Daniel J.H. Greenwood

Home | Previous Page

Patriotic Parking Policies

Two Decades After the Fall of the Berlin Wall, Hofstra's Parking Policies Still Don't Understand Market Logic

Hofstra’s parking plan is obsolete, inefficient, ineffective, polluting and unfair. It is time for Hofstra to abandon its system of welfare for cars and, instead, to implement a few simple capitalist reforms.

The most common student complaint at Hofstra is that it is impossible to find parking. Students are right to complain. There is simply no reason why students and faculty alike need to plan to spend half an hour pointlessly driving in circles searching for a parking spot. Meanwhile, non-drivers and environmentalists reasonably object that they shouldn't be forced to pay, through higher tuition and lower wages, for other people's waste. And our campus--beautiful in its core--is surrounded by acres of ugly wasted space serving only as a monument to failed policy.

To add insult to injury, we only need to look to basic Adam Smith to solve this problem. We need not remain trapped by obsolete systems the rest of the country discarded years ago. The solution is really very simple. Eliminate the subsidies, make people take responsibility for their actions, and we will all be better off.

Instead of wasting time and greenhouse gases in search of an empty space, we could have a well-funded system in which parking would be available to all who want it, mass transit would actually be practical for those who prefer it, tuition would go to support education instead of pollution, and the land tied up in distant lots could be used or sold.

First, we need to explicitly charge for parking. Parking is expensive. Those who use it should pay for it, not free ride on others.

Currently, students pay for parking through higher tuition, whether they use it or not. This unfair charge should be abolished and tuition reduced by the amount currently going to parking.

Instead, drivers should be charged for parking according to their use, so that only those who use it pay for it. The system could be very simple: daily or hourly charges using either a ID card swipe or an EZPass type system. Prices should be set high enough to ensure that drivers entering a lot can always count on finding a spot without having to hunt. Peripheral lots and off-hours should be cheap, so that cost-conscious drivers could save money by walking a little more; close-in lots at peak hours should be more expensive, so that those willing to pay for convenience would actually get it.

People who currently use parking only because it is "free" would be able to save by conserving, and those who want convenience enough to pay for it -- would pay for it.

Second, we need to end the subsidies. Instead, Transportation Services should be required to be self-sufficient based on fair accounting.

The University needs to provide parking, but it does not need to subsidize it out of tuition dollars or donor funds that ought to be used for their proper purposes. Nor is there any reason to encourage people to increase pollution or congestion.

This means, first, that Transportation Services must have its own budget with parking fees dedicated for its use and, second, that Transportation Services must pay rent for the land it uses for parking. Long Island land is not free and it is time we stopped pretending that it is.

Once Transportation Services has a real budget, it will be able to make rational choices that today seem impossible.

For example, today we hear that there is no money to build garages. But that's an illusion created by subsidies and phony accounting. Once Transportation Services has its own income, it'll be able to make rational decisions about whether compact garages are really more expensive than acres of underutilized land. If garages are cheaper, as seems likely, it’ll also have the income necessary to borrow to build without depending on or threatening Hofstra’s credit rating. Build some garages where people actually want to park, and we can sell off the outer lots or use them for something functional.

Similarly, today, it seems impossibly expensive to have a functioning bus system to connect to the LIRR. Instead, we run a bus on a schedule so wasteful that, including waiting time at the LIRR, the bus is often slower than walking speed and always slower than a trotting horse. But if Transportation Services were on a real budget, it would quickly discover that the cheapest way to increase the number of parking spaces is to make mass transit more attractive. Use parking fees to pay for a bus to meet every departing and arriving LIRR train, and large numbers of students and faculty will suddenly discover that mass transit can be a reasonable alternative to parking. Parking demand will drop, parking lots will be less crowded, and Hofstra will do more to reduce its carbon footprint than any recycling project. Some suburban campuses have even discovered that the cheapest way to reduce parking congestion is to give every student and employee an unlimited mass transit pass -- a win-win solution for drivers, transit users, the budget and the environment.

Give Transportation Services a real budget and Public Safety employees who today spend their time despairing about the insolubility of parking problems might, instead, be able to focus on real advances that aren't so easy. Instead of explaining why half hour parking searches are inevitable, they could be planning workable bus schedules and useable websites, finding ways to create bike storage at Hempstead Station, planning safe and attractive walking and biking paths to the LIRR, beginning joint public-private projects to extend an LIRR line into campus, and replacing acres of pavement with a few garages and a golf course or park or new dorms and classroom buildings or a mixed use town center to increase the University endowment.

As Germany celebrates the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, why can't we too get the benefits of free market economics?

--Daniel Greenwood, Nov 9, 2009