UCLA strongly supports social and economic equality, but its parking system makes the Titanic look like a one-class ship. There are 48 different types of parking permits, ranked according to the status of faculty, staff and students. To explain this byzantine parking hierarchy called “parking privileges,” UCLA published an 84-page guide.
Despite the UCLA Transportation’s best efforts to put drivers in their proper places, it’s difficult to make sure that all the 22,700 parking spaces on campus are well used. The top decks of parking structures pose a special problem. No one, it seems, wants to park on the roof. Cars bake in the sun on hot days, drivers get wet on rainy days and it’s a long drive up and down every day. Spaces on the top decks are the least wanted and the last occupied.
Thus, UCLA Transportation should offer discounts for drivers who are willing to park on the roof. These drivers won’t hunt through the parking structure hoping to find an open space, but will instead head straight to the top to save money.
There’s certainly enough room. To test whether the top decks on campus are well used, I took photographs of the top deck of Parking Structure 3 North during Fall 2016 and Winter 2017, and never saw more than four of the 115 spaces occupied. I did once see a skateboarder who said the top deck was his favorite site on campus because it slopes and there are never any cars.
I also used Google Earth to examine historical photos of the campus. Since 2003, 24 photos have been taken that show the top deck of Parking Structure 3. Most photos showed no cars on the top deck. The peak occupancy was 13 cars on March 15, 2006. The lack of oil spots on the top deck also suggests that cars rarely park there. Although there is a long waiting list for students who want a campus parking permit, the chief function of this top deck has been to provide shade for cars parked on the level below.
After considering the photographic evidence, the UCLA Transportation sold 160 new permits in Parking Structure 3 to students on the waiting list. Even after selling the new permits, an occupancy count at the busiest hour of the busiest day of the week in February found 135 vacant spaces in Parking Structure 3.
I’ve given a full analysis of on-campus parking at UCLA in this research paper.
Top deck discounts give drivers who are short of money a new option, and the spaces they vacate on the lower decks become available for other drivers. The goal of top deck discounts is not to sell more permits. Instead, the goal is to manage the parking system better by using prices to balance the supply and demand for spaces. Parking on campus will become less like a scavenger hunt.
And UCLA can afford to charge less for the top deck spaces. At the current price of $237 a quarter for a Commuter Student Permit, the 160 new permits now being sold in Parking Structure 3 generate $12,640 a month. If UCLA reduces the price for the 115 spaces on the top deck by $10 a month, the discount will cost UCLA $1,150 a month, which is much less than what the previously empty spaces now earn.
Saving $10 a month for parking on the top deck may not seem important, but a student or staff member who is barely scraping by may leap at the opportunity. And top deck discounts can ensure that the least convenient parking spaces are occupied, not wasted.
UCLA reserves the best parking spaces for top administrators and faculty. Surely it can charge less for students who park on the roof.
Shoup is a distinguished research professor in the UCLA Department of Urban Planning.