Dave Reid

UWM Should End the Parking Subsidy

By - Mar 10th, 2011 05:00 pm


Having an educated populace is good for society, it increases the earning of all workers, it helps to generate wealth and fuels innovation.  Subsidized parking doesn’t.

UWM recently announced that the school will no longer be utilizing the parking lot on Milwaukee’s lakefront for remote student parking, in part because the university had acquired the former Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital parking garage adjacent to campus.

As part of this change the university had planned to charge students $4 per day to park at the garage, and end the student subsidy of parking.  Oddly, the UWM Student Association fought to continue the subsidization of parking for some students, at the cost of non-driving students.  These efforts apparently moved the university’s position, as Steve Schultze is reporting that UWM has “cut a tentative deal to charge all students $15 per semester to subsidize parking in the former Columbia-St. Mary’s Hospital ramp.”  This continued automobile subsidy isn’t a big one, but it is one example of how our institutions and policies, encourage people to drive, by hiding the true cost.

There are of course numerous services that all students contribute to, and as a society we often choose to subsidize certain priorities.  For example, we as a society subsidize economic development through TIF, government loans, and for decades now the mortgage interest deduction.  UWM students all put in for safety programs as well as many on-campus programs.  An argument can be made for or against many of these being subsidized, but this particular parking subsidy is not inline with the mission of the university, and brings with it hidden costs and negative impacts.

As an urban university, UWM should be encouraging students to live on or near campus and become part of the community.  By doing this UWM would be helping to fulfill its mission as an urban university while helping the neighborhood.  It would actually reduce parking needs and congestion, as students could walk, bike, or take transit to get to class instead of circling the neighborhood or garage in hopes of finding a spot.  In the long run, encouraging more students to make the East side of Milwaukee their home would help to keep demand strong for apartment development, help to fill rental vacancies on the East Side, and draw further retail development to the area.

For too long UWM has muddled in their commitment to being an urban university, it’s time for that to change.


13 thoughts on “UWM Should End the Parking Subsidy”

  1. Mitch says:

    As a UWM graduate student I completely agree.

    I drive to campus on some days when I need to go directly from class to work, and $4 is very reasonable to park all day. The problem with free parking is that it will encourage those who would have otherwise not driven to now drive to campus. If anything use a smaller student fee to help those whom must drive to pay a reduced parking rate.

    What many fail to recognize is that there will still be free parking at the Capital Humboldt satellite lot.

  2. Brent says:

    As a member of the Student Association of UWM, I believe I have an explanation.

    First off, we are actively lobbying against the loss of the lakefront lots. Those lots allow free parking for hundreds of UWM students on a daily basis. If we do lose the lots, we do not want to force these students to pay four dollars a day every day to park. This is why we are suggesting raising segregated fees 15 dollars per student per semester — to try and make the loss of the lots much more manageable for our commuter students.

    This isn’t a matter of us encouraging students to take the bus as opposed to driving to school (we are encouraging that quite sufficiently with our participation in the U-PASS program). I personally know several students that live well beyond the range of our increasingly cut-back bus system (i.e. Racine, Zion). Living near/on campus is simply not an economic solution for many UWM students in these times, and the loss of many of our free parking spots would be a deal-killer for more than a few students. We recently acquired a whole parking garage and I see no reason why we cannot transfer the lost spots to the new location. It most certainly will save us those students that cannot afford an estimated $500/semester tacked on to their transit.

    Furthermore, UWM has been contributing more now than ever to the urban environment of Milwaukee. For the first time in our history, we have enough residence hall space for an entire freshman class. Chancellor Santiago, before his departure, was contemplating a mandatory on-campus first year for all incoming freshmen. And, unlike certain other urban campuses in our city, our new dorms and proposed schools are not cloistered together in a single area but woven in to the fabric of the East Side and Downtown, with the regrettable exception of Innovation Park (which the Student Association had no input on).

    Try not to think of the SA as “subsidizing parking.” We’re trying to not only keep commuter students at our university, but ensure that they can stay on campus and participate in our community without having to shell out hundreds more to do so. At the same time, the University is renewing its commitment to contribute to the city by pursuing the School of Freshwater Sciences and the School of Public Health.

  3. Dave Reid says:

    “Those lots allow free parking for hundreds of UWM students ” So thousands of students should pay for hundreds of students to get free parking. Further, you wouldn’t be forcing anyone to pay $4 a day to park, they are making the choice to not live on campus, near campus, or near transit.

    Try not to think of the SA as “subsidizing parking.” Huh? That is exactly what is being done, which in turn encourages students to drive to campus, and be less a part of our community.

    Finally, there is no doubt that having to pay the true cost of parking will be difficult for those that continue to drive. But in the long run dropping this subsidy will encourage more future students to live on campus, near campus, or near transit, which should be a goal for UWM.

  4. Anon says:


    It’s ridiculous to think that, while those students may need to spend $500 more per semester due to transit, that they don’t save a significant amount more by living much further away from campus. As someone who pays a very, very, very larger premium to live near campus, it’s absurd to me that I should have to also pay for other to live away from campus.

    This despite the fact that, $500 a semester is a very insignificant amount of money.

  5. annette says:

    Is there really that much anger over $15? When we live as part of a community, we sometimes HELP pay a small amount for things we may personally never use to make things more affordable for a smaller group. If you do live near campus, as I have, we are able to take advantage of many benefits that commuters typically don’t use, such as BOSS. If you don’t think that $500 is a big number, then what is $15 to you?

