A Great View If You Like Parking Lots

In our podcast "Parking Is Hell," we explored how the overwhelming demand for parking space has a lot of downsides. One big problem is that city centers can feel as if they're practically held hostage by parking lots and garages. I was in Minneapolis the other day, and here are four pictures taken from the window of my hotel room. It's not exactly a view that makes the heart skip ... 

How to Save Time Hunting for a Parking Spot, South Korea Edition

Our recent podcast "Parking Is Hell" explored the high costs of free parking. Transportation scholar Donald Shoup described one study, from L.A.:

We made 240 observations. When you add it up, the average time it took to space was only three minutes, that’s two and a half times around the block, which doesn’t seem like very much. It’s about half a mile hunting for parking. But when you add up all the people who are parking in Westwood Village, if they had the same average that we had, that adds up to 3,600 vehicle miles of travel a day. That’s the distance across the U.S., and that’s just in the 15-block area of Westwood. If you add it up for a year, that’s equal to 36 trips around the Earth or four trips to the moon hunting for underpriced curb parking in a little 15-block area. 

In South Korea, an oil company has started a campaign to reduce parking search time. The HERE campaign states that South Korean drivers wander 500 meters everyday for parking spots; by cleverly installing a balloon that indicates exactly where open spots are, it reduces search time for drivers.

Parking Is Hell: Architects to the Rescue

Inspired by our "Parking Is Hell" podcast, an ArchDaily op-ed shows how architects think about the parking problem:

The new car park in Miami is off to a good start, as it is definitively not brutalist, and has been designed and built to higher standards than its 1960s predecessors. It incorporates itself into an already walkable area, making it a success from the start. For this building and indeed any other mixed-use car parks which might be developed in cities worldwide, the lesson to take from the history of this peculiar building typology is that their success is very much dependent on the surrounding urban landscape being suited to accommodate them; much more than other building types, they are sensitive to poor planning.

Increasingly, poor parking arrangements are causing damage to our cities by occupying valuable space and contributing to congestion and pollution. The application of economics that we see in SF Park can mitigate these problems, without substantially changing anything – but wouldn’t it be better to fundamentally change our attitudes to parking, and design better spaces? We have surely learned enough from design’s history to make this a possible, and preferable, path to action.

Parking Isn't Always Hell

On the heels of our "Parking Is Hell" podcast, we received an email from Alicia Hickey -- a data analyst at ParkatmyHouse.com, a website that matches drivers with homeowners who have unused parking spaces in their driveways or garages. According to Hickey, ParkatmyHouse gets more than 10,000  visits a day and has 15,000 spots worldwide, the majority in the U.K. She  explained the pricing model to us:

If you look at parking near, say, Harvard University, a ParkatmyHouse space costs as little as $2/hour or $24/day. One-hour parking at a nearby garage costs $9 for the first hour. Three hours parking at that garage will cost you $24 (the 12-hour rate). That's $18 more than what the ParkatmyHouse space would cost for that same amount of time. It's difficult to give the average price of a parking space; it depends on the location and the property owner, but parking with ParkatmyHouse will always be cheaper than parking with a meter or in a commercial car park.

Hickey also told us about a few big success stories:

Special Parking for Hybrids

My wife took four grandkids to the Adventure Aquarium in Camden, New Jersey.  Looking for a parking space, she noticed the usual handicapped parking spots near the entrance, but also parking spaces reserved for hybrid vehicles.  The Aquarium, though not government-run, appears concerned about environmental issues and apparently tries to encourage energy conservation by making a visit easier for those who have chosen energy-efficient vehicles.  The private sector is implicitly subsidizing the purchase of hybrid cars, not by offering monetary incentives, but by subsidizing the time cost of owning these cars.  I suppose one can object that the subsidy matters more to those whose time is more valuable—presumably higher earners; but it’s still a neat way for the private sector to encourage energy efficiency.  I wonder how many other examples exist of explicit non-monetary subsidies by the private sector? (HT to FWH)

Carrots or Sticks? Handicapped Parking Edition

I’m convinced that shame can in many cases provide stronger incentives than a monetary penalty uncertainly enforced.  At a parking place in Luxembourg, the sign on the handicapped parking places reads: “Here is parking for a very handicapped person or a very inconsiderate (unscrupulous) person.”  This might motivate a lot of people better than a $50 fine should they happen to get caught parking there.

Diplomatic Parking Tickets

Usually, it’s New York City that complains bitterly about its diplomat parking ticket situation. The U.N. may be a beacon of hope and peaceful negotiation around the world, but it brings with it workers who use their immunity to park in front of fire hydrants, red zones, and anywhere else they please - it’s the stuff of urban legends and West Wing episodes.

Washington, D.C. is getting in on this complaining game. According to a new article on WTOP.com. D.C. takes the #2 spot with a diplomat ticket total of more than $500,000. New York City is owed a grand total of $17.2 million.

In 2003, the state department issued dire warnings to embassies in New York and D.C. threatening to withhold foreign assistance if parking tickets were not paid. So far though, it seems no foreign assistance has been withheld.

An Apparent Non-Money Pricing Anomaly

The City of Austin offers airport parking in three tiers, from garage ($20/day), to close-in surface ($10/day), to distant surface ($7/day). Frequent parkers accumulate points entitling them to free parking days.
The incentives for redeeming the points are bizarre:

Garage 2500 points

Close In 2500 points

Long Term 2500 points

The “price” of a free parking day is the same for the very desirable garage, where I never park if I have to pay $$, and for the close-in parking (where I park for $$ if staying fewer than 5 days) as well as for the long-term (where I park only if staying more than 4 days). Seeing this, we will redeem our 10,000 points for four days in the garage—parking for “free” anywhere else makes no sense. Now if the airlines would only charge the same number of frequent-flyer miles for a trip to Australia as they do for a trip to New York, I would be even better off!

A Corruption/Parking Tickets Map

Forbes's Jon Bruner has made a cool map of economists Raymond Fisman and Edward Miguel's paper "Cultures of Corruption: Evidence From Diplomatic Parking Tickets" (noted here earlier). The paper measured diplomats who used their immunity to dodge parking fines, resulting in a list of violations per U.N. diplomat. Kuwait tops the list at 246 violations per diplomat. The map is paired with corruption scores from Transparency International, Bruner notes:

Fisman and Miguel set out to use the parking data to understand the impact of social norms on official corruption. The idea is that diplomatic parking violations are essentially consequence free, except for any approbation that might come from the diplomat’s home state. A political culture that doesn’t mind its diplomats racking up parking tickets might not mind outright corruption.

The Right Price for Parking

The City of Austin sells valet parking companies the right to use a parking space for $250 per year. Is that the right price? I doubt it.