I have been naive about the proposal to privatize parking at OSU. Until today I was thinking, “OK, well that probably sucks for all sorts of reasons, but at least it will raise parking rates and that could make people less inclined to drive to campus.” Indeed, parking fees under the plan would be raised at least 7.5% each year for the next 10 years—which is good for people like me who would prefer that the cost of driving is high enough to discourage it. But then I talked to an OSU employee who told me a choice tidbit from the contract currently being developed. And yes, it is worse than you possibly could have imagined for efforts to promote active transportation on campus.
The crux of it is this: Under the new contract, any action the university takes that could reduce the demand for parking spaces would constitute a “compensation event” that requires them to compensate the parking company for their lost revenue.
[Let that sink in for a minute...]
OK, so say, for example, that OSU wants to add another CABS bus route. In addition to the cost of providing that service, the university would have to compensate the parking company relative to how much loss they anticipate from people taking the bus instead of driving to campus. The actual formula will not be revealed, of course, but it will be based on current parking demand. Which means that, for the next 50 years (!), OSU could take no action to reduce parking demand below what it is today, unless they chose to take money from their general fund to pay for mode shift initiatives that cost above the market rate. Likely? Uh, no. And what all would constitute a “compensation event”? No idea. Word is the companies are trying hard to even restrict carpooling options, so it’s hard to say how far this will go.
There are other issues with parking privatization as well, like the fact that everyone hates it, that the process seems to have been conducted in secrecy during times when few people are on campus and that it would decimate OSU’s Transportation & Parking Services department (which is responsible for accommodating all transportation modes on campus). But this train may have already left the station. OSU’s Board of Trustees has approved it and a bidding process among four companies is currently underway, with a contract to be signed this August.
To be clear—parking privatization with a compensation event clause will utterly derail efforts to promote active, sustainable transportation at The Ohio State University. Tell OSU President Gordon Gee, Chief Financial Officer Geoff Chatas and Provost Joseph Alutto how you feel about it! It’s time we got hip to this plan, realized its implications and started causing a big fat ruckus over it—especially since it there are reports that OSU staff members may fear retaliation from doing so themselves.