Lack of parking spots punishes commuters

Photo of a full campus parking lot.
Leo Bernstein Newman / The Log

It is 9:49 a.m. and I have circled all the parking lots twice. My fingers grip my steering wheel as I lean forward to keep my eyes peeled for a spot. If you are a student who commutes by car, this is a familiar story. 

Every year as more and more students commit to Lewis & Clark, the empty spaces in the parking lots become fewer and far between. What is going on with parking? More specifically, why am I paying $187 when I can never find a spot to park in anyway? Parking permits are too expensive and unforgiving to students. 

As someone who is familiar with the inner workings of the Department of Transportation & Parking, there are two important points to note about parking permits that I  will discuss. The first is that the parking permits allegedly dissuade students from driving their cars to campus, thus creating an economic disincentive and allowing more spots to remain available. This is basic economics. However, in an institution like LC, which prides itself on its liberal environment and community-building, perhaps those in the Office of Business and Finance  ought to look at their main clientele (students) as more than just pieces of an economic puzzle. They should create a system that is forgiving and adaptable. 

The first drawback of permits is that – in economic terms – it has a major “market failure:” many students do not actually pay for this parking permit, and park illegally on campus, thus filling spaces for “paying students.” Students need to get to class, and they cannot always afford the $187 up-front cost of a permit. If they chose to pay by the day, they would pay a hefty sum of $315 per semester. 

There are a few recommendations I would make here. First, there should be a system to request an exemption. If a student is on scholarship or can show that they simply cannot afford the permit, they should get a free permit (or at least a significantly discounted one). However, if the finance office finds this unattainable, then why not allow students to put the permit costs into their tuition, or even pay the sum over the three months so as to lessen the load of an up-front cost? Students who work and go to school often find $187 a daunting sum to come out of their bank account in one fell swoop. 

This predicament is indicative of a more pervasive issue in Portland: Public transportation is a far cry from its full potential, even more so in Southwest. Your choices for commuting to LC are to carpool,take the bus or ride a bicycle. While these are feasible options for some students, they certainly are not for all. 

There are hardly enough bus routes to the school, and the buses only run about once an hour on some routes. My seven minute drive becomes a 45 minute commute that includes a 20 minute walk directly uphill. Disabled students and less active students may find it difficult or even impossible to bike up to Palatine Hill. Commuters coming from even farther might have a travel time of upwards of an hour. Maybe if there were actually choices that worked and encouraged students to find alternatives to driving, rather than punishing them for choosing the only practical option they have, we would find ourselves not needing to deal with this issue at all. 

The second important point is that parking permits allegedly pay for the Pioneer Express. According to some inside sources in the Department of Transportation & Parking, the Pio is very expensive to upkeep – though it is unclear exactly how much. If money from permits is going towards the Pio, it would make sense for the Pio to offer its services to commuters as well. If the Pio ran to neighborhoods heavily populated by students, like Sellwood, Lake Oswego and South Burlingame , it would encourage and allow for non-car commuting. 

However, it is not clear if the numbers add up on this endeavor, and I would be interested to hear what the Office of Business and Finance makes of it. Building a new parking lot might alleviate the growing pains of the college, but just like building a new expressway will not lead to less traffic, flattening natural areas of campus to create more space for parked cars will not make commuters disappear. 

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