Friday 2 September 2011

The high cost of cheap parking

Seamus loves citing the old line by former University of California Supremo Clark Kerr:
"The three purposes of the University? To provide sex for the students, sports for the alumni, and parking for the faculty."
Apparently, Dalhousie has failed on one of these three margins.
For professor Dan Middlemiss, the thought of another year navigating the parking lots of Dalhousie University was simply too much to bear.

On Monday, after an hour of waiting in line for a parking pass on the Halifax campus, the expert on Canadian defence policy stormed up to university administrators and handed in his resignation.

“I went straight upstairs, I said, ‘I’m not kidding this time, I don’t have to put up with this. I’m resigning,’” he told a CBC camera crew after flagging it down.

Prof. Middlemiss had been one of hundreds of professors, students and staff lined up on the campus Monday afternoon in a bid to snatch up an annual parking permit from a dwindling supply.

Normally, it’s a calm and orderly affair, but this year, amid news that the university was trimming parking privileges, Dalhousie drivers staged a run on the university’s security office, which issues the $260 permits.

Dalhousie only has 2,000 parking spaces for roughly 20,000 students and staff. In past years, administrators have sold upwards of 3,300 parking permits, earning them the derisive nickname of “hunting passes.” According to Prof. Middlemiss, in order to teach a 2:30 p.m. class he needed to have his car in the lot before 7 a.m. Otherwise, he would be stuck circling the block for a metered space — or hiking in from a distant residential street.

“I’m getting old to the point where I’d like my beauty sleep,” he said.
Simply letting the market clear by prices rather than queuing would solve a lot of problems. Equilibrium prices could be high though:
Drivers can get around the musical chairs of Dalhousie parking by paying $1,200 to $1,400 for a reserved space in a parkade, but even then, each year administrators are forced to turn away more than two-thirds of the applicants.
If all the parking spots cleared in prices, there's no way prices would be as high as in the parkade.  I don't quite understand why they don't build another parking garage that would charge high daily prices.

We used to have problems finding parking at Canterbury; it doesn't look likely to re-emerge as a problem here anytime soon.

Fortunately, New Zealand universities have never been called on to provide sports for the alumni. Or, perhaps unfortunately; having a US-style alumni network which could be drawn upon for support in times of earthquake would be ridiculously helpful. University sports then could be serving as a very expensive insurance policy.

I have no clue to what extent we're successful in ensuring sex for the students; we kinda leave them to their own devices on that one and hope for the best.

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