Congestion-Priced Parking

The Antiplanner has never considered parking “subsidies” to be the serious problem that Donald Shoup thinks they are. At the same time, there is nothing wrong with cities pricing curbside parking at market rates. Toward that end, San Francisco’s plan to install parking meters whose rates vary depending on demand sounds just fine.

Unfortunately, the initial program is rather anemic, with rates varying no more than once a month. Instead, the city should allow rates to vary by the hour so that prices are always high enough to allow people to find a few vacant parking spaces when they need them (and are willing to pay for them). Would this lead hordes of people to switch to mass transit? Probably not. But it would help relieve traffic congestion in San Francisco and other crowded cities.

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30 thoughts on “Congestion-Priced Parking

  1. Adam

    Instead, the city should allow rates to vary by the hour so that prices are always high enough to allow people to find a few vacant parking spaces when they need them (and are willing to pay for them).

    Absurd. If prices vary by the hour, all you do is end up with people paying exorbitant rates and getting ticked off about it, or turning around again and completely wasting the trip. That is inefficiency in the extreme. If you want to affect actual behavior, the pricing structure must be predictable enough that people know the price will be too high before they get in the car and make the trip.

    Congestion pricing is a fine concept, but in order to work, it must be predictable in advance. Buying a parking space uses a different conceptual framework than buying a consumer good.

  2. msetty

    Whats amatta’ Karlock? Can’t stand the practical application of market principles?

    I guess you’re of the persuasion that you can’t go to areas with parking meters, to paraphrase Yogi Berra, “nobody goes there any more! It’s too crowded!”

  3. Frank

    “Instead, the city should allow rates to vary by the hour so that prices are always high enough to allow people to find a few vacant parking spaces when they need them (and are willing to pay for them).”

    Absurd. If prices vary by the hour, all you do is end up with people paying exorbitant rates and getting ticked off about it, or turning around again and completely wasting the trip.

    We already see this happening with both private and city-owned parking garages. In Portland, garage rates vary depending on the time of day and day of the week, even in SmartPark, the city-owned garages.

    Why shouldn’t rates on the street vary according to demand? With electronic metering, it should be a cinch to implement.

    “Just another reason to NEVER shop or do business in areas with parking meters (mainly the core areas of obsolete old cities).”

    Disagree. Downtown Portland is not obsolete. Certainly, some of the buildings are old, and that’s great; I love historic architecture. There are several stores downtown that offer products/services that you can’t get anywhere else in the city. Regal’s Fox Tower theater shows independent flicks that you can’t see anywhere else in the city and often anywhere else on the West Coast (outside of LA).

  4. bennett

    “But it would help relieve traffic congestion in San Francisco and other crowded cities.”

    With the privatization of roads and maybe parking, as recent antiplanner post suggest, I’m starting to realize how Mr. O’Toole is approaching the congestion problem… Price everybody but the rich out of driving, then the roads will be free and clear. Brilliant! Of coarse this flies in the face of the whole “choices and mobility” premise, but I guess you can’t have your cake and eat it too.

  5. Dan

    Congestion pricing is a fine concept, but in order to work, it must be predictable in advance.

    Right, so you post a schedule and make it logical and consistent across a wide area, so folks know when prices are high and they know they can’t drive around and around and finally find a spot for cheaper.

    DS

  6. bennett

    “Portland is not obsolete.”

    Frank,

    You have certainly come around to see the light since last month.

    Quote from July 21st “Portland is sinking.”
    -Frank
    on the Antiplanner’s July 19th ‘Is the Portland Plan Working’ post. Frank lambastes Portland in every way imaginable, describing in great detail how “obsolete” the city is. Guess he’s feeling good about home today.

  7. Jardinero1

    Bennett and others opposed to pricing pro rata,

    The thing about congestion pricing and tolling is that, yes they do make driving more expensive and they will force less affluent drivers off the road. By the same reasoning, there will be a larger pool of commuters that will consider carpooling and mass transit. If roads are not cost effective for individual users then, necessarily, those commuters will shift to more cost effective transit options like car-pools, van-pools, buses. These same mass transit options will move faster with fewer individual cars on the road. Thus if you are in favor of mass transit and getting cars off the road, you should be in favor of congestion pricing, tolls and even privatizatiom.

  8. bennett

    “By the same reasoning, there will be a larger pool of commuters that will consider carpooling and mass transit.”

    Not according to Mr. O’Toole.

    Just to clarify, I’m not opposed to congesting pricing or market pricing for parking. I also am in favor of eliminating “parking minimums” for certian developments.

    I find it weird that the Antiplanner said that this will NOT lead to more people riding transit, but lead to less congestion. To me, that implies elimination of commuters, not displacement as Jardinero1 suggests. Again, to clarify, I do not agree with the Antiplanner’s sentiment, but am more inclined to go with the logic of Dan and Jardinero1.

  9. bennett

    “Thus if you are in favor of mass transit and getting cars off the road, you should be in favor of congestion pricing, tolls and even privatization.”

    If you are in favor of congestion pricing, tolls and market pricing for parking, you should be in favor of mass transit.

