ECON 101: The Opportunity Cost of a Parking Permit

College is expensive. Skip the parking permit, save a little money, avoid the freshman 15, and have some fun — ride a bike.

Tuition, housing, food (/drinks), books – it goes on. Each one less palatable than the last. Then they hit you with the parking permit – a price usually so high it should warrant daily valet service. And it’s not like you even get any good parking spaces, unless you’re in the unlucky crop of kids with an 8am class you’re probably still walking (or running if you’re anything like me and always just a little late) quite a bit to your class.

Contrast that with biking to class: no permits, no gas, no searching for a spot, healthy living, and park it right next to your class.

For the cost of parking on campus for just one year you can get quite a good bike set up for class. And this doesn’t even consider the cost of the car, insurance, parking off campus, or the countless favors and errands you’ll be asked to do from all your mooching friends with neither a car nor a bike.

Here’s what you could get for your bike commute just by skipping the parking permit for 1 year at a few colleges across the country:

University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, NC

Permit Cost: $599 per year

Located in the idyllic Southern cycling town of Chapel Hill, UNC is ideal for a simple bike — the aptly named Bike Nashbar Campus Single-Speed ($179.99).

The steel frame and fork will almost definitely far out-last that long distance relationship you brought along from high school. And while we can’t offer anything to protect you from that inevitable heartbreak you will want a helmet ($44.00) to protect your head and a lock ($24.99) to protect your bike.



Total: $248.98 — Savings: $350.02

Then you’ve got $350 left over to put towards a down payment on a text book!

Temple University – Philadelphia, PA

Permit Cost: $800 for a two semester pass

If you’re going to school in Philadelphia, then you better get a bike. In the past decade Philadelphia has become one of the most bike friendly big cities in the US. If you want something affordable and stylish, take a look at the Nichibei Collection from Fuji Bikes (a Philadelphia company). With steel construction, classic styles, comfortable geometry, and reliable drivetrains the Nichibei Collection is great for riding around Philadlephia year round. Check out the Cambridge ($206.99)and Sagres ($199.99).

With all the leftover money you may want to consider upping your backpack game. Showers Pass ($214.99) makes some high-quality, professional bags that will take you from Philosophy 101 to your first job interview and beyond. The bags are perfect for any weather to keep you pricey laptop and even pricier books dry.

Finally you’ll want to get a helmet ($44.00) and a lock ($24.99). Some schools will actually give you a lock when you register your ride with the campus PD, so you may want to check that out before buying one.

Total: $490.97 — Savings: $309.03

University of Miami – Coral Gables, FL

Permit Cost: $1,062 for a two semester pass

South Beach is a place to show off. So if you’re planning on biking anywhere near there, then you may want to consider a bike from SE Bikes. Loud, brash, fun, and colorful, you’ll be sure to stand out (even in South Florida) on a Big Ripper ($599.99).

Looks good next to a palm tree doesn’t it?

As good for rides around campus as it is for wheelies in South Beach, the Big Ripper will not disappoint.

Beyond that a good lock ($24.99) and helmet ($44.00) and you should be all set.

Total: $668.98 — Savings: $393.02

George Washington University – Washington, D.C.

Permit Cost: $2,060 for a two semester pass

With a permit cost like that you’ve got plenty of options. Washington, D.C. is another great cycling city with plenty of dedicated and protected bike lanes and just outside the city offers tremendous trails you ride for many, many miles. A great option for both riding to class and longer weekend rides would be the Cavalo 105 Alloy Road Bike ($799.99).

For a complete review of why this is a great bike check out this review from Bicycling Magazine.

Beyond that, you’ll want to decide on your specific riding gear. If you’re riding for fitness

and commuting you may want some dual purpose pedals ($99.99). These clever pedals from Shimano allow you to ride with flat sole shoes when you’re just riding to class

and then slip into your cycling shoes ($75.00), shorts ($29.99), and jersey (27.99) designed for road cycling — when you want to ride out to Mt. Vernon.

Beyond that a helmet ($89.99)and lock ($24.99) and you should be all set.

Total: $1,147.94 — Savings: $912.06

Then you still have enough money left over to buy a 4-year’s supply of Ramen Noodles.

University of California Santa Cruz – Santa Cruz, CA

Permit Cost: $2,416 for 4 years

Okay… we’re cheating a little on this one. We’re basing our budget for this one on 4 years of buying a parking permit. Once you see the mountain biking trails there you’ll understand exactly why we wanted to plunge all our money into a bike there.

If you’re brand new to mountain biking there are plenty of great options. But if you’re headed to UC Santa Cruz and want to get into the very serious business of riding the trails on their campus, then we highly recommend skipping the parking permit (and maybe selling the car) to invest in some serious MTB gear. First the bike:

The Breezer Thunder 27.5+ Team ($1,549.99) mountain bike is a fantastic hard-tail mountain bike that will serve double duty on the trials and on the commute to class. This thing will tackle any trail you can find and then get you to class on time.

Next up is a helmet: The Giro Switchblade MIPS ($174.99) mountain helmet is great for downhill riding but with the removable chin guard it can be used on XC trails as well as to class.

Next get the shoes, pedals, and clothing (~$250) to properly complement your new rig.

Total: $1,974.98 — Savings: $441.02

Opting for a bike in college is the fiscally responsible decision, and we didn’t even get into the positive externalities of cycling or the negative externalities of driving a car… next time in Cyclonomics 201. Until then, let us know what you think. What are you riding to class? What bike do you recommend for a college student? What did you ride in college? Know of any college with more expensive parking than George Washington?



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