Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is performance parking pricing an "all or nothing" thing?

Saturday, January 28, 2012

There is a gold standard for making on-street parking prices responsive to demand. But what if your city can only take baby steps? What if it can only manage a 'silver standard' or 'bronze standard' for performance pricing?

The gold standard is to make sure that on-street parking prices vary across both space and time so that every stretch of street has roughly one of every eight parking spaces open all of the time. San Francisco's SFPark trial is doing this with the help of smart electronic parking meters and parking sensors in the ground. It aims to match the ideal of performance pricing very closely.

[By the way, if this idea is new to you then you may like to read about performance-pricing basics first.]

Making parking prices more demand-responsive is one of the reform ideas in Adaptive Parking. One of the ways in which Adaptive Parking is a little different from Donald Shoup's recommendations on parking policy is that it suggests the modest goal of making parking "more demand responsive" rather than calling for "performance pricing", period.

So Adaptive Parking encourages small steps in the right direction in the hope that performance pricing can be made more attractive to more places, even if the gold-standard version seems way too daunting. 

An article in the Vancouver Sun mentioned this issue last week. Neil Podmore, of Vancouver-based PayByPhone, was quoted:
“I think Vancouver has actually been ahead of San Francisco and L.A. for a long time. They realized that on-street parking was a valuable commodity, that it ought to be broadly market-based and they haven’t thrown a lot of money into technology,” he said. “There is a big question in the industry as to whether you need to invest $10,000 per parking space in order to get near-real-time-based parking. Vancouver hasn’t gone that way so they’ve been efficient with the money they spend for the money they get.”
So is a highly-imperfect approximation of performance pricing a step in the right direction? 

Saturated parking in Brickfields in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
Do even small steps towards responsive parking prices offer benefits? Or are there risks? For example, could some halfway-houses of performance pricing be vulnerable politically? Does doing this in half measures run the risk of being seen as a failure? Could it give the whole idea a bad name?

I will tackle these questions in several posts over the next week or so.

Here is a brief preview of some of the points I will make:
  • Yes, I believe that small steps towards the ideal are better than none (usually).
  • But there is some danger. Over-pricing could derail the reforms. 
  • On the other hand, under-pricing certain places and times is less risky for the reform process. 
  • Sending a strong and clear signal that creating vacancies is the primary focus of parking pricing should be a valuable step, even before we change anything else. 

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