Manhattan streets are full of cars cruising around, looking for cheaper
on-street parking, rather than pulling into a lot. The waste includes
drivers' lost time and the costs of running those engines. By contrast,
San Francisco has just instituted a pioneering program to connect
parking meter prices to supply and demand, with prices being adjusted,
over time, within a general range of 25 cents to $6 an hour.
controls can steer an economy in wrong directions," Cowen writes.
Academic research cited by Cowen puts the land and other cost of a Los Angeles parking space at more than $31,000.
"The parking subsidy outweighs many of the other costs of
driving, including the gasoline tax,"
the economist writes. "If we don't give away cars, why give away parking spaces?"
The Oprah question is actually a serious one for economists studying urban policy. On its daily rounds, each car requires seven or so
parking spaces at stores, offices, government buildings,
parks, and anywhere else an automobile might go. An average auto has a footprint of more than 13,000 square feet, and parking spaces are about half-again that size. The more parking spaces
there are, the less room there is for anything else, requiring more and longer car trips to satisfy daily needs. Those additional car trips crowd out pedestrians, buses, and cyclists, and delays motorists themselves.
This congestion creates demands for wider roads and more parking spaces, thus eliminating room for apartments, stores, and offices -- meaning motorists must drive even further to work, shop, and play, beginning the vicious cycle anew. Meanwhile, every square foot of land and building space dedicated to free parking -- rather than taxable development such as homes, offices, and stores -- deprives cities of potential revenue.
Despite this subsidy-imposed hardship, Cowen writes:
"99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States end in aSan Francisco's SF Park program doesn't significantly reduce these subsidies, many of which are hidden behind minimum parking requirements for buildings and streets. But it takes an important step toward warming the public to the fact that subsidized parking isn't naturally "free."
free parking space, rather than a parking space with a market price. In
his book, [UCLA Professor Donald] Shoup estimated that the value of the free-parking
subsidy to cars was at least $127 billion in 2002, and possibly much
their real value as determined by drivers themselves. This is called
demand-responsive pricing."In practice, this just means putting one's credit card in new electronic meters, and being charged less during non-peak parking hours, and more during busier times of day. Coverage of the program has focused mostly on supposedly onerous parking price hikes. But it might actually create noticeably felicitous effects. One example: Merchants might no longer find it cost-effective to park all day in front of their own stores, making it easier to park and shop, putting more money in those merchants' pockets.
Such prosaic results might even precede more remarkable ones. Per Cowen:
"If we're going to wean ourselves away from
excess use of fossil fuels, we need to remove current subsidies to
energy-unfriendly ways of life. Imposing a cap-and-trade system or a direct carbon tax
doesn't seem politically acceptable right now. But we can start on
alternative paths that may take us far."