The myth of free parking

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Article Highlights

  • More people need to have more faith in markets to allocate land efficiently.

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  • Parking spaces are a scarce resource, yet governments give up spots for less than the market rate.

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  • Myth: City government & developers have a responsibility to provide affordable parking to residents.

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I won this one, putting my winning streak at 5.

The Carney brothers play a lot of Monopoly. In the summer of 1997, we would often play three games a night. Many folks badmouth the game, because they think it lasts forever. That’s only really the case if (1) you play poor strategy, and build homes too slowly, or (2) you deviate from the written rules, and adopt folk-rules.

The most common and silliest folk rule of Monopoly is that you get money when you land on Free Parking. You don’t. You get to park. For free. (And if you’re staring at hotels on the Oranges and three houses on the Reds, that’s a pretty sweet deal.)

Here’s another myth about parking: That city governments and developers have a responsibility to provide affordable parking to residents. Parking spaces, like apartments, are a scarce resource. But parking spaces are only used by people with cars, and so I’m willing to bet that, in cities, the average person using a parking space is not poor.

Yet governments give up street parking spots for less than market rate (either low meter rates or low annual fees for parking stickers) in many neighborhoods, leading to a scarcity of spots. Also, governments often require developers to provide off-street parking, so as not to throw a bunch more cars onto the scarce parking spots.

In D.C., there’s a push to free developers from these rules. AAA dislikes this:

Removing off-street parking requirements in apartment and office buildings would force motorists to circle city blocks looking for scarce spaces.

“This is a very dangerous proposal. We think it threatens the future of Washington, D.C.,” says Lon Anderson, the chief spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic

Matt Yglesias at Slate picks apart AAA’s bad arguments:

Insofar as people want to park cars—and lets make no mistake, lots of people want to park cars—they will pay for the privilege, and property developers will provide parking spaces.

What’s at issue here is whether non-parkers should be forced to offer a cross-subsidy to parkers. The case against such a subsidy seems strong. It encourages extra traffic congestion and extra pollution, as well as inducing some kind of deadweight loss in the form of stifled real estate development.

More people need to have more faith in markets to allocate land efficiently.

See my related piece, “Free Parking is Welfare”

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Timothy P.

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