Dave Reid

UWM’s Free Parking Push is Teaching the Wrong Lesson

By - Mar 8th, 2012 02:17 pm
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Last year, the UWM Student Association successfully lobbied UWM to make approximately 700 parking spots available for free use, by raising fees on all students $15 per semester (note: an additional$5 per semester had to later be added to fully cover the cost).

This year, once again the UWM Student Association is pushing to give students (well not all or even most students, just a select few who drive) 200 more “free” parking spots, by raising student fees on all students another $6.50 a semester.

These efforts to supply “free” parking for the few is contrary to the university’s mission and teaches the wrong lesson to students.

Those that use these free lots will end up driving more, and wasting time as they drive from one free lot to the next trying to find that empty spot.  When you set the price of a inelastic good to zero, a good’s demand inevitably outstretches supply.  A recent UWM Post article tell this very story.  “[One day] I arrived on campus 20 minutes before my class started,” Robinson recalled “I went through four full lots and finally conceded defeat and headed to the Pavilion. I ended up 10 minutes late to my first class even though I was on campus early.”

Students go to college to learn, and not just what is in their books, it is to some extent to learn how to live their lives.  Robinson has certainly experienced first hand the tragedy of the commons, but that isn’t likely what she has learned from this experience.  By not charging students to park, UWM is teaching them that the expectation is that parking is, or should be, free.

The lesson certainly isn’t that no programs should be subsidized through user fees.  But unlike the UPark and UPass programs which benefit non-users, subsidizing on-campus parking takes a limited resource and gives it away to a select few, at the expense of the non-users.  Additionally, “free” parking brings with it negative externalities such as less community involvement (through commuters quickly leaving the campus), more traffic on-campus, higher traffic demands being placed on neighborhood streets, and doesn’t make the highest and best use of a scare resource.

As an urban university, UWM should be teaching students to live in the neighborhood, ride the bus, and become part of the community, not to have everyone else pay so the few can drive.


20 thoughts on “UWM’s Free Parking Push is Teaching the Wrong Lesson”

  1. Dave Clark says:

    I agree completely with your larger points here (and would further argue that UWM’s parking problem has never been all that bad, given park and ride, bus passes, etc.), but isn’t the push for this coming from the students themselves, via their student government? The language of the poll and the last couple of paragraphs make it sound like this is all the doing of the UWM administration.

  2. Dave Reid says:

    @Dave Yes (more yes than no), and no. Yes the push starts with the Student Association, but the university also plays a direct role in this as well. Specifically the Chancellor approves the deal, as he did last year..

  3. Hyrax Suzuki says:

    Great article. WHy don’t these students get behind the streetcar project? Or better yet – moving Hartford Avenue School and getting more dorms built on that spot!

  4. Kendall Gosch says:

    All of this is based on the assumption that the only learning takes place on or around the college campus. What happened to the well adjusted, competent, intelligent adult that was accepted into an excellent school? People who drive inevitably encounter parking in other locations and thus be exposed to adverse conditions. Ergo, all they’re actually learning is that if they time it right, they can continue to take advantage of the limited resources that the student body on the whole has to pay for. I would liken this to the Social Security situation……

  5. John says:

    It is too bad that the student association took this step. I recognize their right to vote based on their preferences, but I feel this vote is very unfair to the many thousands of students who don’t need parking on campus, much less parking that is paid for by their fellow students.

    I was a grad student at UWM, and I lived on campus and did not have a car–this was the very best choice I could have made. I focused on my studies and could take part in campus activities easily as well as get to my classes in about 5 minutes. I never worried about parking and because I did not carry the expense of owning a car, I was able to go to grad school full-time and complete a MS in under two years.

    There are plenty of transit options at UWM. There are several bus lines serving UWM campus. You can live close by and walk, bike, or take transit to get there. Owning a car is unnecessary in that neighborhood and actually a liability.

    I hope the student association as well as the students take a look at this book at UWM Library: The high cost of free parking / by Donald C. Shoup. Chicago : Planners Press : American Planning Association, c2005. Automobile parking–Economic aspects. UW-Milwaukee Location: General Stacks Call Number: HE336.P37 S54 2005.

    As an alumnus of UWM, I am very concerned that students get a chance at the same experience I had: the chance to focus entirely on studies, rather than commuting or worrying about parking. Having this focus literally could be the difference between academic success and failure. I hope UWM officials seek more on-campus or close-by housing options, and I would think that the student association would take up the cause of clamoring for it.

    To all current or future students: do yourself a favor–get rid of your car while you are in college. Focus on your studies, not on being a part-time mechanic and taxi driver.

  6. Mark says:

    I find it fascinating that to enter the St. Mary’s parking garage for free, students must show a valid UPass (bus pass) on their student ID. This confirms that the student is currently enrolled. How oxymoronic!

