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Coming Soon To A Parking Spot Near You: Market Pricing?

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A number of cities large and small are coming around to think of public parking spaces not as a subsidized right but a privilege worth a fee—more specifically, a sliding fee, depending on the demand for a particular spot.

As the LA Times reports, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C. have already phased in market pricing systems that vary the cost of spaces depending on the neighborhood or street, or even the time of day.

The city of Santa Monica is one of many smaller cities phasing in such a practice. It found that nearby business employees were using the short-term shopping spaces and simply moving their cars every few hours, as patrons could seldom find a spot—a practice that meant the city was essentially subsidizing parking in a way that might have had negative economic impact to the local businesses, while they also subsidized new efforts to encourage mass transit and carpooling.

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What's more, according to experts cited in the Times, above-ground parking sure isn't free to cities. It can cost $15,000 to $30,000 a space, while subterranean spots amount to up to $70,000 each.

"The cost doesn't go away just because the driver doesn't pay for it," said Donald Shoup, an economist, UCLA urban planning professor, and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." Shoup says that cities should charge enough so that 85 percent of all spaces are occupied at any given time. If all spaces are filled, parking fees are too low; and when more spaces are empty, the price goes down.

According to the LA Times, nearby Ventura is also moving to a metered, market-based parking system beginning in January. Meanwhile, San Francisco is looking at extending metered hours to midnight in some neighborhoods, including North Beach and the Castro.

Experts say that, in addition to decreasing the congestion caused by drivers circling, looking for spaces, the extended hours and higher prices speed parking turnover, which in turn helps create desirable public spaces and more vibrant neighborhoods, rather than simply car-storage locations. And of course it helps the city make bank.

While the move toward pricing public parking according to demand has some traction, it's no given yet, as in San Francisco (along with other cities) some small business owners think that it would simply drive more shoppers to the suburbs.

However, with more city planners finding public support in small incremental changes to commuting and parking habits, we might be well on our way to viewing free public parking less as a right and more as the subsidized perk it is.

Should public parking be free, should all spots be the same price, or does market pricing make the most sense, even for city spots? Or does it really depend on the place? Let us know what you think.

[Los Angeles Times]

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Comments (4)
  1. San Francisco supervisors have a love/hate relationship with their citizens. They love to take their money, and hate listening to all the whining about how SF is so expensive, blah blah blah. Running up meter rates and/or extending meter hours may work downtown, but in the neighborhoods it's just going to push cars out of the metered zones, leaving stalls empty and small business owners irate. But then, supervisors don't like small business owners either (wiki Ed Jew re: extortion & perjury charges). Possible recommendations: How about painting parking spaces the size of mini cars, so sedans have to pay two meters? How about paying for personal street parking spots on a monthly basis? How about cheap rates during business hours and more expensive rates during off hours? There are lots of ways to skin the cat, but politicians always choose the version that angers the public the most while maximizing revenue. So, the answer is, it depends. I think local businesses should be consulted on this issue before a decree is handed down. Shoppers don't need another reason to avoid retail areas in San Francisco, or any other city for that matter.
     
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  2. @R2Dad: But if you read Shoup's book, in fact, shopkeepers *benefit* from keeping that 15% of spaces empty. Think how hard it is to find parking in downtown SF. Now, think about whether you'd pay $4 or $5 for an hour at a meter. If so, you can have the space immediately ... rather than cruising around for 20 minutes to find a non-existent space for $2/hour. The idea that paying an extra $3 for parking in a city like SF will destroy business is laughable.
     
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  3. It's Donald Shoup, not David.
    Washington's market-based parking system is, so far, a joke. The policy is in place for the meter prices to adjust based on demand, but even in areas where the spaces are above 95% occupied, the local transportation department bends to local pressure and keeps the prices low. Where I have personally observed over a period of three months parking occupancy consistently below 40%, the transportation department fails to lower meter prices because they don't want to "encourage people to drive".
    While the law is on the books to adjust the meters based on demand, Washington, DC does not have a working market-based parking program.
     
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  4. I don't doubt Shoup, John. Downtown, I think you're right, but most people take MUNI or park in garages since there is so little on-street parking anyway. I'm thinking more of out in the neighborhoods, where there is metered parking around commercial streets ($2/hr) but around the corner it's free. I do have to laugh about wanting to get people to carpool and take mass transit in Santa Monica, though. Even I know that nobody walks in LA.
     
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