Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Op-Ed: Privatizing Street Parking

There are a lot of good reasons for cities to charge for public parking. It is more efficient and equitable. Urban parking facilities are a valuable resource, costing $10,000 to $50,000 to construct, with a typically annual value of $1,000 to $2,000 in land, construction and operating costs. Many vehicles are worth less than the parking spaces they occupy; underpricing parking forces people who own fewer than average vehicles to subsidize their neighbors who own more than average vehicles.

Currently in North America, most parking is provided free, financed through development costs and municipal governments, and therefore borne through mortgages, rents and taxes. Charging motorists directly of using urban parking facilities typically reduces automobile trips by about 20%; in other words, about 20% of parking facility costs, traffic congestion, accidents, energy consumption and pollution emissions results from the common practice of paying for parking indirectly rather than directly.

That said, it is probably best for municipal governments to maintain tight control over their parking pricing systems. Chicago recently leased its parking meters to a private company for 99 years, simply as a way for the city to collect a short-term windfall (http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/transportation/chi-parking-meters-20-mar20,0,871852.story).

Privitization could be fine if designed to maximize user convenience and economic efficiency, but not if the goal is simply to maximize revenue. At a minimum, privitization should require state-of-the-art payment systems, gradual and predictable price changes, performance standards, and a much shorter lease period so future councils can change their policies.

For more information see:

"Parking Pricing" ( http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm26.htm )

Richard Arnott and John Rowse (2007), ‘Downtown parking in auto city’, Boston College Working Paper 665 (http://econpapers.repec.org); at http://econpapers.repec.org/paper/bocbocoec/665.htm.

Marcus Enoch and Stephen Ison (2006), “Levying Charges On Private Parking: Lessons From Existing Practice,” World Transport Policy & Practice, Vol. 12, No. 1 ( http://ecoplan.org/wtpp/general/vol-12-1.pdf), pp. 5-14.

Daniel B. Hess (2001), The Effects of Free Parking on Commuter Mode Choice: Evidence from Travel Diary Data, Lewis Center for Public Policy Studies, UCLA ( www.sppsr.ucla.edu/lewis/WorkingPapers.html).

Douglas Kolozsvari and Donald Shoup (2003), “Turning Small Change Into Big Changes,” ACCESS 23, University of California Transportation Center (www.uctc.net), Fall 2003, pp. 2-7.

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Management Best Practices, Planners Press (www.planning.org).

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Management: Strategies, Evaluation and Planning, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (www.vtpi.org/park_man.pdf ).

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Taxes: Evaluating Options and Impacts, VTPI ( www.vtpi.org/parking_tax.pdf).

Todd Litman (2006), Parking Management: Innovative Solutions To Vehicle Parking Problems, Planetzen ( www.planetizen.com/node/19149).

Gary Roth (2004), An Investigation Into Rational Pricing For Curbside Parking: What Will Be The Effects Of Higher Curbside Parking Prices In Manhattan? Masters Thesis, Columbia University; at http://anti-bob.com/parking/Rational_Pricing_for_Curbside_Parking-GRoth.pdf ).

Tom Rye and Stephen Ison (2005), “Overcoming Barriers to the Implementation of Car Parking Charges at UK Workplaces,” Transport Policy, Vol. 12, No. 1 ( www.elsevier.com/locate/transpol), Jan. 2005, pp. 57-64.

Donald Shoup (2002), Curb Parking: An Ideal Source of Public Revenue, Lincoln Institute of Land Policy (www.lincolninst.edu), Presented at “Analysis of Land Markets and the Impact of Land Market Regulation,” (Code CP02A01).

Donald Shoup (2005), The High Cost of Free Parking, Planners Press (www.planning.org). This is a comprehensive and entertaining book of the causes, costs and problems created by free parking, and how to correct these distortions.

Donald Shoup (2006), The Price of Parking On Great Streets, Planetizen ( www.planetizen.com/node/19150).

USEPA (2006), Parking Spaces / Community Places: Finding the Balance Through Smart Growth Solutions, Development, Community, and Environment Division (DCED); U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ( www.epa.gov/smartgrowth/parking.htm).

VTPI (2003), Parking Cost, Pricing And Revenue Calculator, Victoria Transport Policy Institute (www.vtpi.org/parking.xls).

Todd Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
Victoria BC, Canada

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  1. In the past, while not proposing this exactly, I have suggested that cities should charge much higher prices for residential parking permits. In DC, a permit is less than $50/year.

    However, what this could do is increase the amount of hardscape created on the back of property lots, and people will move their cars wherever possible to private parking spaces, and avoid the increased fees, thereby reducing the amount of money provided to a municipality, to use for investing in transportation (not just road) infrastructure.

    While very controversial, in the past, the State of Virginia charged a "personal property tax" on vehicles. The tax revenue was used for general fund purposes, not specifically transportation. Since (sources differ) upwards of 45% of the cost of maintaining roads is not borne by drivers paying gasoline taxes, registration fees, and tolls, but comes from the general fund, it seems as if an annual tax on car use is a good thing, whether or not the car uses public space-provided parking.

    So I am torn.

    We should charge more for residential parking permits (and more for bigger vehicles, and much more for each additional vehicle per household).

    At the same time, people who are able to park their cars on private property and avoid these costs shouldn't be immune from a vehicle property tax.

  2. Litman is being incredibly generous with his analysis here; I view
    public parking privatization to be greatly troubling, because:

    1. It establishes a contractual basis for stasis. When public officials
    no longer have control over public spaces due to the actions of their predecessors, it reduces the ability to re-think how much parking there is. What is the process for parking removal under these contracts?

    2. The best use of public space cannot be determined by the agency with control over that public space. Few transportation departments are
    known for supporting the democratic control of street right-of-way. How is the privatization of this space going to improve this situation?

    - David Levinger http://www.blogger.com/profile/15306440952845067249
    Seattle WA USA


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