Is parking too cheap?

czsz

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Is parking too cheap?
By Sean Roche | August 22, 2007

What's wrong with this picture? Four friends drive to Kenmore Square for a Red Sox game. They take a couple of laps around the neighborhood unsuccessfully looking for a $1-an-hour meter. They give up and park in a $20 lot.

Thanks to the work of UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup, we now know that the low meter rates lead to congestion, unnecessary fuel consumption, and additional pollution. It also allows parking entrepreneurs to make 20 bucks (or more) for the same 120 square feet of asphalt that the city is practically giving away.

In his recent book, "The High Cost of Free Parking," Shoup claims that curbside parking is a valuable resource that cities squander by "renting" for less than market value. The most obvious consequence is the lost revenue. If motorists are willing to pay $20 to park in a lot for a Red Sox game, why shouldn't the city charge the same amount, or at least something closer to the private rate than $1 an hour?

This wouldn't just generate more money for the city. When there's cheap parking to be had, spots fill up. But, people, like our Sox fans above, troll the streets hoping to score the elusive spot (and save the $20 for some Fenway franks). A trolling car consumes gas, emits pollution, and adds to congestion.

Near-free parking is also bad parking. Consider Newbury Street, another place where curbside spaces are chronically scarce. Low meter rates lead to low turnover. Once people -- often residents and employees -- find spaces, they spend the day feeding meters. It's cheap. Shoppers, who are the most valuable parkers to local businesses, cannot find spaces easily, though they invariably take a few laps looking in vain.

If Newbury Street meter prices were set high enough to produce a 15-percent vacancy rate, the level Shoup recommends, a number of good things would happen. (The proper meter price would only become clear through trial and error.) Turnover would increase, as those needing long-term parking would look elsewhere -- or travel by foot or by the T instead. Shoppers willing to pay the higher rate would always be able to park near their destination boutique. A few open spaces on every block would decrease congestion-producing trolling. And there'd be new meter revenue, which could be earmarked for improvements along Newbury Street.

Such a proenvironment policy might seem to come at the expense of business. But what shop owner wouldn't want a new customer parking in front of his store a few times an hour? In places like South Pasadena and Redwood City, Calif., where Shoup's theories have been put to a real-world test, the results have pleased local businesses.

Boston sells itself short in another way: through resident-only parking along streets such as Commonwealth Avenue. For $30 a year, you can occupy some of the most valuable real estate in the country, if you are lucky enough to find a space. And, you can stay about as long as you'd like. These spaces, too, should be subject to market rates.

Resident parking policies that resulted in a 15-percent vacancy rate along Commonwealth Avenue would have similar benefits as higher meter rates on Newbury Street. But the surprising beneficiaries would be the residents themselves, as they could count on predictable short-term parking near their homes. Fifteen-percent vacancy could be achieved by adding several meters to every block, which could be resident-only meters.

The Kenmore Square-Newbury Street-Commonwealth Avenue triangle makes for a good story because of the seriousness and variety of parking issues in close proximity. But, the parking problems in that area are not unique. Like Fenway, the Garden and many of the major institutions generate the same kind of event-driven parking demand. (Try getting a space near the Children's Museum on a rainy Saturday.) Lots of commercial areas have issues as acute as Newbury Street's. And resident parking cannot meet demand in lots of the city's neighborhoods.

Market-based parking could relieve some of the problems resulting from excess demand for the city's curbside parking -- and generate money for neighborhood improvements. Higher meter rates are not a solution, though, for all the traffic and parking issues in Boston, or any other city. There needs to be better provision of off-street parking, more coordinated traffic and parking policies, and enhancement of mass-transit options.

Still, higher meter rates could, by themselves, have a noticeable, immediate effect. The city should give it a shot.

Sean Roche writes about traffic and parking at newtonstreets.blogspot.com.
 

vanshnookenraggen

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This is one of those truly great ideas that will be shot down by people's unfounded perceived right to drive and park where ever they chose.
I'm all for it. In fact, we should probably do this before investing in multi billion dollar congestion pricing infrastructure.
 

palindrome

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It almost makes too much sense! But, Vash, you hit the nail on the head. This would never pass.
 