  10. Jardinero1

    I don’t speak for Mr. O’toole only for myself. I am for mass transit. I don’t believe mass transit requires a public subsidy. If roads were priced rationally then the market would provide mass transit without need of public subsidy. The insane system we have subsidizes roads and mass transit and builds more roads than are needed or can be maintained under the current tax structure.

  11. Frank

    bennett said:

    “Portland is not obsolete.”

    Frank,

    You have certainly come around to see the light since last month.

    Quote from July 21st “Portland is sinking.”
    -Frank
    on the Antiplanner’s July 19th ‘Is the Portland Plan Working’ post. Frank lambastes Portland in every way imaginable, describing in great detail how “obsolete” the city is. Guess he’s feeling good about home today.

    Please don’t misquote me. I said “Downtown Portland is not obsolete” in response to Jim Karlock’s assertion that parking meters are “another reason to NEVER shop or do business in…the core areas of obsolete old cities”. Karlock is often attacking Portland, and for some valid reasons. Here I don’t know if he was referring to Portland (I thought he might be), but certainly downtown Portland, while old, is not obsolete.

    This contradicts nothing in my previous statements, and your inference skills are lacking, as nothing I wrote could be construed to mean that Portland’s downtown has fallen into disuse. I wrote about Portland and Oregon sinking economically, and I stand by that statement about my former* city.

    *You must have missed that key point in my July 21 post.

  12. the highwayman

    JimKarlock said: Just another reason to NEVER shop or do business in areas with parking meters (mainly the core areas of obsolete old cities).

    THWM: Scott would be proud of you for saying that, while wrecking his balls! =D

  13. Adam

    Frank: Why shouldn’t rates on the street vary according to demand? With electronic metering, it should be a cinch to implement.

    Perhaps I’m not being clear. I don’t think it is bad to have rates very by the hour of the day. If a schedule is published that says rates downtown will be X between 8am and 6pm, and something lower the rest of the time, then drivers know what to expect before they head downtown. But that’s what San Francisco already does.

    This blog is suggesting that rates vary by demand from moment to moment. That’s what’s absurd. As a consumer, I’m not going to change my desire for a parking space once I’m behind the wheel. Once I’m driving, you can no longer influence my demand. If it randomly happens that a whole lot of other people have chosen this particular hour to park – something I can’t tell ahead of time – I get screwed for no real reason except random chance.

    If the rates are predictable ahead of time, however, I can make a rational choice about my travel BEFORE I get in the car.

    Moment-to-moment demand pricing maybe technologically feasible, and at some level “cool”, but it makes no sense economically. It is not an efficient use of resources.

  14. bennett

    Frank said: “Downtown Portland is not obsolete”

    Sorry about the misquote. I got it now. It’s the high density, walkable, planner dreamland part of Portland that is not obsolete.

  15. Jardinero1

    Adam, I believe your complaint is about the uncertainty involved. While there may be uncertainty about the actual rate at a given time, there are other things you can be certain about with regard to on street parking. Sunday nights will be cheaper that Monday morning, mid morning and mid afternoon will be cheaper than rush hour mornings and afternoons. Parking near restaurants at lunch will be cheaper than by a warehouse at lunch. And you can be certain that you will get scalped if there is a special event going on which will devour the parking.

    So, if you follow those rules you can still plan your trip accordingly; even if you don’t know the given rate at a given meter at a given time. I imagine that the going rate will be on the meter so you can drive around looking fo the best rate or you can park in a private garage.

    Personally, I think it’s stupid to waste finite, valuable lane space on parking when the private sector more than amply provides the same service. If cars aren’t using a lane space for mobility, better that the lane space should be retained for its intended purpose: mobility. Other mobility inducing uses might include wider pedestrian sidewalks or bike paths.

  16. mattb02

    Jardinero1, Frank, Bennett, other socialists wrote:
    Absurd. If prices vary by the hour, all you do is end up with people paying exorbitant rates and getting ticked off about it

    Price everybody but the rich out of driving, then the roads will be free and clear. Brilliant!

    The thing about congestion pricing and tolling is that, yes they do make driving more expensive and they will force less affluent drivers off the road

    To me, that implies elimination of commuters, not displacement as Jardinero1 suggests.

    If you are in favor of congestion pricing, tolls and market pricing for parking, you should be in favor of mass transit.

    Very persuasively and succinctly put, Jardinero.

    A truly inane set of comments.

    Congestion prices need not raise the average price at all. The quid pro quo for high prices during peak demand can be lower prices off-peak. If San Francisco, ever money hungry, decides not to implement it that way, take it up with the city – don’t blame the idea. The one and only reason people are priced off the roads is because government decided to set the price too high. And aren’t you same the people always complaining about roads being subsidised?

    No, gains are not made by eliminating commuters. Gains are made by shifting those able to commute at another time of off-peak. Same number of commuters. Higher average utilisation. What’s not to like?

    And no, congestion pricing does not mean one favours mass transit.

