UWM’s Free Parking Push is Teaching the Wrong Lesson
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.”
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.