Why Parking in Cities Should Be Way More Expensive

  • Share
  • Read Later
Bruce Leighty / Getty Images

Here’s an idea that’ll probably be about as popular with drivers as 20 blocks of gridlock traffic.

For obvious reasons, city drivers love parking that’s free or cheap. The problem is that too many drivers love it too much. The price difference between on-the-street parking and putting a car in the downtown garage is so big — perhaps a couple of bucks per hour vs. $10 or $15 per hour — that hunting for one of the precious few available spots can seem like a (somewhat) sensible use of time. Or at least not a total waste of time.

Some would argue that the situation described above is, however, an enormous waste of resources. In a new op-ed in the Boston Globe, Edward L. Glaeser, an economist at Harvard, writes that on-street parking in popular, traffic-clogged U.S. cities should be much more expensive — perhaps even pricier than the rates charged in private parking garages. What about the idea that streets are communal, publicly funded spaces that should be readily available to the public at little to no cost? Glaeser’s not buying it:

Just because something is publicly provided doesn’t mean that it should be free, or only $1.25 per hour. If a commodity is as scarce as land in Boston, we need a fair way of allocating it.

(MORE: 10 Things That Cost Way More Outside the U.S.)

To Glaeser, a better and fairer use of on-street-parking spaces would be to price them at or near the fees charged in off-street lots and garages:

Drivers like me shouldn’t be bribed with more taxpayer-funded highways or underpriced on-street parking; we should be charged for the congestion we impose and the pollution we create. If drivers are unwilling to cover the cost of what the city gives up by maintaining valuable space as on-street parking, then the space should be used for something else.

Boston magazine published a story last fall that similarly makes the case that on-street-parking rates should be jacked up dramatically, at least during peak times on the most popular streets. Craziest of all, according to critics of free or cheap parking, is that residents with permits park in tens of thousands of spaces without paying a dime:

“You have some of the most valuable land on earth, and you’re giving it away for free to cars,” says Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA, and the author of The High Cost of Free Parking. “It’s preposterous.”

(MORE: Hybrid-Car Competition Heats Up: Does the Toyota Prius Finally Have a Worthy Challenger?)

The let’s-hike-parking-meter-prices discussion is hardly limited to Boston. It’s being played out in San Francisco, where meter prices soared to upwards of $4.50 per hour last year and may hit $6 per hour in the near future. As the New York Times reported, the goal is to price parking so high that there would always be at least one spot open on every block. Rather than having set prices, rates shift according to supply and demand, increasing during peak-demand periods and plummeting during the lulls on quiet, out-of-the-way streets. The Times also quoted Shoup, who has become the godfather of the pricier-city-parking movement:

“I think the basic idea is that we will see a lot of benefits if we get the price of curbside parking right, which is the lowest price a city can charge and still have one or two vacant spaces available on every block.”

It’s not just meters that should get a price hike. Many argue that tax-paying residents should be paying far more for monthly parking permits, which allow them to leave cars sitting unused for days, if not weeks. A San Francisco Bay Guardian editorial from last summer targeted neighborhood parking fees as much “too low”:

The neighborhood parking permits in effect give a piece of the city’s streets — public property — to some residents for $8.60 a month, or about 28 cents a day. At a time when Muni can’t afford to keep its buses rolling, that’s ridiculous.

(MORE: Off the Road: 8 Reasons Why We’re Driving Less)

Meanwhile, the U.S. title for Priciest Downtown Parking Meters doesn’t belong to Boston, San Francisco or even New York City. As of the new year, Chicago has the nation’s most expensive meters, charging $6.50 per hour.

While few drivers welcome higher parking prices, what would you think if higher fees were combined with the possibility that parking tickets would disappear entirely? That’s what Anam Ardeshiri, a doctoral candidate in transportation and urban-infrastructure studies at Morgan State University, says should happen if the system were fair. The Atlantic Cities blog summed up the concept this way:

Cities could still recoup the same revenue, Ardeshiri has calculated, if they charged parked cars — at a much higher rate than they currently are — for their precise usage rather than by prebilling drivers and sticking it to those who stay too long.

From the driver’s perspective, Ardeshiri’s offer is this: Wouldn’t you be willing to pay more per hour to park if it meant you’d never get a ticket?

8 comments
phecda2709
phecda2709

Glaeser is a liar and a fool--or more properly, he thinks WE are.  Bounce this joker to the curb; he has nothing useful to say.  He actually advocates that the taxes we pay for make street parking possible, is no argument against charging his whopping parking fees.  What a twit.  Who listens to this guy--anyone?!  Hope not.

Parking fees applied to public accommodations are just another tax.  Read our lips--no new taxes.  Next.

Siwel
Siwel

The Week (20aug2010) reported that in 2008 the City of Chicago sold its future parking revenues to investment bank Morgan Stanley for $1.15 billion dollars. Downtown meter fees were increased from $3 to $4.25 per hour. Two plus years later these rates appear to have increased by 50 percent. Is this better regulating public land or transferring the corresponding revenue to the private sector?

LukeSiragusa
LukeSiragusa like.author.displayName 1 Like

It speaks to how desensitized we've become to the prerogatives of automobility that we completely disregard fundamental laws of economics when considering solutions to traffic congestion. Newsflash: raising the price–in this case of a public commodity, road space–destroys demand.


JohnDavidDeatherage
JohnDavidDeatherage

Isn't this Economics 101?  Allocation of scarce resources (parking spots) among unlimited wants (drivers wanting to park)?  Allowing the Price to park to change is the best mechanism matching supply and demand.  Keeping prices artificially low is just another example the government (in this case, local) picking winners and losers.

The ideal solution is smart meters that can change prices based upon supply and demand in real time.

parkingenthusiast
parkingenthusiast

@JohnDavidDeatherage By combining smart meters and sensor technology, cities can see, in real-time, the supply and demand of parking spaces.  Historical data can help in creating algorithms for the dynamic pricing, and then sensors feed information for real-time adjustments.  Streetline, Inc. is one company partnering with cities nationwide and worldwide to make this possible.  www.streetline.com 


JonathanMichaelOda
JonathanMichaelOda

although these arguments are quite good, the rising costs of parking in San Francisco actually has me looking even harder for a free spot, or at the very least a lower cost spot. This usually means parking slightly farther away from my destination but I don't mind walking if it means saving money (which for most californians is a greater need than the debate over parking costs/tickets). 

In places like San Francisco  the biggest problem I see is that many of the parking structures around the most popular tourist destinations around the city are so old and outdated that  they simply dont make full use of the land they occupy. I think if parking structures in big cities were more efficient, and had a higher capacity the situation wouldnt be as bad. The down side to this is that many of the building are so old that they either rot and dont get used, or get used but are very inefficient. There are parking garages near O'Farrell in San Francisco that have huge spirals and crazy designs that take up tons of space, if it was demolished and rebuilt as a more modern garage it could house so many more cars.


Just my 2 cents, and the only experience i have with city planning is Sim City lol

LukeSiragusa
LukeSiragusa

@JonathanMichaelOda 

Simply, the greatest deterrent to building parking structures is that they're not as economical as other land uses, eg., condos. That's why developers aren't lining up to build them. If you want to suck the life out of the locality build parking structures there. A neighbourhood of concrete towers full of machines, i.e., autos, is about as vibrant as piece of styrofoam.