Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Adaptive Parking lets parking supply choices respond to local context

Adaptive Parking lets parking supply choices respond to local context
This post introduces reform direction number four in Adaptive Parking.

It calls for more responsive parking supply choices: 
Responsive Supply: Let parking supply choices respond more readily to costs, returns (or the lack of returns) and alternatives.
In other words, it is a good idea to encourage parking supply to adapt to local conditions. By the way, I really mean LOCAL. And by 'conditions' I mean all dimensions of market conditions. 

So, this fourth reform direction in Adaptive Parking is actually much more ambitious than just saying we should match parking supply to demand.

It suggests paying attention also to the opportunity costs and the financial returns on parking investments, relative to alternatives. If the costs of building parking are going to be high and/or the returns are going to be low, and there are much better uses of the money, then why supply more parking?

Parking is real estate

Maybe you are thinking that this sounds obvious and that there is no need to labour the point? Well, it may be obvious but that doesn't prevent most jurisdictions around the world having parking policies that ignore such costs and returns and which force real-estate developers to ignore them too.

This reform direction points towards treating parking like any other real estate investment, so that we at least consider its costs, returns and alternatives. Unfortunately, treating parking investments as a real-estate investment decision is in fact NOT the conventional thing to do.

Key examples of policies that limit responsiveness in parking supply include: 
  • the building of taxpayer-subsidised public parking structures in town centers;
  • minimum parking requirements (especially if these are set at high levels);
  • policies that make all parking (even parking in excess of the requirements) exempt from counting towards the zoning plan's gross floor area limits for the building (or from counting in the floor area ratio, FAR, also known as plot ratio or floor space index, FSI).
Transit-oriented locations need less parking and the opportunity cost of building it there is high.

So what can we do to make parking supply choices more responsive?

I don't want to go into details today. But here is a short list of examples. 
  • abolish (or just reduce) subsidies for public-sector parking investments
  • abolish (or just refine or make more flexible or reduce) parking norms
  • confront parking suppliers with stronger trade-offs (for example, by counting parking, or at least more parking, as part of the floor space allowed under zoning rules).

You may have noticed that this reform principle is a more general version of Donald Shoup's suggestion to abolish minimum parking requirements.

Note that the short list of policies above includes both bold reforms and timid ones. This reform principle points in a direction for reform but does not insist on taking it to its extreme. Some places might be ready for bold steps but many may need baby steps to try. Fortunately, even modest steps along the lines of these suggestions should be helpful in making parking supply choices more responsive to local market conditions.

Uh oh! An example of going in the OPPOSITE direction

Is there really any need to push for more responsiveness in parking supply decisions? How bad could the status quo be? Very bad, I am afraid. See here, here, here, here and here for examples.

Here is some news from Andhra Pradesh in India about a new policy which will make parking supply extremely unresponsive to local conditions.  According to the Deccan Chronicle
Builders constructing malls and multiplexes, even in district headquarters across the state, have to leave a whopping 66 per cent space of the total built-up area for parking. It is mandatory for all municipalities, municipal corporations and urban development authorities in the state to follow this rule while approving building plans for malls and multiplexes. Presently, the space reserved for parking varies in municipalities and corporations.
Oh dear! This ruling doesn't just tie the hands of developers, it ties the hands of all local governments. It imposes a one-size-fits-all norm across the whole state of Andhra Pradesh, forbidding local governments from taking local circumstances into account. If a mall is proposed in Hyderabad near one of the Metro stations now being built, it will have to follow the norm on parking, despite heightened accessibility by public transport. If a developer wants to build a down-market mall in a low-income segment of any Andhra city, sorry, parking must follow the norm.

How much responsiveness in parking supply choices does your city or town allow for?

In case you missed them, here are the links to explanations of Adaptive Parking reform directions Numbers One (Public Parking), Two (Performance Pricing), and Three (Stakeholder Compromise).

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Saturday, February 11, 2012

Adaptive Parking and the need for stakeholder compromise

Adaptive Parking and the need for stakeholder compromise
This post introduces the third reform direction in Adaptive Parking.

It is relevant around the world but San Francisco provides a current illustration

San Francisco's parking reforms have met an obstacle. There is stout opposition to proposals to bring parking meters to new areas:
Faced with fierce opposition from newly organized residents and business owners, San Francisco transportation officials are tapping the brakes on a plan to install thousands of new curbside meters on streets where drivers now park for free. The proposal calls for one of the largest expansions of parking meters in city history.
The prospect of getting priced parking for the first time in an area is always controversial and is often resisted. Having the pricing take the form of demand-responsive SFPark-style pricing (as in this case) adds a further twist.
Initially, the proposed hourly charge would be 25 cents. But under city policy, the price can be increased in 25-cent increments every month or so, based on demand. 
Image from SFGate's City Insider blog
By contrast, the districts under the earlier phases of SFPark's performance-pricing trial generally already had on-street parking meters (please correct me if I am wrong on that).