  7. Erik says:

    As a UWM student I think the school should look at extending freeway flyer hours, and having at lest one late bus to all park and ride lots. Currently, I cannot take the bus because my classes are all evening classes. As many of the classes, particularly in the Engineering school, are scheduled at night to accommodate non-traditional students who work, or have jobs in industry during the day, you can not realistically avoid having to take at least one, if not several, late classes in order to meet degree requirements. However, since I use the Whitnall Park-Ride Lot, buss 44U, service to this lot ends at 6:18 pm, but continues for the State Fair Park and Ride lot until 10pm. It is not really practical for me to drive halfway to school, just so I can take the Park and Ride from State Fair. If they extended the hours for the Whitnall, and other outlying Park-Ride lots, until 9pm, I think there would be less parking issues. If you have a day class, and a night class, this means you have to drive, and park at school to accommodate the later night class. The Whitnall lot services both western Milwaukee county (southern portion of 108th street), and Eastern Waukesha County. Therefore, it would best serve students who cannot take Buses that take side streets, like myself.

    It would take me well over an hour to commute by a regular bus route, and I would probably have to transfer multiple times as well. To me it makes little sense to have late service for a closer freeway flyer lot, at State Fair, which has shorter commute times for regular MCTS buses, but exclude lots father West (North, or South), of the city which benefit the most from the Freeway Flyer program. After all, the Freeway Flyers are designed to expedite travel using the freeway. Especially to areas of the County where regular bus service to and from the central city would be cumbersome.

    Since all UWM students pay for the buss pass through our tuition, particularly the 44U bus route to UWM, this might cut down on parking, as people who have classes extending into the evening could take the bus.

  8. A says:

    The push is coming from the student association. That is not necessarily the same as the students. There are lots of students at universities that never have anything to do with the student association and some very active students who can push things that may not be really popular. So, one would have to look closely at the process to determine whether it was actually a push by the study body on a broader scale.

  9. Dave Reid says:

    @A Yup good point… It is the UWMSA that is pushing this, at the expense of the majority of students.

  10. Bruce says:

    Long-term, the university if pushing to be less of a commuter school, with more students from out of town.

  11. UWM Student says:

    Yeah. Because it’s very affordable to live on the East Side. So affordable in fact that I’m surprised everyone doesn’t live over there. Average rent is only $1000/month, unless you want to share some rundown rental with 4 other people. You forgot to mention the truth where faculty doesn’t pay to park. So the lesson should be, while you pay to go to school, you pay to park. Get paid by the school and you don’t pay to park. As a full time student. I’m tried of hearing this. There is no where to park for the 3:45 I have to be on campus for free, so I’m forced to do the parking shuffle and am often late for pretty much every class as a result. I hear the Student Association votes to pay itself actual money, so maybe they drum up these extra fees to get a larger paycheck. If you don’t want to live in a neighborhood with congested parking, don’t move near a commuter school with 30,000 students. They should be ashamed charging to park anywhere on campus, considering we’re there to go to school, which is $4000 a semester. I guess the lesson is take all the money you can get for whatever illogical reason you can. In fact, I just watched a meter maid drive past two personal vehicles from the construction crews working down there without dropping a ticket. Was real quick to drop one on the car of a presumed student who was 1ft past the no parking sign.

  12. Dave Reid says:

    @UWM Student

    “Because it’s very affordable to live on the East Side. So affordable in fact that I’m surprised everyone doesn’t live over there.” In fact thousands of UWM students do.

    “Average rent is only $1000/month, unless you want to share some rundown rental with 4 other people.” Wait that sounds like college to me.. Sharing a house or having roomates yup.

    “You forgot to mention the truth where faculty doesn’t pay to park.” I was unaware of this, and don’t think they should be giving faculty free parking either.

    “There is no where to park for the 3:45 I have to be on campus for free”. Parking is good and it doesn’t come free.

    Finally, UWM is no longer (or at the very minimum no longer intent on being a commuter school) a commuter school

    And understand, when you get that ‘free’ spot it is being paid for by another student.

  13. Jesse Hagen says:

    I remember reading the comments from a UWM Post article last year. Some commenters were all excited that there is a process to remove parking restrictions, although it has to be voted on block by block. Their idea was that the students that lived nearby would vote to remove the parking restrictions.

    Why would someone who lives nearby, even if they’re a student, want to remove the parking restrictions? It would mean less spaces for them & more spaces for commuters who live outside the area. Literally, there is no benefit to the local residents… student or otherwise.

    It seems that so many commuters don’t realize these rules are put in place to increase the quality of life for those living in the neighborhood, it benefits students & other people living nearby. What’s clear is that commuters expect something for free & are happy to take from their fellow students. Then the deadbeats play the victim card, priceless.

  14. jules says:

    Who are we paying for our parking, UWM or the city of Milwaukee? I have a feeling the person who wrote this has their parents pay their rent on Downer and has never ridden line 21.

  15. jules says:

    Dave, how do you afford $1,000/mo? Loans? Daddy?

  16. Dave Reid says:

    @jules Nope been on my own geesh for years and years and year…. Oh and way back in the day I paid to park my car during college.

  17. Dave Reid says:

    @jules Well to be frank, my dad is dead and I hadn’t seen him in at least a decade before he past away. I take it you’re perfectly fine with your fellow students paying for you to park?

  18. Dave Clark says:

    Since this thread has reactivated, I thought I’d correct one fact in the comments above: Faculty do not get free parking. I take the bus.


  19. Brett says:

    I stumbled across this article while trying to find alternative parking at UWM. Frankly, it infuriated me. If parking is not free it should at least be inexpensive, and there should be enough spots to go around. This should be something obvious. There should be a giant parking structure that has enough spaces for everyone and students who use it should have to sign up and pay some small fee for a semester long parking pass.

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