The Dark Side of Free Parking

Nothing in life is free, not even free parking. Not only do drivers burn gallons and time circling for parking spots, but people without cars also pay the price.

University of California, Los Angeles economist Donald Shoup has argued for awhile that arbitrarily set quotas for parking spaces drive up costs for essentials like rent and groceries. The Washington Post’s WonkBlog recently explored this, explaining that bloated parking at Seattle apartments raises rents by almost $250 a month. At the same time in Chicago, a third of apartment parking spaces sit empty at night.

Of course, these minimum parking requirements hurt the poor the most, who are less likely to own cars.

As reporter Emily Badger explains, the average cost of constructing one above-ground parking space is $24,000 in a typical U.S. city. Regulations require developers of shopping centers, apartments and other buildings to eat these costs. This often results in “[forcing] people who don’t drive to subsidize those who do.” Groceries, for instance, are more expensive for everyone.

“Cities seem willing to pay any price and bear any burden to assure the survival of free parking. But do people really want free parking more than affordable housing, clean air, walkable neighborhoods, good urban design, and many other public goals?” Shoup writes in ACCESS Magazine. ”A city where everyone happily pays for everyone else’s free parking is a fool’s paradise.”

Here are some solutions to the inequality caused by free parking.

Surge-Pricing for Meters

Side profile of a young man using a parking meter in a parking lot
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

People will find a way to work with limited parking if they have to. And the demand for parking decreases when people have to pay more for it. While an unpopular move, it seems that not only should businesses charge for parking, but they should charge more.

A study in downtown San Francisco found that by increasing prices at high-use times of day freed up areas that used to be jammed with cars. Furthermore, drivers were circling for parking half as much.

 Lowering Parking Space Requirements

Mother and child (3-4 years) in supermarket car park with shopping, three quarter length
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

We can blame 15 percent of Seattle’s skyrocketing rent on parking, according to a Sightline Institute study. The simplest solution to cutting that cost is building less parking in the first place.

We can follow in the footsteps of Los Angeles, which cut its requirements for parking spaces for housing units from two spaces to one in 1999.

Using Driverless Cars

In the near future, we may be able to turn to the rise of driverless cars as a solution to our parking problem. Experts estimate these robot-operated cars could cut the need for parking by 90 percent.

Instead of spending 20 minutes looking for a parking space, people could use a service similar to Uber to pick them up and drop them off more efficiently.

Catering to Sustainable Commuters

FotoFlexer_Photo
Photo Credit: Thinkstock

As Care2 writer Anna B. notes, the average parking space for a car has room for 10 bikes. Our cities’ obsession with parking minimums make clear that car drivers take priority to more sustainable commuters. Plentiful spaces at homes and offices incentivize driving and give people little motivation to change, while spaces to lock up bikes remain sparse.

It’s past time to flip that narrative by increasing availability to bike racks; including more public transit stops close to where people live and work, making sustainable commuters more likely; and slashing those parking minimums to help the environment and the poor.

In fact, cities like London and Paris have established parking maximums. We should jump on that bandwagon.

Photo Credit: Thinkstock

104 comments

Jeanne R
Jeanne R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Jeanne R
Jeanne R7 months ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill1 years ago

Since we live about 10 miles from the nearest town, we have to have a car and parking fees are usually high. We went to the beach one day and after driving about 4 hours, had to pay $10 to part for 4 hours.

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Crystal G.
Crystal G1 years ago

I'll deal with the free parking, thank you. With paid parking you have to be out there asap (sometimes you can't be) or you get a nice parking ticket.

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus1 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Marie W.
Marie W1 years ago

More public transportation.

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Dan Blossfeld
Dan Blossfeld1 years ago

Rosslyn,
We may get there. Some do already, but they are not very large. The combination of congestion, noise, heat, etc. may push more to make these changes. Personally, I do not like to drive in the center of most major cities.

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