given that I have been working all today beside a window overlooking the three months of madness that began this morning with the reappearance of students on campus.

There are a number of sayings about academia and car-parks, at least some of which are better not printed on the blog. I can think of few other issues that so completely and utterly unite economists compared to other disciplines. I do not have hard quants for UCD but in this case I suggest we do not really need them to get the ball rolling. Anyone who is here need just look out their window any morning between 8 and 11, and any evening between 4 and 7. There are quite simply too many cars chasing too few places, and the mechanism of allocation is a bizarre form of queuing involving people who live nearby and obviously have a high valuation of the convenience of car transport and people who live farther away and have a relatively low range of alternatives. I have never ever met an economist who agrees with the current system whereby parking spaces are allocated freely to all students and staff. The queues to get out of UCD in the evening are substantial even to reach the campus gate and getting a parking space in the morning is a completely haphazard venture. If ever a scarce resource was crying out for a reasonable allocation mechanism, it is the UCD car-park. The current situation encourages people with low valuation of their time to overuse a scarce resource, creating excessive queueing costs for people who actually value the parking option at a rate they would pay for. It is completely contrary both to economic logic and to our desire to be an energy efficient campus environment. The distributional gains largely accrue to university students with cars (almost certainly a wealthier subset of students) and staff members who are willing to incur the inconvenience as opposed to paying the parking charge that would be incurred.

The obvious  (and oft-asked) question is why are we not charging a reasonable amount to park here? What arguments exist that this is not a fair thing to do? If people have a high demand for fairness, the charge could be staggered based on student status and staff salary grade. We could even compensate students for losing the privilege by using the revenue to subsidise public transport. Perhaps understanding attitudes to this issue might help us to understand why economists are different to everyone else or at least why real world markets can persist in such a state.


Pidge said...

The joy of cycling to UCD was that these problems were merely things which you whizzed by, rather than engaging with.

A nominal hourly rate would be a good idea. I used to favour that along with an allowance for people who lived outside of the range of public transport, but considering that so many people abused that system by using a second home as their primary address (when it came to allocating accommodation), I don't think that it'd work.

Small charge for parking (with no special allowance for staff), with free 10 minute parking areas and plenty more simple bike racks by the arts block would go a long way.

Kevin Denny said...

The Fundamental Problem of Parking has been solved many times in many places including universities, even Irish ones. It doesn't take a rocket scientist or even a brain surgeon to work it out. This is nothing to do with economists thinking differently from ordinary folks, people pay for parking all the time. The point to remember is that "free parking" is not free for the reasons you describe: you pay in time and uncertainty instead. I pay by leaving home very early to be sure of a place.
So what we have is a situation that is inefficient, not obviously equitable and environmentally unfriendly.
There is something deeply unsettling about seeing this prevail in a university that wants to help lead the charge on innovation/"smart economy" etc. I mean, if an institution with some of the nation's leading planners, engineers, economists etc etc can't solve a simple problem like this, it doesn't auger well does it?

Ben Tonra said...

Losses to the university are even more direct. Several instances are recalled where colleagues from Blackrock campus have had to abandon attempts to attend university meetings, academic presentations and, in one case, a lecture after having circled the campus for upwards of 35-40 minutes for a space. Limited short-term pay/display parking options have not worked in this regard.

I also recall discussing this with a senior ESRI colleague. In view of their move to new premises with less parking provision, he mooted the idea of a tender process among staff to distribute places. What did they do in the end?

Peter Carney said...

I agree with the need to think about this, and with Kevin's point about academics or academic institutions solving their own problems first, and leading by example. In general, campus would benefit greatly from pragmatic communication and co-operation across disciplines on these issues that affect the daily lives of campus users. Does UCD have a commuting meeting group? It has several meeting groups/steering committees for areas like IT (which gets a relatively bizarre amount of attention across campus)

On this specifics of parking solution: I reckon a relatively expensive annual staff and student permit (~€100) with a nominal daily charge(€1-€2) would ease the ongoing parking issue. For ease, the daily charge could be applied to your 'permit' and paid monthly (possibly barrier-less charge, like the M50 toll, the technology is there!). This option would also do-away with the current practice of barricading campus to prevent non-campus pass through traffic at peek periods.

Kevin Denny said...

Inviting people to meetings in Belfield is embarrassing as there is every chance they cannot get a space. So Ben, what did the ESRI do? Allocate the places to the professors??
One perennial issue in these debates is staff vs. students and whether staff should get priority. As far as I know the university is firmly against giving staff priority. I suppose the argument is that we are all members of the university.
The counter-argument is that if one of my students is late for class because he can't get a place that's tough on him. If I am late as I can't get a place that's tough on everyone. So most academics have to come in too early to ensure this doesn't happen.
But really all of this can't be a fundamental problem to solve.