Price rises hurt captive student audience

Yalies are about to get a whole lot dirtier. This year, for the second time in three years, the price of laundry went up by $0.25. Members of the class of 2005, who were once paying $0.75 per load of laundry, are now, along with the rest of the student body, shelling out $1.25 for the same service.

Although these prices remain below the cost of doing laundry at a local laundromat, the way the price increase came about worries us. Associated Student Agencies, to which Yale contracts out its laundry services, said it did not hesitate to increase prices when MacGray, which provides the laundry machines, requested it. Associated Student Agencies, like other businesses around campus, is taking advantage of students’ undivided attention and limited choice to burn them with prices that are higher than necessary.

Don’t let it be said that ASA never did anything for us — in fact, ASA is so thoughtful that it decided to increase the price of each load by a full quarter, instead of less, since apparently the idea of having to use smaller change is too vexing for the average Yale student. We’re not sure what good it does to have the price be a multiple of $0.25, since you can only put bills — and not quarters — into the machine in the first place. It’s sad that those at Associated Student Agencies — a for-profit venture for those of you who didn’t know that there are other students making money on your dirty clothes — are so much more concerned with profits than with serving their fellow students.

Other examples of on-campus monopolies abound, the most prominent one being the Yale Bookstore, run by mega-chain Barnes and Noble. As the News reported this week, a futon pad that costs $39.99 at Bed, Bath and Beyond goes for $134.98 at our very own campus bookstore. And the bookstore’s new business plan of becoming a store for one-stop-shopping for students is troubling; do we want our one-stop shopping venue to be one that considers it acceptable to charge drastically higher prices than that of other drugstores, supermarkets, or office supply stores only a few minutes’ walk away? Yale can do better for its students, and perhaps it should more thoroughly consider, or at least proactively monitor, the businesses practices of those companies it awards contracts.

Of course, as students we do have choices in where we shop, and, by not exercising them, we give places like the Yale Bookstore permission to monopolize our wallets. Too many of us simultaneously complain about price-gauging and then don’t even think twice about bursar-billing electronics or flip flops at the bookstore. Our willingness to bursar items we’d never consider buying out-of-pocket only encourages sky-high prices at venues like the bookstore or Durfee’s. A $0.25 increase in the cost of washing a load of laundry prompts much more outcry than the bookstore’s always astronomical prices. When money comes out of students’ own pockets, we all suddenly notice that we’re at the whim of the on-campus monopolies.

Students should become more discriminating consumers. Although for some things — like laundry — students have few convenient alternatives, for buying toothpaste, pens, or futons, the less students support the bookstore, the better our prices will get. The businesses that know they have a captive market in the student body are acting irresponsibly, but students are doing nothing to discourage it.

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