Eric Jaffe at CityLab summarizes parking guru Donald Shoup’s recommendations to change the politics of parking by managing curb parking more efficiently. UCLA’s Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking (2005), in an Access magazine story says:
Many cities suffer from congested curb parking, polluted air, poor public services, and political opposition to parking meters. To solve these problems cities can charge fair market prices for curb parking, spend the revenue to improve public services on the metered streets, and give price discounts for residents, small cars, and clean cars. By changing the politics of parking, cities can meter more of their valuable curb space, producing more money, less traffic, cleaner air, and a cooler planet. Parking meters can then do a world of good.
To manage curb parking efficiently, Shoup says cities should charge the lowest meter price that will leave one or two open spaces on every block. Residents will then gain two advantages. First, they will easily find an open curb space wherever they want to park, and second, they will pay a discounted price when they do park.
The parking innovations Shoup recommends include:
1. Pay-By-Plate Technology
Remove individual parking meters and replace them with kiosks that accept credit cards. Shoup suggests taking the additional step of making license plate numbers part of the parking-kiosk transaction.
Pittsburgh began citywide implementation of pay-by-plate meters in 2012. Drivers punch in their plate numbers at the kiosks, then pay by credit card or cash, then go on their way—no need to go back to the car and display a receipt in the dash. Drivers can also re-park within the same zone without re-doing the whole transaction. Enforcement officials have an easier time, too; they simply scan a plate, see if it’s paid, and move on or print a ticket.
Shoup also points out that pay-by-plate kiosks make it easier for cities to customize parking discounts for some drivers or surcharges for others. More on that below.
2. Pollution Surcharge
To encourage cleaner cars and improve local air quality, Madrid recently imposed pollution-based parking fees that vary based on a car’s environmental impact. The new charge is applied via pay-by-plate technology: drivers input their plate numbers, which tells the city system the make and model of the car, which then spits out a parking rate based on emissions. Hybrids, electrics, and fuel-efficient cars reportedly get up to a 20 percent discount; gas guzzlers pay up to a 20 percent surcharge.
3. Length-Based Fees
While we’re charging cars based on emissions, why not charge them based on length, too? Curb space is a limited commodity along city streets, and not all cars occupy it equally. Shoup has worked out a basic framework for the length-based charges, ranging from a 56 percent discount for Smart cars to no discount for a Rolls Royce. “Most people who can afford to buy a longer car can probably afford to pay more to park it,” says Shoup.
4. Special Resident Rates
In Miami Beach, residents pay a lower meter rate than non-residents and tourists pay—$1 and $1.75 an hour, respectively. That fee (again, implemented with the help of plate-kiosk technology) might seem unfair in the abstract. But Shoup justifies the approach because local residents, unlike visitors, already pay taxes to maintain streets and parking enforcement services.
5. New Local Services
Along similar lines, parking revenue doesn’t all have to go into the city’s general pocket—it can be invested back into the neighborhoods where it originated in smarter ways. A few years ago, for instance, Ventura, California, installed parking meters where none existed previously, but used the revenue to pay for local street patrols as well as public WiFi. This approach fosters political good will among shop owners who typically oppose meters, as well as drivers who tend to see meter hikes as taxpayer gouging.
By changing the politics of parking, cities can meter more of their valuable curb space, producing more money, less traffic, cleaner air, and a cooler planet. Parking meters can then do a world of good.