Fixing Ohio State’s absurd gameday parking fees

| September 9, 2015 | 0 Comments

Ohio State University football fans are being asked to donate thousands of dollars if they want to be granted the privilege of buying a parking pass. The donation, ranging from $3,000 to $5,000, is in addition to the $375 parking fee, reports the Dayton Daily News. The donation requirement has actually been on the books for ten or more years, but recent parking account audits discovered that around 20 percent of permit holders have not been making donations.

Tailgaters at Ohio State

We hope these tailgaters packed $5,000 with their pretzels. Image from John Beagle.

OSU has a lot to gain: $23 million, to be exact, if each permit-holder donates. (There are 2,952 permit spots in the garage and lots near or adjacent to the stadium which require a $5,000 contribution; there are an additional 2,735 spots located further away.) Permit holders are required to contribute to the school’s President’s Club by December 31, 2015, or the school’s Buckeye Club by February 1, 2016. Those who hold spots in the lot beside the stadium but who do not fulfill the $5,000 donation requirement will be moved to a lot farther away from the stadium and will only receive a parking spot after donors have been assigned spots.

The donation requirement is common enough among Big 10 schools, reports the newspaper, but OSU’s is particularly steep:

At the University of Illinois, a $100 donation gets fans a free parking pass while those who give $6,000 or more get an assigned spot and other perks. Northwestern University fans pay $210 for season parking passes, which are allocated based in part on the current year donation levels. Michigan State University charges $140 for a pass and required donation levels start at $250.

But how effective is the practice? As renowned parking expert Donald Shoup wrote in The Politics and Economics of Parking on Campus, universities have long attempted “every possible way” to address campus parking shortages. Shoup’s suggestion: use the “Goldilocks Principle” of parking prices to balance demand and supply: the price is too high if there are many vacant spots, and too low if there are no vacant spots. (The balance, and the price, is right when a few vacant spots are available everywhere and drivers can find a spot to park.)

Campus parking problems arise not from a lack of parking but from “mispricing” parking, argues Shoup. The solution? Dynamic pricing, with prices that can be changed “to balance demand and supply at each location and time.”. The problems of typical campus parking — not just gameday parking, as is the current issue at OSU — like parking shortages, for example, aren’t necessarily the same as what OSU is now facing. But some of Shoup’s insights might be extrapolated to better understand why the donation requirement is bad strategy.

Campuswide, demand-based parking may provide a solution, replacing the yearly fee and reducing the hefty donations. Prices for parking could be raised or lowered according to the high or low attendance at sporting events at OSU. As Shoup writes, “…If a parking shortage or surplus regularly occurs at any time in any location, the price can be raised or reduced,” and implementing dynamic pricing campuswide could reduce the need for the titanic $5,000 donation. Parking lot operators as well as certain cities — San Francisco, Seattle, and L.A. among them — already operate under such a system. “Prices will be lower in less convenient  locations and at off-peak hours,” writes Shoup.

Ohio State’s administration could take this a step further and implement scaled down donations for every space. Yearly fees could also be scaled according to proximity to the stadium (and the popularity of particular games) — that way, a Michigan matchup could mean a windfall for the campus, since even faraway parking spots would be at a premium, not just the spots occupied by a relatively small number of tailgater alums.

Learn more about Shoup’s work here.

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Category: Miscellaneous, Transportation

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