The first principle of economics states that resources are scarce and nowhere is this more evident than the parking lot of Front Range Community College (FRCC).
Every afternoon begins a bizarre ritual involving students, faculty, staff and administrators jockeying for a position like a game of musical chairs. People on campus are aware of the problem. Most often they cite a lack of sufficient parking to keep up with demand.
But the price people pay for a parking spot is much less than the cost of adding an additional space. This has formed a price ceiling for parking, and like all price ceilings, it is accompanied by chronic shortages.
Students at FRCC currently pay less than $150 in parking fees for a 30-credit load.
The addition of the east lot on campus, paving and striping only, was completed in 2006 for a cost of $2,600 a space. The college must recover these costs, and they do so by charging all people regardless of their parking use. We all pay in the form of higher tuitions and lower department budgets.
Switching to a user-based fee system makes sense. Otherwise, the incentive to use alternative means to get to campus is greatly reduced. People have already paid for parking, and they rightfully want to get their moneyâ€™s worth.
A user-based fee system also increases the efficiency of parking on campus. Those who place the highest value on parking a car on campus will continue to do so. Additional spaces will be made available from those who place less value on parking nearby.
The parking lot does not exist in a vacuum. We canâ€™t pretend that if we continue doing nothing the problem will be fine. We also cannot fool ourselves into thinking that if we build a parking garage we wonâ€™t be paying much higher parking fees because of it.
The college must also then deal with the long-term obligations of maintaining the new structure. In contrast, only a fraction of that money is needed to provide a fare-free bus pass to all students, and many other mitigation efforts are just as cost effective.
We are left with only a few options. We can enact a new fee on parking to better manage what we have. We can choose a much larger new fee on parking to construct a mammoth, concrete eyesore. We can also choose to pay the same fees.
Then, people will not avoid FRCC because of its high parking fees; they will avoid FRCC because there is no place to park. In the end, solutions that reduce demand can be implemented for pennies on the dollar compared to the cost of expanding parking.
Doing so will allow the college to budget additional funds for academics and not for asphalt.
Jake Tilleman is an aspiring economist and student at Front Range Community College. Letters and feedback can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org.