  17. bennett

    mattb02,

    Context is important in this discussion (Your obviously worked up and missed something here). You’ve lumped a whole bunch of comments and commenters together and I’m not sure how valid you accusation are. I think a couple of the people you referenced as “socialist” would agree completely with you, but I will not speak for them.

    “And aren’t you same the people always complaining about roads being subsidised?”

    Not at all. In fact most of us “socialist” are okay with road subsidies in one form or another. We like to point out the fallacy made by the antiplanners that driving, fuel, and road infrastructure is somehow and unsubsidized free market miracle.

    “Gains are made by shifting those able to commute at another time of off-peak.”

    Are you suggesting policies that force people to change their behavior. How “top down” of you. My “socialist” equity point still is at play here. The affluent can keep going about their business, now with no po’ folk clogging up the road ways, and everybody else has to change their schedule. “What’s not to like?” The fact that there is the potential to restrict the beloved “freedom” of mobility.

  18. Frank

    Jardinero1 said: I don’t believe mass transit requires a public subsidy. If roads were priced rationally then the market would provide mass transit without need of public subsidy. The insane system we have subsidizes roads and mass transit and builds more roads than are needed or can be maintained under the current tax structure.

    Frank said: Very persuasively and succinctly put, Jardinero.

    mattb02 said: Jardinero1, Frank, Bennett, other socialists [ha!] wrote…

    To borrow a Danism, this site is full of “low-wattage time-wasting dimwits”.

  19. Jardinero1

    Mattbo2, you have me pegged incorrectly. I would characterize myself as sort of anarcho-capitalist, civil libertarian. It would be difficult to put me further away from socialist than that. If it makes you feel any better, my dad was a Marxist in his earlier days. Yes, a real dyed in the wool, just to the right of Che, Marxist. But he’s retired now.

  20. Adam

    Adam, I believe your complaint is about the uncertainty involved. While there may be uncertainty about the actual rate at a given time, there are other things you can be certain about with regard to on street parking.

    But why have this uncertainty? Just because we can? Doesn’t it make more sense to give people a rational basis for decision-making at the time of their decision?

    It isn’t as though changing the price on the fly alters the number of available spaces, so if there happens to be a random crunch, the price spikes but I still can’t find a space, and when I do, I get unhappy that I had to wait and then pay extra. If I had known the price would be that high before I left home, then I may not have made the trip (or may have picked a different time to make the trip). Why make people guess when there is a perfectly reasonable way to achieve certainty? Sure, it is less technologically sexy, but it does a better job of achieving the goal.

  21. Jardinero1

    Adam, I feel the same way about the price of bananas. I never know what bananas are gonna cost me when I go to the store. Sometimes I just don’t even want to go.

  22. Borealis

    I can’t disagree with the logic of congestion pricing for parking.

    However, I also can’t ignore that real world experiments with the Walmart free parking business model, involving 300 million people times 100 visits a year, for 20 years, has overwhelmingly shown to the 99.999999th percentile that the Walmart business model wins.

  23. the highwayman

    Borealis said:
    I can’t disagree with the logic of congestion pricing for parking.

    However, I also can’t ignore that real world experiments with the Walmart free parking business model, involving 300 million people times 100 visits a year, for 20 years, has overwhelmingly shown to the 99.999999th percentile that the Walmart business model wins.

    THWM: Though realize you pay for the parking through the sales price of what you buy, also how much of that parking is there because of government zoning regulations? If some one walks to the store then they are paying for the “free” parking of some one else.

    To quote the conservative commentator James Howard Kunstler: You can’t get some thing, for nothing!

  24. ws

    Daniel Shoup does take some of the parking subsidies a bit too far, from what I know about his works. Hopefully I am correct in his points, but feel free to correct me.

    The issue is, if a private owner wants to build a huge parking lot — they should not be required to charge for parking if they don’t want to their customers We’re talking about private land and private business. If that’s apart of their business model, then so be it. The issue comes if that said business wants to slam a parking lot — with curbs cuts and all — that detracts from the adjacent sidewalks, street, and other businesses.

    Hence, that is where planning (oh the horror!) comes in to plan where auto-dependent stores can appropriately be located (hopefully near a highway).

    Where he is absolutely correct are the minimum mandated parking spots required for development.

    “Free-Market” Houston Parking Codes:

    http://library.municode.com/index.aspx?clientId=10123&stateId=43&stateName=Texas

    Bar, club or lounge (including outdoor decks, patio and/or seating areas):
    10.0 spaces for every 1,000 square feet of GFA and outdoor decks, patio and/or seating areas

    Which essentially makes the parking footprint much larger than the building footprint. And the de facto suburbia auto landscape is born just from parking codes alone. (Zoning plays only a small portion of suburbia compared to parking regs).

  25. Pingback: Free Markets and Free Parking » The Antiplanner

  26. Adam

    Jardiner01: Adam, I feel the same way about the price of bananas. I never know what bananas are gonna cost me when I go to the store. Sometimes I just don’t even want to go.

    If you think parking is truly analogous with bananas, then I can’t discuss economics with you. As I said in post #2: “Buying a parking space uses a different conceptual framework than buying a consumer good.”

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