TheBostonian

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Very good. I've argued before for market rate parking at MBTA parking lots that fill up at the very beginning of rush hour. Supply and demand can be exploited in these cases to promote more responsible use of the limited resource that parking is in desirable cities. I'm not sure though whether it would discourage single occupant vehicles, since it would be cheaper per individual to split a large parking bill when pooling, but it would be easier for each individual driver to find his own space.
 

kennedy

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Vanshnook got it, never will happen. But this truly has to be one of the best ideas out there for Boston. It could even reduce the need for parking lots, adding to developments...
 

jass

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"The most obvious consequence is the lost revenue. If motorists are willing to pay $20 to park in a lot for a Red Sox game, why shouldn't the city charge the same amount, or at least something closer to the private rate than $1 an hour? "

Does the world revolve around the red sox now? How about every other day and hour when the meters are 50% full and are being used by visitors or residents?


How about a variable parking rate? To do this, youd need the newburry street machines.

For 5 hours on red sox days, charge a bit more, but keep the regular rate the rest of the day for locals who are conducting business or being useful.
 

JoeSixpack

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If parking for a game just go to Brookline where they are free after 6 and take the train 2 stops.

Why charge the residents more? They are the most affected by the impact of games at fenway, they hardly deserve to go out of pocket more.

It's your night out. Pay the $20, or do as I mentioned above.

As for Newbury Street, If you can afford Newbury Street you have gone there with the intent of dropping coin.

The City put in those lame meters that give receipts that are far more expensive already.

I love how folks who don't live in the city of Boston think driving up the price for us who live here every day is a grand and noble idea.

In Marblehead I have to quote the law to fish from the rocks and the cops still hassel contrary to Chapter 91 of Massachusetts General Law.

We are talking about Public Property. Not a for profit venture. The profit is in the taxes raised from those very parking lots. From the vendors, tourist traffic, commerce which takes place in and around Fenway Park, and Newbury Street. These are draws. It takes people to operate there, and people to consume the goods and services available.
 

vanshnookenraggen

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It also takes money to keep the city streets clean, the buses and trains running, and it takes money to repave roads. Given how thinly stretched the budgets are already I don't see why this is a bad idea. If you want to use the roads then you should pay for it. People who use trains and planes pay for it but somehow we think that driving is different.
 

BarbaricManchurian

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TheBostonian said:
Very good. I've argued before for market rate parking at MBTA parking lots that fill up at the very beginning of rush hour. Supply and demand can be exploited in these cases to promote more responsible use of the limited resource that parking is in desirable cities. I'm not sure though whether it would discourage single occupant vehicles, since it would be cheaper per individual to split a large parking bill when pooling, but it would be easier for each individual driver to find his own space.
NO! They should expand parking at MBTA parking lots (which they are doing right now, to their credit) to increase mass transit usage. Increasing the price will just make less people use the MBTA and make our roads more congested.
 

atlantaden

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^^^^^^^^^

Totally agree...and add commuter rail parking as well. People have to have at least one good perk to encourage them to use mass transit from the burbs and cheap parking at the stations is a biggie!
 

TheBostonian

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Increasing the parking rates at MBTA lots could increase MBTA ridership. Currently certain lots fill up very early because they are cheap. Like the plan in the article cited in this thread, fares could be raised by trial and error to achieve a small vacancy rate. Or for the sake of argument, fares could be raised until the a lot fills to capacity at 11am rather than 7am. Higher fares would mean people would be more likely to use the spaces sparingly. The key change would be more people carpooling to the lots to split the high parking fee. Carefully set rates could keep the lots filled or close to filled, but with fewer single occupant vehicles that waste this public resource.

BarbaricManchurian said:
TheBostonian said:
Very good. I've argued before for market rate parking at MBTA parking lots that fill up at the very beginning of rush hour. Supply and demand can be exploited in these cases to promote more responsible use of the limited resource that parking is in desirable cities. I'm not sure though whether it would discourage single occupant vehicles, since it would be cheaper per individual to split a large parking bill when pooling, but it would be easier for each individual driver to find his own space.
NO! They should expand parking at MBTA parking lots (which they are doing right now, to their credit) to increase mass transit usage. Increasing the price will just make less people use the MBTA and make our roads more congested.
 

JoeSixpack

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I don't know about Atlanta and NYC, as I see some posters are from. But properties in Boston have been reassessed and reassessed time and time again. The Taxes have been raised accordingly. Where has that money gone?

If I got the raise the City of Boston has with the ludicrous Real Estate market of the last decade, I would be hard pressed to cry poor mouth, and justify raising parking rates of all things.

In order for the very things that demanded the Real estate market to rise, to be sustainable, you need to get there. And you often times, need to park. Whether for the T or in the very neighborhood itself.

