Arnold Kling  

Parking, Once Again

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Tyler Cowen offers a number of links. I clicked on this op-ed, by Donald Shoup.


To prevent shortages, some cities have begun to adjust their meter rates (using trial and error) to produce about an 85 percent occupancy rate for curb parking. The prices vary by location and the time of day.

The case for peak-load pricing of parking spaces is unassailable. That is, when there is plenty of parking available, the price should be zero, or close to it. When parking spaces are mostly utilized, the price should be high enough to ensure that at least some spaces are available. Peak-load pricing helps people make the right decision on one of the relevant margins, namely, when to use a parking place and when to leave it for someone else.

But if you read chapter one of Shoup's book, it seems that what ticks him off is the fact that people use cars. Hence, the relevant margin is the mode of transportation. But peak-load pricing, by ensuring drivers that parking spaces will be available, might increase the use of cars. When I have to get to a meeting in the area, I am more worried that parking lots will be full than that they will be expensive. That is one reason I usually take the subway.

Shoup strikes me as one of those people who would like to see American locales looking more like Berlin. As I wrote here, it is not clear that taking away public parking will generate that outcome.


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COMMENTS (8 to date)
bob writes:

Schoup would say a large proportion of the traffic is due to people looking for traffic. And he would say that "hey, maybe if you had to pay for parking, that might also affect your modal choice for getting to that business meeting."

Also, I would read your colleague's book review of Schoup's work. His book is written with urban planners in mind, a group more likely to be truly anti-automobile. His writing is tailored to the audience he is trying to persuade.

Stephen Smith writes:

Sure, when you're very wealthy and you need to get to a meeting that's someplace you're not familiar with you're more likely to want to pay to ensure you get there on time. But if you're poorer and it's somewhere you go every day, I'd say that higher parking prices would dissuade me from driving.

Also, I think you ought to take seriously the idea of positive feedback loops – we drive a lot partially because we're give free, government-mandated parking (okay, so the gov't doesn't mandate that it's free, but it does mandate that supply is so large that the market price is driven down to zero), but mostly because all the parking lots between point A and point B make it absolutely miserable to walk/use transit, and make it much easier to drive. Take away all that empty space and you'll have a lot more congestion generally, which works in transit/walking's favor, and works against driving.

As for your constant tarring of people of wanting things to be "more European," you're going to have to one day get over the fact that yes, libertarians do have opinions on which way the market is likely to go. You clearly like cars and so you think that a free market in land use/transportation will increase car use, but there are others who have the opposite priors. Rather than constantly saying things like "Shoup strikes me as one of those people who would like to see American locales looking more like Berlin," just stick to the arguments, please. Because to me, you very much look like someone who'd like to SoCal-ify the entire world.

Chris Koresko writes:

Stephen Smith: You clearly like cars and so you think that a free market in land use/transportation will increase car use, but there are others who have the opposite priors.

I can't think of a single major U.S. public transportation project that wasn't predominantly financed by government since the 19th century. In fact, it seems that when the free market seeks to address the local transport needs of people without their own cars, the solution is almost invariably the taxi or, occasionally, the bus. I also cannot name a public transportation system involving passenger rail or any other non-carlike technology that earns its keep through ticket sales. Isn't that evidence enough that the choice of the free market is the automibile?

Stephen Smith writes:

I can't think of a single major U.S. public transportation project that wasn't predominantly financed by government since the 19th century.

Uhhh...how about every single mass transit system in the United States? (Minus the DC Metro.) You didn't think those were built by the government, did you??

The beginning of the 20th century is when the state started putting up barriers to private mass transit initiatives. The mandatory five-cent fare was a big one, as was the mandate that streetcars be operated by two people, whereas buses could get away with one.

Isn't that evidence enough that the choice of the free market is the automibile?

No, it's not. Not when the government forces people to purchase/build substitute goods (i.e., ample parking and low-density development) that completely preclude the possibility of a viable mass transit system, private or public.

Stephen Smith writes:

PS, I should add that if you're interested in learning more about the massive interventions in the American land use/transportation industries, I'm a guest contributer to a blog – marketurbanism.com dedicated solely do that.

Two Things writes:

I agree the nickel streetcar fare helped destroy the streetcars (just more proof that government regulation is the reverse Midas touch), but streetcars were doomed anyway.

Mass transit enthusiasts just can't seem to get their minds around the fact that most people rationally prefer to get around in private automobiles.

Cars are almost always more convenient than mass transit. They leave when you wish and you never have to run to catch them or wait outside in the heat or cold for "the next one" (if there is a next one; if you have a car you don't have to worry whether you'll catch the last bus). You can't shop at Costco using the bus. You can hardly drop off or pick up your kids at school or daycare during the day without a car (buses run infrequently in off-peak hours). At the "home" end of your trip you can park in your own garage or driveway rather than hiking through the rain from the bus or trolley stop. You almost never have a panhandler, wino, or whacko sit down next to you in your private car.

Car trips nearly always take less time, and while you may be able to earn more money, no one can get more time. That's why people with money spend some of it on cars: to save time for better things than bumping along in a bus or trolleycar.

Since the car is preferable to mass transit for nearly everyone (even blind people would be better off with dial-a-ride than mass transit) and the only reason that people (other than the blind, convicted drunk drivers, children, and so-forth) don't have cars is because they're too poor, propaganda promoting mass transit comes off as supremely arrogant.

Mass transit promoters (apart from bus manufacturers and their ilk with obvious commercial interests at stake) are mostly obnoxious hypocrites. They want other people to take the bus to leave more room on the road for their social superiors.

I say phooey on that.

Doc Merlin writes:

I think I agree with everything you said there Arnold.... particularly about the zero price due to peak load considerations.

Wilson writes:

If stephen smith is against massive government interventions in the American land use/transportation industries then he should start with the 70 cents on the dollar that the government provides in subsidies to mass transit. A transit system that did not rely on huge government subsidies might be viable, but it would be a much smaller and more limited system than the one we have today (which is itself just a tiny component of our total transportation system).

Private automobiles have becoming the overwhelmingly dominant mode of transportation in virtually every wealthy democracy because they are simply a much, much better way of getting around than buses and trains - faster, more convenient, more flexible, more comfortable, more private, and more functional.

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