Paid Parking Is Actually… Cheaper?

There are few things in cities that inspire more annoyance, resistance, or even outrage than paid parking. But as it turns out, certain kinds of paid parking can actually save people money, according to the San Francisco Examiner:

Since taking effect in April 2011, average hourly rates have dropped by 14 cents from $2.73 to $2.59 at the 7,000 SFpark meters. Overall, 17 percent of those meters offer hourly rates of $1 or less — prices that are significantly cheaper than the ones offered at The City’s 22,000 older meters. And 6 percent of SFpark meters go for as cheap as 25 cents an hour, according to data from the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which oversees parking policies in The City. The drop in prices for on-street parking meters coincides with a 20 percent rate decrease in SFMTA-run garages.

The new parking meters are using a system called “demand based parking” in which rates are periodically adjusted to account for demand. Rates at high-demand parking places can go considerably higher. The article also notes that the city is collecting more revenue from parking and less from parking tickets — meaning consumers of parking are probably happier because they’re choosing how to spend their money. Notably, the article also includes a list of “cheap blocks” where parking is very affordable.

Parking at Provo's commuter rail station. Why not charge for this parking based on demand?

Parking at Provo’s commuter rail station. Why not charge for this parking based on demand?

The entire program operates from the assumption that parking is already being charged, which isn’t the case in Provo. However, there’s no reason a city like Provo couldn’t implement a similar system where the lowest “price” for parking was free, or extremely cheap, while the highest demand parking cost a bit more. This idea could be implemented at transit stations as well, perhaps using time as a pricing variable.

And keep in mind that because parking costs governments money to build and maintain it is never really “free” to consumers. Instead, everyone foots the bill in the form of tax dollars. Demand-based parking merely shifts the burden to those who use the service the most.

Obviously, this idea would help raise money by charging for something expensive that the government is currently giving away for free. That should appeal to fiscal conservatives, of which there are many in Provo. But it would also de-incentivize driving, thus improving walkability, and perhaps even raise awareness about the abundance of parking in places like downtown. After the initial shock and annoyance wore off, it’d be a win-win situation.

Free parking in downtown Provo. In order to raise revenue and cut expenses, the city could begin charging for parking in places where demand is high.

Free parking in downtown Provo. In order to raise revenue and cut expenses, the city could begin charging for parking in places where demand is high.

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2 Comments

Filed under Development, parking

2 responses to “Paid Parking Is Actually… Cheaper?

  1. Josh

    Another win for dynamic pricing. Have you read the parking tome “The High Cost of Free Parking”? This is exactly what the research has been suggesting for years.

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