Wednesday, October 7th, 2015

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Car-free, Carefree

Young drivers know that the costs of driving can roll in from all directions, and they add up fast. Driving – and particularly parking – on urban campuses across the U.S. has become less of a luxury and more of an aggravation.

T.J. Flippin, a fourth-year student at the University of Chicago, finds his black SUV is parked more often than it gets driven.

"I actually don’t drive to campus anymore unless I absolutely have to," says Flippin. "It’s simply too much of a hassle to have a car in an urban setting like this. Now I leave it parked for long periods of time and simply bought a bike to get around."

Parking Problems

Colleges in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Houston, Boston, and New York may have varied urban landscapes, but they share one thing in common: parking horror stories. Campus parking is in chronically short supply. Flippin asserts, "The absolute worst part about having a car on campus is the fact that you can’t park it anywhere. The amount of time it takes to find a legitimate parking space usually ends up being larger than riding a bike or walking."

The problem may be worsening, but it certainly isn’t new: California State University, Fullerton recently held a "Parking Nightmare" story contest, garnering responses from alumni who attended in the 1960s.

Even when campus parking is available, it comes with a price. Most colleges charge students ever-rising fees for parking permits, and demand frequently exceeds supply. At UCLA, student parking is assigned through a need-based point system. According to Renée A. Fortier, director of transportation services at UCLA, they have no problem filling all available spots: despite an annual cost of $630, they received approximately 8,600 student parking applications for about 3,600 permits this year.

If you can find and afford parking, the costs don’t stop there. The American Automobile Association (AAA) reports that the average cost of driving a new passenger car in 2004 is 56.2 cents per mile or $8,431 per year, including the cost of depreciation, insurance, fuel, and routine maintenance. "That’s more than my tuition!" exclaims UCLA senior and car owner John Cooper.

As if standard car maintenance costs weren’t enough, Flippin points out, "My friend just graduated after four years with literally $10,000 worth of parking tickets. Add to this the frustration, the wear and tear on your vehicle from the climate, and constant bumping damage, the deflating of tires due to weather, and you realize that having a car is absolutely not worth it!"

Transportation Options

The benefits of alternative transportation are more appealing than enduring the high costs of car ownership are high. Before treating a car as a must-have essential, picture coasting up to class on a slick new bike or strolling in on comfy walking shoes, giving a cheery wave to frustrated classmates circling the campus parking lot for the ninth time.

Students who once saw a car as a necessity find real satisfaction in cycling or walking instead, especially since getting around by bike or on foot means you needn’t squeeze in daily treadmill time at the gym. Also, urban settings abound in affordable networks of public transportation like bus and subway systems.

Boston University is lucky to have a branch of Boston’s excellent subway system running right through campus. Webster J. Lancaster, Director of the Office of Parking Services, encourages all members of the community "to explore alternative methods of commuting to and from campus. By using public transportation, carpooling, vanpooling, bicycling, or walking, you can reduce commuting costs and have a positive impact on the environment."

He proudly reports that BU’s students are getting the message: more than 5,000 Boston University students purchasing semester subway and bus passes, while less than 2% of the nearly 11,000 on-campus residents bring a vehicle.

Flippin is glad to leave the SUV behind and make his way through Chicago by bike, finding life on two wheels "consistently saves me money and time." Courtney Sustek of Sam Houston State University outside Houston started simply walking to class her senior year. "It turned out that I took less time to walk then it took to drive, find a spot and get to class," says Sustek.

How would she motivate fellow classmates to get out of their cars? "I encourage students to get the exercise and burn off some of the beer!"

Copyright © 2005. YOUNG MONEY®

Comparing Transportation Costs


Transportation Mode


How Far the Energy in a Slice of Pepperoni Pizza Will Get You


10 cents/mile

10 miles



3.5 miles

Driving alone

56.2 cents/mile

100 feet

(Sources: League of American Bicyclists; AAA "Your Driving Costs," 2004)

2004 Parking Fees for Selected Urban Colleges


College and City

Parking Permit Fees

University of Chicago, Chicago

$270-$540 for 9 months

UCLA, Los Angeles

$630 for 3 quarters

Boston University, Boston

$935.94 for 2 semesters

University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia

$1,092 for academic year

NYU, New York

No university parking facilities are offered. Overnight parking costs $20-28/day, which could run over $7,000 per academic year.

© 2008, Young Money Media, LLC. All rights reserved.

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