The High Cost of Free Parking

On Monday 14 July, Hobart City Council Alderman Leo Foley wrote to The Mercury, articulating why full-cost recovery of car parks is fundamental to supporting and encouraging an active and vibrant city. Here is what he had to say: 

Free parking is expensive. Every car space costs thousands of dollars in land value, kerning, guttering and sealing and then hundreds more each year in line markings, street cleaning and maintenance. Someone has to pay. If users don't pay, non-users must. Should people who don't use cars subsidise those who do? 

Free parking encourages more car use. More cars moving around chasing a "free space" makes it more difficult for people to enjoy the city. On the other hand, parking charges encourage public transport use, walking and cycling. That would be a more liveable city... 

Similarly, UCLA professor Donald Shoup in the High Cost of Free Parking found that oversupply of free parking is an enormous public subsidy that makes driving less expensive than it should be skewing travel choices, and subsequently resulting in extra air pollution, higher oil consumption, traffic congestion, and sprawl. Professor Shoup uses this great allegory to articulate how subsidised parking slants desired transportation mode-share. 

To illustrate the problems caused by ubiquitous free parking, consider the problems that would arise if the charges were automatically reversed for all telephone calls. In this case the called parties, not the callers, pay for telephone calls. Also, the phone bills do not itemise individual collect calls, and the entire telephone bill is usually bundled into a property’s mortgageor rent payment, without separate charge. No one seems to pay for telephone calls.

The demand for telephone use skyrockets. To guarantee urban development’s capacity to accept all telephone calls without creating chronic busy signals, planners require each new building to provide a minimum number of telephone lines to handle the expected peak number of calls.

To set minimum telephone requirements, planners consult a "call generation rate" manual. Planners set specific telephone requirements for hundreds of individual land uses without considering the cumulative effects of the whole system of requirements. Minimum telephone requirements differ wildly among cities, with no explanations asked or given.

The federal government inadvertently spurs peak-hour calling by excluding employer-paid telecommuting subsidies from employees' taxable income. Then, attempting to reduce solo telecommuting peak-hours, the federal government heavily subsidises local mailservice, spending more and more to carry a shrinking share of all communication. A telephone demand management industry springs up.

Attempting to reduce congestion during peak-hours, planners exempt the downtown from telephone requirements. Downtown developers provide free calling anyway, because ample free calling is available everywhere else. In desperation, planners impose downtown telephone caps.

The complications and expense are enormous. Now imagine that minimum telephone requirements also inflate housing prices, burden enterprise, and encourage urban sprawl. Excessive telephone use pollutes the air, depletes natural resources, and risks global warming. The problems are insoluble. 

Thankfully in Tasmania and Australia, Local, State and Federal parking and transport strategies encourage a mode shift away from private vehicle transportation, and towards investment in active and public transport. However it is fundamental that governmental bodies support and implement their own strategies to allow for a fluid transition towards efficient transport systems. There are many more that give the same message, but here are some of the main strategies: 

Federal: Walking, Riding and Access to Public Transport
https://www.infrastructure.gov.au/infrastructure/pab/urbanpolicy/active_travel/index.aspx

State: Southern Integrated Transport Plan and the Tasmanian Walking and Cycling for Active Transport
http://www.transport.tas.gov.au/road/southern_integrated_transport_plan
http://www.dier.tas.gov.au/passenger_transport/tasmanian_walking_and_cycling_for_active_transport_strategy

Local (Hobart): Sustainable Transport Strategy 2009-2014
http://www.hobartcity.com.au/Transport/Sustainable_Transport_Planning

University: Sustainable Transport Strategy 2012-2016
http://www.utas.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0018/244107/UTAS-Sust_Transport_Strategy_Main_2012-06-12-FINAL-with-foreword.pdf

The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup. 
http://www.fishpond.com.au/Books/High-Cost-of-Free-Parking-Donald-Shoup/9781932364965


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