Is the situation hopeless? Is extending parking pricing always political suicide? Maybe not! This bit of the SFGate article suggests room for compromise:
Susette Blackwell, who has lived in and owned a small building in the northeast Mission for more than a decade, now faces the prospect of having new meters planted on her street. "The days of free parking are over. We get it," she said. "We're willing to compromise, but they have to be willing to work with us."

So this sounds like a case for Adaptive Parking reform direction number 3: stakeholder compromise! 

Adaptive Parking has five basic reform principles or directions. I have been writing a bit about numbers one and two.

Here is number three again: "compromise with stakeholders when necessary, in ways compatible with the wider reforms".

So what is the thinking behind this reform direction? Regular readers may remember that the central thrust of Adaptive Parking is to expand the role of market responsiveness in local parking arrangements. This includes fostering park-once districts with more parking being made open to the public, pricing parking in more market-responsive ways, and accepting that supply might adjust in ways that produce spillover (which will now be seen as natural and normal).

Obviously, such changes often face resistance.

Local stakeholders care about their local parking. Some get territorial about it. This reform suggestion aims to be realistic that people feel a sense of ownership about public spaces in their neighborhoods, including the parking in the streets. They don't "own" these streets but local governments soon learn that it is foolish to ram through parking reforms that ignore territorial sentiments about parking.

The folks opposed to change also tend to feel more strongly about it than anyone else. So, in social-science-speak, this reform direction is also about defusing the collective action problems associated with parking reform.

So Adaptive Parking reform direction #3 is about giving local stakeholders more reasons to like the reforms and fewer reasons to fear them. It is about accepting that people feel territorial about "their" streets and that we may need to placate those feelings. But it urges us to do so without losing the spirit of the reform. Any compromises should be consistent with the goal of Adaptive Parking to increase the market responsiveness of the local parking system.

Parking Benefit Districts and variations on the theme

Fans of Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking, may have noticed something. A great example of what I am talking about here is Shoup's suggestion to return on-street parking revenue to local ‘parking benefit districts’ to be spent on local public improvements. So you could think of the third Adaptive Parking reform direction as a more generalized take on Shoup's idea.

Parking benefit districts are indeed one way to bring this reform direction to life. They are an institutional form that may resonate for countries that already have similar beasts, such as Business Improvement Districts. Around the world, we will need to find variations on the idea to suit local circumstances.

By the way, Shoup and colleagues have a similar suggestion for overcoming collective action problems standing in the way of congestion pricing.

So what about San Francisco and its current problems? 

The opposition to expanding the priced parking areas in San Francisco demonstrates the importance of Stakeholder Compromise as a reform principle in Adaptive Parking.

However, San Francisco has a problem. It's city charter says all parking revenue must go towards public transport service (as pointed out by Pedro Brown in the Shoupistas facebook group). This ties the hands of the SFPark experiment. San Francisco can't use the parking revenue in its local compromises with the immediate stakeholders. So a Shoup-style parking benefit district cannot help I guess.

Of course, spending parking revenue on transit is itself an attempt to make parking pricing more palatable by having it contribute to the improvement of travel choices. But it seems not be enough to mollify locals faced with new parking meters for their area.

Maybe SF will find other ways to win crucial local support for the expansion of priced parking? It will be interesting to see how this develops.

Any suggestions? One obvious line of thinking involves residential parking permits. Can they be made compatible with Adaptive Parking?

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Friday, February 3, 2012

Performance pricing is NOT pricing for "traffic restraint"

Performance pricing is NOT pricing for "traffic restraint"
Early reactions to proposals for demand-responsive pricing of parking are often plagued by confusion.

When people hear about performance-pricing for the first time, they often confuse it with another (more familiar) parking policy: using high prices to restrict traffic. 

If you are a regular Reinventing Parking reader, then you probably won't make that mistake. But be aware of it whenever you try to explain performance pricing to anyone else. Your audience is likely to jump to the conclusion that you simply mean higher parking prices to limit car use.

Comment threads for articles on Donald Shoup's demand-responsive pricing suggestions often have examples of this misunderstanding. For example, this article prompted this comment:
... If, today, you raise the price of parking in most places (Boston included), you reduce mobility. Somehow public transit has to simultaneously be improved while parking is reduced. ...
Even this supportive comment on the same item blurs the distinction between performance pricing (for vacancies) and pricing to deter car use:
... What policies such as congestion pricing, parking pricing, and road diets do is make people switch from driving to not taking the trip or to taking public transit ...

