Mis-structuring employee parking charges: An example from a local university

Parking in a structure is the quintessential private good. It is excludable (no pay, no park), and it is rivalrous (if I park in a space, you cannot). Someone at Metropolitan State University does not understand this, and is instead trying to get all employees and students to pay for a parking structure at the St. Paul campus, whether they use it or not (transforming this into a club good). The attached images show the memo of the proposed policy.

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See particularly Section 6:

“Parking fees for all employees, irrespective of their office location, (resident and community faculty, staff, and administrators) are mandatory …

The estimated annual parking fee for full-time staff and faculty is $400 per year … The anticipated rate for students will be $10.50 per credit. … “

So if you take the bus to the Midway campus (nowhere near the main St. Paul campus), you still subsidize parking in St. Paul. If you pay for parking in downtown Minneapolis and walk to the Minneapolis campus via the Skyways, you will subsidize a parking ramp in St. Paul. If you take an online course (distance learning), you still subsidize parking in St. Paul.

Leaving aside the urban design aspects for now (see below) and the creation of a fortress campus, this is so misguided from an economics perspective I don’t know where to begin.

(1) Why is Metropolitan State University in the parking business? Is this a core part of their mission? Shouldn’t they contract with someone to build and operate the ramp and charge parkers (students and staff) market rates? If they need to subsidize staff to work where it is more expensive (or lose people), they can pay them more. (I realize other universities have parking as well, but they charge users directly, and don’t charge non-users, since parking is profitable.) If they lose students from their St. Paul campus, that might indicate they have a bad location.

(2) Why don’t they charge people who want to buy parking contracts directly, or charge people who use it on an ad hoc basis directly, instead of charging everyone? The incentives they are creating will encourage more people to drive to campus rather than fewer.

(3) Why doesn’t Metro State have a subsidized transit program (like U-Pass) for their staff and students?

(4) Why doesn’t Metro State work with Metro Transit to coordinate service with class schedules. The longer-term plan seems to be providing BRT or LRT on the Gateway Corridor, with a stop at Mounds Boulevard (on either 3rd or 7th depending on which alternative is picked), easily accessed from campus.

(5) If the neighborhood is concerned about student (or staff) parking on public streets, why don’t they start putting meters on the street (maybe exempting residents who pay for a seasonal pass), and make some money for the neighborhood. Parking benefit districts are a logical and positive response to parking spillover.


View Larger Map

Now to the urban design aspects. Metropolitan State almost has a quad (with a driveway in the middle, but that is easily remedied). It actually has nice architecture on the St. Paul campus. Why muck that up with a parking ramp? You could see from their existing surface lot how the campus might naturally extend across Maria Avenue, and later across Bates Avenue. If you must build something, do it underground rather than wasting precious above ground space that could be used for better purposes. Stored cars need no natural light.

Yes, parkers should pay for parking. No, non-parkers should not pay for parking. No, parking costs are not the same everywhere, nor should the prices be. No, St. Paul does not require more parking ramps.

Disclosure: I have a family member who is an employee of Metropolitan State University. These views are my own.


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6 Responses to Mis-structuring employee parking charges: An example from a local university

  1. Andrew Owen
    Andrew Owen April 8, 2013 at 7:59 am #

    “Stored cars need no natural light.”

    Nor, apparently, do Civil Engineering students, so if they want to start up a CE program they could go either way with the parking.

    • Jessica Schoner April 9, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

      Metro State might be more willing to charge all students, faculty, and staff to build an above-ground Civil Engineering building.

  2. Julie Kosbab April 8, 2013 at 10:18 am #

    Without going into the parking charges, which are ridiculous to be levied across all breathing humans versus charging those with market demand for the space, there are several reasons metering parking in that neighborhood would be awkward.

    East 7th has some street parking. It is also a commercial strip. Most of the shops have street-side parking and small lots of their own, of the 6-8 spot varieties. There is a nearby restaurant of some repute, the Strip Club. It is dependent on street parking.

    The rest of the surrounding area is residential, a mix of classic Victorians in various states of restoration, from “wow, gorgeous” to “is that a restoration or a crack house” and older homes in various states of repair. As someone who traveled through that neighborhood regularly when I lived on the Bluff, it’s very much a neighborhood that is a mix of the sort of people who restore Victorian homes, and the sort of people who paint the entire back of their pickup with a woman with physically impossible secondary sexual characteristics wearing nothing but a slightly tattered Mexican flag. (Seriously, guy parks along 3rd. The graphic is, uh, memorable?)

    Metro State has a pretty decent surface lot. During core class hours, it tends to be full, given that Metro State is a working adult/commuter school at heart (and good on it). They recent put up an okay looking perimeter fence, probably to appease the people who are freaked out OMG EAST SIDE WE GONNA DIE.

    Building something with more capacity isn’t completely out of the pale of sense. They’ve outgrown available parking, either in the existing campus area, or in the surrounding area.

    However, building something with more capacity and charging all students, regardless of campus, for the privilege, and without looking at ways and means of encouraging alternate access to campus (bus, bike, etc.) is completely insane.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini April 8, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      The surface they currently have, they currently charge $2.50 per day. http://www.metrostate.edu/msweb/resources/depts_services/bldg_services/location.html

      This is better than giving it away for free, however this is clearly below market rates (assume someone spends 8 hours a day for class, this is $0.31 per hour – quite cheap. The problem is not necessarily that the demand for parking has exceeded supply, it’s that demand for parking has exceeded supply AT THAT PRICE. What’s interesting is that they propose to go the opposite direction – adding supply while lowering price, at the expense of employee pay and student tuition. All in a time when VMT is decreasing, the public sector is making investments in non-auto infrastructure (CC LRT, proposed aBRT, etc), and gas is becoming ever more expensive.

      My recommendation would be to keep the lot as is, increase parking charge until the lot sits 5% empty. This increase in capital can be put in to a ‘parking endowment’ (ha) that can be used to help fund future parking expansions (if truly needed) – ones that allow for dual land use (aka underground) – allowing parking capacity and campus expansion at the same time.

  3. Matt B April 8, 2013 at 10:35 am #

    Online-only, satellite-campus, and non-driving students should organize and protest this ridiculousness. But who will organize them? Will they even care?

    With Central Corridor (2014), interlined 7th St aBRT (2016-7), and Gateway (2020?) on the near horizon, you think maybe they would reduce their parking needs a bit. The St. Paul Planning Commission would have to sign off on this ramp, no? The Planning Commission and City Council probably cannot dictate whether the ramp charges its users, but they certainly can regulate the size of it (and design, to a much lesser extent).

    Is Metro State’s expansion receiving any funding from the City of St. Paul, either in the form of infrastructure improvements or otherwise?

    I hope that the St. Paul contingent of Streets.MN writers and readers will contact their City Councilors and Mayor to at least make some noise about this issue.

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke April 9, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

    As someone who bikes to Metro State to teach there, I wholeheartedly agree. There’s only one small bike rack that I know of, and not a very good one either.

    It’s too bad they inherited a bunch of bad urban design from the previous hospital campus design.