Thursday, July 31, 2008

Coase Theorem at Work in a College Town

The Coase Theorem states that a free economy will find private solutions to difficult economic conflicts. This article appeared a few years ago but what it describes is happening right now in New Haven, Connecticut where I live. The activity is an example of a creative solution to a complicated problem - without government interventions. The article describes a variation on car-rentals; charges by the hour especially in big cities or near airports and business centers.

What is happening in New Haven, the city where Yale University is, involves the growing problem of traffic congestion and scarce parking places. The university had banned student cars from university lots, especially after new construction took up several parking lots. Students and their parents of course complain. And city businesses miss out because the carless students do not buy big items because they cannot carry them to their dorms. However, the city was not interested in subsidizing student parking even though the university is a big part of the economy. The city also has a shortage of parking spaces and students would be leaving cars unused for long periods of time in parking spaces needed for consumers of city businesses.

A few enterprising students formed a business “Pick-Ride-Drop” nicknamed PaRDEE. The idea is that the business makes a few cars available to students to rent for an hour or more to shop or get to the train station. They are charged by the hour and an extra fee if they do not bring the car back to the same lot where they picked it up. There are drop off places at ten spots around the city, including the train station, the grocery stores and shopping district, the medical center, and several business centers. The students call ahead to reserve a car at a pickup place and then drop it off with the keys in a special pouch for the next driver. The business began with 10 cars and now there is a group of 39. The market has opened to employees of the university and several allied businesses.

The Coases theory is evident in the following. The business would not have worked if the owners had to pay the exorbitant parking and the students would not have purchased the cars if the parking costs had been passed down so Yale designated a number of spots just for the cars in exchange for happier students and parents. The city also agreed to waive the street parking meters for those cars in exchange for more reasonable numbers of student cars. The students have to plan ahead but for very reasonable rates get to have car transportation when needed. The fees go to car repair and gas. As gas prices increased the rates have also climbed but are still acceptable.

The most recent development is the addition of a bicycle fleet operating on the same principle for those who are thinking green. In a recent local paper article one of the owners commented that the shared rides and cars is a practice that is more common in Europe but workable in the American city. The organization is planned as an excludable and rivable product, making a private business.

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