Now I am not against city-center parking restraint and the fact that it leads to high parking prices. It is often a good idea. But it is NOT performance-pricing! It is something else.

For decades, London has been gradually restricting the supply of parking in order to increase parking prices and reduce traffic. It limited its central-area parking as part of its Travel Demand Management (TDM) policies. Sydney too. In fact, many cities in Europe and Australia do this to some extent. According to ITDP:
Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient.
Seoul is one of the few Asian cities to deliberately limit parking supply in its business districts. In the USA, EPA regulations also prompted a few cities to restrict parking supply, producing high prices in their central business districts (CBDs).

Buildings in Seoul's CBDs have tight limits on the parking spaces they can provide.

Such policies are often a great idea, especially for central areas that are well served by mass transit, but they are not performance pricing.

Now, let's try to be clear about distinctions (and connections) between a) performance pricing and b) using parking as TDM:

1.  The two policies have different aims.

A key claim for performance pricing is indeed that it would reduce traffic. Uh oh... there is fuel for confusion there. But the key to this is its goal of reducing CRUISING for parking. It does NOT aim to reduce car travel itself (although it should help that agenda indirectly in the longer term). By contrast, parking restriction does aim to deter car-based visits to central areas.

2.  The two policies are compatible (this is good but it could also cause confusion)

Parking restrictions nudge off-street parking prices upwards. If such parking restraint were COMBINED with performance-pricing for on-street parking then the on-street parking prices will also be a market outcome and should also rise as supply shrinks. So even though the two policies are not the same thing, they are actually compatible.

In fact, many of the cities that are most urgently in need of on-street parking reform (such as performance pricing or something similar) are those whose CBDs do restrict parking but which still have under-priced on-street parking  (think of the business districts of New York City). This produces a toxic combination of very expensive off-street and very cheap on-street parking, causing extreme levels of cruising for parking. This obviously undermines the benefits of the parking restraint.

San Francisco has also been a case of this! And SFPark is being tried as an answer to the problem. So it is no accident that SFPark is being tried in a city which has a "transit-first" transportation policy that includes parking maximums in the central area.

Unfortunately, this also adds to the confusion. Many people seem to think, "hmmm ... if San Francisco is doing demand-responsive pricing for parking then it must be about restricting cars".

3.  But the two policies need not go together

Many CBDs around the world that restrain parking don't use performance pricing. As mentioned above, some still underprice their parking. Others manage on-street parking quite well but don't use explicit performance pricing. Most of them manage their on-street parking on a zonal basis in order to achieve on-street prices that are similar to, or higher than, the market-based off-street parking. The outcomes of this are probably similar to a simple version of demand-responsive pricing (since the market-based off-street prices are a benchmark) but vacancies are not the explicit target in setting prices.

And cities could certainly do performance pricing even without restricting parking supply. In fact, this is a key point I am trying to make with this post.

4.  Performance-pricing SHOULD be more politically palatable than parking restrictions

Actually, I should say first that even parking restraint CAN be clever politics, at least in city centers and at least compared with some of the other ways to tame traffic. For example, parking restraint is one of the secrets behind Berlin's traffic limitation strategies and was achieved without much political backlash. CBD parking limitation is certainly much more widespread around the world than congestion pricing, for example!

But beyond transit-oriented CBDs, parking restrictions tend to be unpopular. There are many places where it is currently politically impossible to restrict parking supply and to deliberately drive parking prices higher.

This confusion is an obstacle to performance-pricing reform

Now you should be able to see why I have tried so hard to emphasize that performance pricing is NOT the same thing as using parking for travel demand management or traffic restraint.

Performance pricing SHOULD be possible even in places that have no local political appetite for traffic restraint. But not if the two keep getting conflated in people's minds.
1 comment

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

An overpricing trap in simple versions of performance pricing for parking?

An overpricing trap in simple versions of performance pricing for parking?

In my last post I asked if imperfect versions of performance pricing are better than none at all.  My answer: generally yes. Taking small steps towards demand responsive pricing for on-street parking is usually a good idea (for reasons to be explained in future posts).

But I can see at least one mistake to avoid: over-pricing. 

In imperfect approximations of demand-responsive parking pricing, it would be easy to over-price parking. This would create too many vacancies and make the whole idea vulnerable to objections that it is killing local businesses.

High-quality performance pricing has an answer to that:  if motorists really stop coming, then the prices will drop again until the problem is solved and, in any case, the prices will not rise past the point that gives 15% vacancies.

But rough-and-ready versions of demand-responsive pricing might indeed need to be careful not to over-price at certain places and certain times. This mistake could be tempting for at least two reasons. Today I will talk about one of them.

