September 9, 2014

Berkeley Bugle: "Parking Policy in the Smartphone City"

From the Harvard Political Review:
… two teams of entrepreneurs have released smartphone apps that they claim will make (finding a convenient parking space) easier, at least for those who are willing to pay. These apps allow, in essence, an auction for parking spots. Drivers can sell the use of spots they currently occupy but are about to leave up to the highest bidder.
Reactions were ferocious. City officials and newspaper columnists condemned the apps as a privatization of public space. Twitter users labeled them #JerkTech and wrote them off as another example of rich techies’ insensitivity to common society. San Francisco and Boston even hastily passed ordinances banning them. Critics argued that parking is a public resource, not a profit opportunity for a few private companies.
Largely overlooked in the popular media discussion, however, are the reasons why Haystack and MonkeyParking were able to make a profit in the first place. Unlike in the private sector, where prices typically settle at the market-clearing price, parking has been deliberately kept under the market-clearing price, even free, on political grounds. …
Broadly speaking, the notion that cities should be accessible to drivers, providing ample parking and wide, fast roads, came about after World War II.  [That’s Motordom, folks!] …
Most parking is free, or at least, drastically underpriced. The root cause of this is a cultural attitude routed in an accident of history. Drivers had 20 years after the invention of the Model T to become accustomed to free parking. …
The negative effects of parking minimums and free parking are well-established. They drive up housing costs, as every buyer or renter of an apartment, with or without a car, must pay for a parking spot as well. They require developers either to use expensive urban land on surface parking lots or to build structured garages. …
But whether smartphone apps can lead the way to better parking policy or not, their existence shows that the current system can change, and moreover that it ought to. Banning them, as Boston has done, does not address the core issue: The standard American approach to parking policy is broken, creating false perceptions of shortages, unnecessary traffic problems, and vast amounts of economic waste.
A serious political effort to address this must recognize that supply and demand applies to parking just as surely as it applies to everything else, and fix the broken rhetoric around urban policy that ignores the needs and even existence of the car-less urban class. Such a political program will be challenging, as the benefits of the status quo are obvious every time someone parks without needing to pay, whereas the manifold costs—in inflated housing prices, pollution, and congestion—are hidden. But it can, and must, be done.
Full article here.

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  1. High time to change a system where we tax the use of private property to house people but give away public lands for free to house cars. Some of my friends don’t own cars, in Vancouver that’s still not an easy choice for a family with kids. Everyones benefits from their decision to go car free, less noise, less pollution, fewer cars threatening our health or even lives. But we still ask them to subsidize their neighbours on-street parking through their property taxes, subsidize ‘free’ parking at the stores through increased prices and give up benefits at work when not using the subsidized parking.