Free parking comes at a price by economics professor Tyler Cowen reviews the economics of providing “free” parking. Most of the piece relies on urban planning professor Daniel Shoup’s book The High Cost of Free Parking which I’ve read bits of before. As part of its review of the land development code, the Planning Commission has been looking at the parking regulations in the past few weeks and another look at the economics of parking regulations is appropriate. As Professor Shoup says:
…the presence of so many parking spaces is an artifact of regulation and serves as a powerful subsidy to cars and car trips. Legally mandated parking lowers the market price of parking spaces, often to zero. Zoning and development restrictions often require a large number of parking spaces attached to a store or a smaller number of spaces attached to a house or apartment block.
If developers were allowed to face directly the high land costs of providing so much parking, the number of spaces would be a result of a careful economic calculation rather than a matter of satisfying a legal requirement. Parking would be scarcer, and more likely to have a price — or a higher one than it does now — and people would be more careful about when and where they drove.
The subsidies are largely invisible to drivers who park their cars — and thus free or cheap parking spaces feel like natural outcomes of the market, or perhaps even an entitlement. Yet the law is allocating this land rather than letting market prices adjudicate whether we need more parking, and whether that parking should be free. We end up overusing land for cars — and overusing cars too. You don’t have to hate sprawl, or automobiles, to want to stop subsidizing that way of life.
So, for those who complain that there is not enough (free) parking downtown or that too many people are parking on residential streets near Carleton, consider the cost of providing the parking that already exists and also consider what you might be willing to pay to park or what alternatives to driving and parking you’d be willing to use.