Why you can’t fix Monash’s parking mess with just more parking

Why you can’t fix Monash’s parking mess with just more parking

Monash University, more specifically the Clayton campus, has always had a complicated relationship with parking. Being situated in the suburbs, the absence of tram and rail links to transportation hubs requires nearly all students to either rely on driving themselves, or catch a bus to get to class.
Being the largest university in Australia, students travel from all across Victoria to get to class, and those who don’t live in the South-Eastern Suburbs (especially the Western suburbs) face two options: an onerous public transport trip, taking several hours and transiting through bus after train after bus, or a less onerous drive to campus. Most would prefer to get behind the wheel.
Given the popularity of the latter decision, this makes a parking spot a highly coveted prize. After forking out $405 for the ability to park on campus without a fine, students must then actually find a spot – a feat much easier said than done.
Monash openly acknowledges that more permits are sold than actual parking spaces. This makes sense, as not everyone goes to class every single day, and the amount of time a student spends on campus varies. A 1:1 ratio would be grossly inefficient, as huge swathes of parking spots would remain unfilled, especially considering how demand changes over time. At the beginning of the semester, most people make an effort to attend class, but as time passes and motivation drops, many people opt to forgo this option.
However, despite development works reducing parking space available to students, Monash doesn’t have appear to have reduced the number of permits it sells, with some accounts showing students are spending 40 minutes searching for a spot.
So clearly there’s an issue with students getting to class. The lack of viable public transport alternatives means too many students prefer driving to campus, but there just aren’t enough spots to accommodate everyone.
There’s a couple of supply side solutions to increase ease of parking here:

  • Monash could create more parking spots on campus. Keep in mind is that with this option, building more parking is expensive, and slow (and already being done!)
  • Monash could experiment with the classic supply and demand economics of permits, and look at either reducing the amount of permits it makes available, or increasing the price of parking. On the downside, neither option is likely to be well received.

Monash could also attempt to address the demand side factors here as well:

  • Developing better public transport links between Monash and transportation hubs as substitutes to driving. A train station is the most discussed option, but the creation of a brand new rail line is incredibly expensive. A shuttle bus currently operates right now between the campus and the nearest train station, but still doesn’t look like it’s enough.
  • Monash also offers a carpool option that helps reduce the amount of parking spaces needed. However, there’s one serious issue – a fee to obtain a carpool permit was introduced, and rarely do people’s timetables sync up well enough to justify purchasing a permit.

These are some of the economic solutions to solving the issue – but there have also been calls to make parking more accessible in general. The two main points brought up are to drastically increase the amount of parking, and to make parking free. Creating more parking is likely to be wasteful, due to how demand changes over a semester, and we also can’t ignore the cost of such a project, in addition to how long implementing it would take.
That brings us to a more interesting point – free parking. Over time, various transport engineers and economists have coined a concept called induced demand. In a nutshell, induced demand means that as supply increases, demand also increases. What this means for roads is that no matter how much you expand capacity by, demand will frequently rise to meet the increase in capacity. It’s not hard to envision the same happening at Monash. More parking means that more people want to drive to campus. Free parking means even more people want to drive, making the issue worse than what it was before.
So what’s the solution to fix parking? There’s honestly no good answer (if there even is an answer). Many common proposals are either infeasible or too expensive, or have some inevitable roadblock stopping them from becoming reality. At this stage, it’s probably something we’re all going to have to live with for a while – at least until teleportation machines are invented.


Image: Creativity103