Unlike most other visitors that day, I paid nothing to get in. In fact, I never pay a penny to enter any national park. When I turned 62, I purchased my senior pass for the princely sum of $10. That entitles me to drive into any national park free for the rest of my life. Furthermore, it secures me a campsite at a 50 percent discount over what non-seniors pay. This is a really good deal for me – too good.
I calculated that if I drive into national parks 20 times a year, and live to be 78 (the average life span of American males), I will have gotten roughly 320 visits for $10, i.e., less than 3 cents a visit. That is an indefensible subsidy for a relatively affluent group. I see no reason why a well-off elderly person like me should get into Arches for 3 cents while young families have to pay $10 or more (plus full price for camping).
My recommendation is this: let’s abolish senior passes and make us old folks pay the same as everyone else. In my case that would mean buying an annual pass for $80 and paying full price for a campsite – still little enough for the enjoyment of spending time in the parks. This one reform would generate hundreds of millions in extra revenue, which could be used to give a well-deserved raise to park personnel, build more trails, expand campgrounds, and reduce the general admission charge for younger people.
I hear you saying: ‘Why don’t you snip up your senior pass and let me keep mine?” Sorry: public policy doesn’t work that way. Individual sacrifices mean nothing in the larger scheme of things. We retirees all have to give up our senior passes if we are to achieve a fair park revenue scheme. Besides, our national budget deficits arise, in part, because no group is willing to give up its “perks” and subsidies.
If we, the elderly, voluntarily surrender one lucrative benefit, we might set an example for other groups to realize that they, too, can get along without their subsidies. Besides, it corrodes the social fabric of America when we see one group so unfairly favored and everyone else forced to take up the slack for them.