  6. Dave Reid says:

    @annette Yes we subsidize lots of things, especially the automobile as a society. But not all subsidize are equal, in this case uwm students are subsidizing other students to add congestion, and to not be a part of our community. If this subsidy would go away within a matter of a few years no one will ever remember it was ever there…

  7. Brent says:

    Not to bring up a dead topic again, but here’s something relevant.

    Last Sunday, I authored and attempted to pass legislation allowing student employees of UWM (myself included) to obtain a free U-PASS for the summer, paid for by the SA. The U-PASS program, again, allows students to ride the bus for free. This legislation has been tabled until our next meeting next month, unfortunately, but I believe the spirit of the bill will survive.

    Also, I’ve been working with the student organization ACT Everywhere to try and make campus a little more bike-friendly by purchasing bike rack signs. Hopefully these signs will be up by the end of the summer.

    The SA isn’t pro/anti-car or bike or bus. We’re just pro-student. And some our students drive.

  8. Dave Reid says:

    @Brent Voting for the parking subsidy is clearly pro-car (with pro-car meaning traffic, pollution, sprawl, anti-neighborhood), and not as clearly pro-student, as it takes from all to benefit some. Now I know that is how a subsidy works, many pay for some, so since we know this we must determine if it is worth doing, and in this case sure politically I guess it works for you, but for Milwaukee and UWM in the long run it is the wrong position to take.

  9. Brent says:

    Look, if the garage is pro-car, then the U-PASS Act is pro-bus, and the bike signs are pro-bike, right?

    What I’m saying is that the SA doesn’t care if every student drives cars 50 years from now or if everyone flies. It’s not within our power to decide which mode of transportation the students take, and it would be indeed wrong of us to try and force one method of transport upon them. We are simply trying to do the greatest good for the greatest number of students.

    This isn’t a political move. The garage would still be in existence either way and would be used by UWM students. We have always had free parking for students, albeit at sprawling, wasteful parking lots. I don’t see this as any more incentive to drive. It’s just moving the free parking to campus and allowing the lakefront lots to be redeveloped into parkland or something.

    You wouldn’t rather have the cars on a surface lot on our lakefront, would you?

  10. Jeramey Jannene says:


    I disagree with your first comment. The U-Pass and bike infrastructure benefit automobiles in freeing up resources for them. Furthermore, the U-PASS is paid for by students, for which they each receive the opportunity to pick up and utilize the pass, not every student could park their automobile (even just the students that are lucky enough to have one) in on-campus garages.

    Moving the parking from the lakefront to on-campus seems wise, but making it free seems a bit illogical for a university with such limited parking resources.

    Given that I believe already everyone has a U-PASS, and that busing (and cycling) doesn’t create nearly the neighborhood conflict as parking, why not eliminate the free parking (that not everyone can use)?

    In the long-run that appears to me as the policy that benefits the most people (one less subsidy for students, reduced town versus gown conflict, theoretically better academic performance with more on-campus or nearby students). That might long-term necessitate the development of more student housing, but that’s a direction UWM already seems to be headed in.

    I applaud your desire to extend the U-PASS benefits to be year-round for student employees. It seems like a hole in the transportation mode balance that may cause students to use cars year-round because they can’t take the bus as easily in the summer.

    Open question (honestly don’t have an answer) – do Madison and other urban peer institutions provide free parking?

  11. Dave Reid says:

    @Brent “Look, if the garage is pro-car, then the U-PASS Act is pro-bus, and the bike signs are pro-bike, right?” Yup, of course as Jeramey pointed out supporting those modes actually helps those driving as well (less cars in their way, and less people trying to park). I’d point out those modes don’t have the negative impacts that driving does, encourage significant benefits to the city, neighborhood, and UWM, and fit within the schools vision of being an ‘urban’ institution. Additionally, charging the proper parking price may have benefits as well.

    “It’s not within our power to decide which mode of transportation the students take, ” Oddly, by choosing to subsidize you are encouraging a mode of transportation for some students.

    “and it would be indeed wrong of us to try and force one method of transport upon them.” Somehow not providing free parking through a subsidy is ‘forcing’ another mode?

    “You wouldn’t rather have the cars on a surface lot on our lakefront, would you?” Nope, but of course that is false choice. The question isn’t garage or lakefront. It is subsidized parking or not.

  12. Anon says:

    Mr. Reid you would be wise to open your eyes to the realities of society. In an ideal world all students would live with in walking distance of campus and there would be no need to subsidize parking, bus, or any other mode of transportation for that matter. Unfortunately college is already exceptionally expensive and part of what makes UWM a great institution is that it makes higher education affordable and accessible to many.

    However; many students are still required to make sacrifices and for many the choice to live at home and commute is hardly a choice at all. UWM’s responsibility is to its students first and foremost and subsidized parking is a necessary part of that.

    The members of the UWM community are happy to support there fellow students, especially considering the truly small sacrifice they are making in this situation.

    Your failure to acknowledge the points raised my the member of the UWM student association suggest you have an ax to grind. This doesn’t seem like a worthwhile cause.

  13. Dave Reid says:

    @Anon in the real world subsidizing parking is bad for UWM, the neighborhood it exists in, the other students that are paying for others to drive.

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