Thinking it through
Thursday, 15 September 2016
Paid parking not really bad idea
Most people don't like to pay for parking. Do you?
Nobody likes filling a meter, or paying an hourly rate to park in a garage. And yet people pay for parking all the time.
- Sometimes I drive to the bank because I don’t have time to walk, and pay a meter so I can quickly run in and out.
- Sometimes I find myself in an unfamiliar city, and park in a lot because it’s easier and closer to my destination.
- Sometimes I just don’t have the patience to drive around looking for free parking.
The reason is simple
Visit enough cities, and you’ll see that paid parking is often a fact of life. The reason is simple: Parking is at a premium, people are willing to pay for it and putting a price on it can help achieve larger goals, such as reducing congestion and encouraging turnover, i.e. the number of different cars that use a given space during an average day. Turnover is good for businesses, because it means more customers are able to access a limited supply of parking spaces.
I might hate paid parking, but that doesn’t mean I think it’s a bad idea. There are places where I think it makes sense. A jeweler, Harvey Fox, who chaired a task force to find solutions to a city’s parking problem, called parking “a valuable economic commodity that needs to be managed to get the most value out of it.”
He’s right. There’s no such thing as free parking, as urban planners and economists love to point out. Donald Shoup, a professor of urban planning at UCLA who wrote the book “The High Cost of Free Parking,” explained why parking is not free.
If the motorist doesn’t pay, it doesn’t mean the cost goes away
- We pay for free parking in the prices of the goods we buy at places where the parking is free.
- And we pay for parking as residents when we get free parking with our housing.
- We pay for it as taxpayers.
- Increasingly, I think we’re paying for it in terms of the environmental harm that it causes.
- It amounts to, among other things, a huge subsidy for motorists, who get to store their vehicles on public land at no charge.
- It’s also an absurdly inefficient way to allocate a scarce resource.
In healthy, vibrant cities, charging for parking makes sense.
People might grumble about paying for parking, but they’re probably not going to cancel their trip and stay home because of it. Some people might decide driving is too much of a hassle and look into alternatives.
- Some cities, such as San Francisco and Seattle, are starting to implement surge-based parking, where prices rise and fall based on demand.
- Seasonal paid parking might make more sense for cities that see an uptick in population during certain times of year.
Any revenue to be channeled into downtown beautification
Critics might see paid parking as a money grab, and it’s true that making people pay for parking can be an effective way to generate revenue. But this doesn’t appear to be the goal of the Saratoga Springs parking task force, which recommended that any revenue from paid parking be channeled into parking improvements or downtown beautification.
I’m not looking forward to paying for parking in Saratoga Springs, if the city decides to start charging. But I can see the rationale for it, and I’ll do it without complaint.