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The Case for Higher Parking Fees at Auburn

By January 2, 2023January 20th, 2023No Comments

by Becki Retzlaff

Photo of a bike path on Auburn’s campusWhen I arrived on campus at Auburn 16 years ago, the campus green space and the location of what is now the Harold Melton Student Center was a giant parking lot. Since then, other former parking lots have also been transformed into beloved buildings and green spaces on campus. I recall several open forums to discuss these plans, where students, faculty, and staff largely expressed displeasure at the loss of their convenient parking spaces. I also remember similar outcry when parking fees were increased a few years ago. Thank goodness Auburn’s Facilities Management Department held firm to their commitment to sustainability, otherwise, our beautiful campus could still be swallowed in parking and traffic.

The number of people traveling to Auburn by car each day requires our Facilities Management Department to make parking decisions that will not make everyone happy. Still, parking at Auburn is inexpensive – too inexpensive, in my opinion. A parking permit on campus costs just $100 to $180 annually, depending on the type of permit that you purchase.

According to city planner Donald Shoup, author of the surprisingly riveting book, The High Cost of Free Parking, the true cost of a parking space depends on the cost of land, the type of parking (surface lot or parking structure), density, and other issues, but averages around $125 a month in the U.S. That means that if your parking permit at Auburn costs $160 (the price of an A zone permit for a year), Auburn is subsidizing your parking space by $1,340 annually. If you drive to campus for ten years, you will receive a parking subsidy from Auburn of a whopping $13,400. (By the way, those of us who don’t drive to campus are still waiting for our rebate for not using our parking subsidy).

What is the real cost of our greatly subsidized parking at Auburn? According to Shoup, one of the big costs of free and subsidized parking is that the price of parking does not deter us from driving. Alternatively, when we pay for parking directly (with no subsidy), it affects our decisions about whether or not to drive. If parking was more expensive, more people would take Tiger Transit, walk, bike, or carpool to campus. Free and subsidized parking has lowered the demand for public transit by lowering the overall direct cost of driving a car, making driving seem more inexpensive than taking public transit. That has turned into a downward spiral for public transit because as the cost of driving (via subsidized parking) is reduced, the demand for both transit and dense urban forms that support efficient public transportation has also been reduced, further increasing the demand for cars, and the cycle continues. Because of declining density and increasing driving, cities (and universities) react to the resulting traffic congestion and urban sprawl by building even more parking lots, and again, the cycle continues.

Thank goodness that the Facilities Management Department has made the sustainable decision to gradually increase parking fees over time. When the next fee hike comes around, I hope that people remember that higher parking fees are good for sustainability.

Becki Retzlaff is the Director of the Academic Sustainability Program.


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