U of M students offer solutions to East Lansing parking problems

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Graduate Students and Ford Case Competition Winners from Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.

Graduate students and Ford Case Competition winners from Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.

By Megan McDonnell
Entirely East Lansing

Five University of Michigan graduate students came to Spartan territory and proposed a solution to fix East Lansing’s parking problem.

Winners of the Ford Case Competition, the students presented a plan in front of East Lansing’s City Council on Feb. 17 with the goal to make the downtown area more parking accessible. The main barriers to make this happen are pricing, parking codes, public perception and an inefficient system, said Catherine Derbes, first-year master’s degree student at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan.

“At the moment, we believe that pricing doesn’t maximize revenue, nor does it create an optimal distribution of available spaces,” said Khushmanjit Singh.

The public policy students said that an efficient system would charge more for the desirable parking spaces.

Maureen Higgins said, “We would charge more for the most desirable spaces to ensure there are always spaces available to customers who may want them.

“By increasing prices on surface lots (and street meters) by about 20 percent, the city could increase availability and overall revenue.”

However, the students are unsure if the residents of East Lansing would be in favor of the price increase.

“The rising parking prices could initially be unpopular,” said Das. “We recommend that the city get ahead of these concerns and target communication strategies and emphasize the proposed price increase is small, garage prices are completely unchanged and that the residents can always use East Lansing’s award-winning transportation system.”

Mayor Nathan Triplett and other members of the council were concerned when discussing increasing prices for East Lansing residents.

“I believe that raising the prices to create more parking is going to be a hard pill to swallow for the citizens of East Lansing,” said Councilmember Susan W. Woods.

But by not increasing the cost of spots within parking garages, it encourages more people to not park in surface lots and at street meters.

“They really market the ramps in a way that they haven’t been marketed before,” said Mayor Pro Tem Diane Goddeeris. “…If we had a fair discount rate to just get people into the ramps to see there’s parking there, I think that’s great.”

As an alternative to increasing prices the students said a parking lease system could help. This would let new developments take advantage of existing parking spaces by renting out other companies’ spaces.

“It’s something we’ve already done a little bit of work on in East Lansing,” said Mayor Nathan Triplett. “We lease a number of parking spaces to graduate students at the university, and I think there’s been some success there.”

Incorporating technology into the problem by creating real-time displays showing the number of spots available in a particular lot, as well as nearby lots, would cut down on time searching for open lots. Another way would be creating a parking locating phone app, which would show East Lansing residents parking spots open in garages and street meters.

Woods said that idea wouldn’t be practical for everyone.

“I like the idea of having the apps and letting people know,” said Woods. “But there’s also an elderly group of people here who do not have smartphones. So that causes a problem, and then we have a prejudice.”

Although the costs aren’t directly going up for parking from the technology, it would be costing a lot of taxpayers’ dollars.

“I think some of the technological improvements that they’re talking about clearly have an expense associated with them that we haven’t budgeted for,” said Triplett. “And then there’s always difficulty whenever you’re talking about raising fees for anything.
“Everyone’s strapped for cash these days. It’s been a very difficult economy for a number of years, and so I think the council is very sensitive to any proposal to raise fees. But I also think this is an issue where further investigation is necessary.”

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