Professor Donald Shoup gave The Vorhees Distinguished Lecture yesterday at the Rutgers Bloustein School of Planning in downtown New Brunswick. As a planning professor at UCLA, Shoup made a career out of studying parking policies, and wrote the famous 733-page book ‘The High Cost of Free Parking‘. As a consequence, he is often called a ‘Parking Rock Star’, which is a ridiculous enough idea that he began his talk by making several jokes about it. Prof Shoup went on to make a compelling case that although free parking is free to a driver, it must be paid for by somebody. In practice, requiring free parking carries immense costs, in terms of both a financial burden and by contributing to a degraded built environment. He urged a different approach based on three principles:
- Price on-street parking properly. Specifically, by setting a high-enough fee that there are two or three open spaces on any block. If occupancy rates are higher than this, the meter price is clearly too low. If there is more parking available than this, then the meter price is too high, or the parking should be unmetered.
- Introduce ‘parking benefit districts’, i.e. money collected from meters on any block becomes a fund for the benefit of residents/businesses there.
- Get rid of off-street parking minimums. With on-street parking always guaranteed by appropriate pricing, people can choose where to park depending on how much they want to pay. There is no longer any need for expensive garages and wasteful surface parking lots.
In practice, a program like this would mean that people who want to park in downtown Princeton would always be able to find an on-street parking space, but they might have to pay more for it. People who prefer free parking would still be able to get it, but they would likely have to park a little further away and walk. Shoup used an animation from ‘SF Park’ to demonstrate how this model of parking works:
Prof Shoup specifically rebutted the idea that dynamic parking pricing was a ‘gouge’ or an unfair tax on lower-income drivers. As he pointed out, the poorest in society don’t drive even drive cars. And during a pilot program of dynamic pricing in San Francisco, the average fee paid at meters fell. Parking therefore became easier to find and less expensive.
Despite the demonstrated benefits of dynamic parking pricing, it still faced resistance from reactionary elements in San Francisco. In Princeton, Council has struggled to implement even minor changes in parking, and has back-tracked three times this year on plans that might limit the ability of drivers to park where they like for free. Shoup’s proposals represent a more flexible approach that gives people more choice about where to park, while reducing the need for arbitrary and burdensome off-street parking requirements. In Princeton, people are constantly complaining about the difficulty in parking, so Shoup’s ideas warrant serious examination.
He’s absolutely right: it’s essential to put meters on popular parking locations. “Free” causes a mess. Of course Princeton isn’t listenting; it’s a regressive little elite enclave which has refused to listen to stuff like this for over 30 years. Maybe Rutgers and New Brunswick are listening, though?