User Fees and Parking

I receive a newsletter from Arthur Frommer, a name you may recognize if you travel and buy travel guides. I usually skim and then delete his newsletters, but I saved one to use as a take-off point in an essay.

In a recent newsletter, Frommer complains (I actually want to say “whines”) because the application fee for a visa (not the credit card) was being increased to $150 per person and the fee for obtaining a passport was being increased to $135.

I found a slightly lower figure at www.state.gov, but that doesn’t mean the fee is not proposed to increase at some point. Whatever, it doesn’t invalidate what I’m about to comment on, and that is Frommer’s statement, to wit:

“So once again, instead of funding the cost of running the State Department from general tax revenues (which is the fair way to do it), we are charging a user's fee that is a burden not to our well-off citizens but to Americans of low income. $135 for a passport!”

Fair to whom?
What set me off is Frommer’s feeling that the State Department should not recover reasonable costs, such as the costs of processing visa and passport applications, that it should all be funded by taxpayers. Take his argument to its logical (it’s actually illogical!) conclusion and you have the taxpayers subsidizing all kinds of fees.

Think about all of the things individuals seek from government that have some processing time connected to them and, hence, a fee. A journalist wants a copy of a document s/he should pay a reasonable fee for the copy. Real estate agents wants a list of deed transfers; pay for it.

What lies at the bottom of Frommer’s thinking is what I call the free parking space mindset. No matter where I’ve lived, people have complained because they’ve had to pay to park.

Why can’t parking be free? they ask.

If parking were free, there would be no parking because the first ones to the space would sit there all day.

But parking is free at the mall, some argue.

Not really. When the mall is built and the owner calculates rents, he factors in every one of his costs, including what it cost him to build a parking lot, stripe it and maintain it.

There’s no such thing as a free parking space.

And, while I’m at it, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free travel guide.

So get over it, Mr. Frommer, and everyone else.


  1. I COMPLETELY agree. I think NO parking should be free, because, by making parking "free," we transfer part of the cost of operating an automobile to people who don't use autos (which, in today's energy climate, is bad public policy). See "The High Cost of Free Parking," by Donald Shoup.

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