This mentality of creating a demand and sucking every penny out of because some one has the nerve to use what you have established is price gouging, and just plain wrong.

Lower prices for parking in town and at the T, ENCOURAGE people to come to Boston. We want people to come to Boston. They will spend some time, maybe some money, go home and say GOOD THINGS about the experience.

The impact is more than financial here. And most of the financial burden will be on those who are not the consumer, but the resident, and the merchant.
 

palindrome

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Good points, but It's not all about the money though. With higher parking rates, comes lower traffic congestion, less idleing which equals less fuel use and less pollution--something city residents should be entitled too, especially over suburbanite parking.

People will come to Boston regardless of parking. They are not attracted to Boston because there is parking, they are attracted by the red sox, faniuel hall etc... T use will increase more if there is no parking downtown, much more so if there was plentiful parking downtown.

I am sure with todays technology, they can devise a system of location based fares whereas residents pay less by flashing an rfid card, or even their liscence.
 

nico

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Palindrome, you wrote:
"People will come to Boston regardless of parking. They are not attracted to Boston because there is parking, they are attracted by the red sox, faniuel hall etc... T use will increase more if there is no parking downtown, much more so if there was plentiful parking downtown."

Just like real estate prices don't always go up, people won't always come in town. At some point, the pain of coming in town won't be worth it. If parking and driving becomes more and more of a problem, and public transportation isn't drastically improved and dramatically expanded upon, people will stay away. Many already do.
Also, with limited parking at the t stations, how will t use increase? You are now asking people to take the bus to the t station and then..and then..
 

palindrome

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I did not consider that. Very good point. Also, for this to happen, i would fully expect trains to begin running till at least 2am. 12:30 is just to early, and sets a time limit for tourists.

Perhaps this a solution such as parking costs should be = with maintenance costs of the parking spots. (They might already, i have no idea about the economics of Boston parking spots.)
 

JoeSixpack

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The economics of Boston Parking? If you don't feed the meter you get a ticket that is greater than the cost of feeding the meter all day, yet less than paying for a lot. Assuming you came in late and didn't get the early bird deal someplace.

Tying the T into this is understandable, but another issue entirely. If I need spot at noon and train leaves at 1:30am...I still need a space.

Drunks on a train, still get in a car someplace else. And the parking rate there will not rise because they went to see a play and catch last call at the Beehive.
 

bosdevelopment

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JoeSixpack said:
I don't know about Atlanta and NYC, as I see some posters are from. But properties in Boston have been reassessed and reassessed time and time again. The Taxes have been raised accordingly. Where has that money gone?

If I got the raise the City of Boston has with the ludicrous Real Estate market of the last decade, I would be hard pressed to cry poor mouth, and justify raising parking rates of all things.

In order for the very things that demanded the Real estate market to rise, to be sustainable, you need to get there. And you often times, need to park. Whether for the T or in the very neighborhood itself.

This mentality of creating a demand and sucking every penny out of because some one has the nerve to use what you have established is price gouging, and just plain wrong.

Lower prices for parking in town and at the T, ENCOURAGE people to come to Boston. We want people to come to Boston. They will spend some time, maybe some money, go home and say GOOD THINGS about the experience.

The impact is more than financial here. And most of the financial burden will be on those who are not the consumer, but the resident, and the merchant.
Thank you.

the original article was complete nonsense. Having to pay 20 bux to park is going to make me not come into the city and spend my 100 bux on a weekend night.
 

JimboJones

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No

I think the argument that no one will come to Boston if it costs more for parking is a specious one.

Most people come in and pay for parking in a garage. What's the difference whether that money goes to the city or private garage owners.

Oh, right, the rest of you just come in and park in Residents-Only parking spaces.

Thanks for that.
 

czsz

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Oh, right, the rest of you just come in and park in Residents-Only parking spaces.
Hmm, good point, maybe. What's the difference between paying an hourly $20 rate and getting a $50 ticket? Not much.
 

aws129

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City-owned parking spaces are assets which the city should take full advantage of -- why should we give them away for cheap? Right now, the city is subsidizing the parking. Charging the market rate does not constitute price gouging; the prices right now are artificially low, which is what leads to the shortage.

I honestly don't understand why this proposal is controversial. Cheap parking is not a constitutional right!

Moreover, increased turnover would lead to more business for shopowners and more convenience for drivers, as the article points out.
 

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