Simple versions of performance pricing can only vary their prices on a coarse scale. 

For example, you might have just three prices (zero, basic and peak) with two pricing zones and two time periods in which to apply these prices.

For example, the American town of Nashua, NH, has just started a basic version of performance pricing. Its downtown area now has three pricing zones: Zone 1 (red): 25 cents per 15 minutes (or $1 an hour), Zone 2 (blue): 25 cents per 20 minutes (or 75 cents an hour), and Zone 3 (green): 25 cents per 30 minutes (or 50 cents an hour).

Now, if you aim for vacancies at the really busy places and times within a large zone and over a long pricing-period, you would end up accidentally overpricing parking for part of the zone and for some of the time. Oops.



We don't yet have many examples to analyze but I think the danger is real.

After all, overpricing can happen even when on-street pricing is NOT demand responsive. For example, Donald Shoup was critical of the City of Los Angeles last year.
Two years ago the city doubled meter rates everywhere, and I’ve since seen entire blocks where there isn’t a single car parked at a meter. The prices should come down on these blocks...
...
Meter rates were based on revenue when the city doubled meter rates everywhere, with a minimum $1 an hour, two years ago.  Since most meters had been 25¢ an hour, that meant quadrupling the price at most meters.  Rates at most of the city’s meters had not changed at all in the previous 18 years. Inertia had been the city’s policy, not maximum revenue or good management.
The SFPark trial in San Fransciso is also revealing that the previous flat parking prices must have involved overpricing many streets at many times. How do we know? Because many of the price adjustments under SFPark have been price REDUCTIONS due to very low occupancy rates. 

These arguments also suggest that performance pricing should be introduced step-by-step and cautiously. And, in fact, even though SFPark is 'gold standard' performance pricing, it is being introduced in small steps, with only small price changes allowed, and only once per month. The discussion above suggests that such caution could be even more important if your pricing is not 'gold standard' and will not be varying much in time or space.

Do you have any examples of cities falling into the trap of over-pricing when adopting simple performance pricing? Or maybe I am wrong to worry about this?

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Saturday, January 28, 2012

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

Is performance parking pricing an "all or nothing" thing?
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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Thursday, January 26, 2012

Parking reform wins 2012 Sustainable Transport Award

Parking reform wins 2012 Sustainable Transport Award
San Francisco's parking reforms, including SFPark, have made it joint winner (with Medellin, Colombia) of the 8th annual Sustainable Transport Award announced in Washington, D.C. on 24 January.

San Francisco's nomination profile explains:
San Francisco is a 2012 Sustainable Transport Award nominee for its implementation of SFPark, an innovative new parking and traffic demand management system, and its “Pavement to Parks” program that reclaims street and parking spaces for public spaces.
SFPark is a a demand-pricing based approach to parking management in commercial districts around the city. Over the past year, the city tested its new parking management system at 7,000 of San Francisco’s 28,800 metered spaces and 12,250 spaces in 15 of 20 city-owned parking garages. Despite much initial concern, the program has been well received in its test neighborhoods, helping local businesses and making the streets more pleasant for the huge populations of transit riders and people on foot and bicycle.

The Pavement to Parks program has created new street plazas and many new parklets (sidewalk platforms that replace car parking spaces) by reclaiming street space in partnerships with businesses and other community groups around the city. The parklets program has captured international attention, prompting a host of other cities to begin their own programs, from New York City to Vancouver.

SFPark's website provides details information on the emerging variations in the price of on-street parking.

The Sustainable Transport Award is run by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP) and nominees and winners are chosen by a steering committee from various leading organisations working on sustainable transport issues. Previous winners include Guangzhou, Ahmedabad, New York City and Seoul. 

Your reactions? Does SF deserve its award?
1 comment

Monday, January 23, 2012

Tangled up in equity arguments

The rise of performance pricing for parking is provoking equity-based objections.

As an example, let's take a look at the equity arguments quoted by the Boston Globe article on performance pricing which I mentioned last week. I liked it for mentioning that market pricing can shake up how we think about parking. But I wasn't so impressed by its take on the equity implications:
If Back Bay spots floated up to a market price, lower-income drivers would effectively lose access to parking spaces that they have as much legal right to as anyone else. The result, ultimately, would be a city where the rich have access to whatever spots they want, while everybody else has to settle for what’s affordable.

I care about equity and I agree that parking policy has important equity implications but this paragraph seems deeply muddled to me.

How does having the 'legal right' to park have anything to do with how parking should be priced? I have a 'legal right' to rent an apartment in the most prestigious street in my city. The fact that I, like most people, can't afford to do so has nothing to do with whether apartments should be market-priced. Of course, if significant numbers of people can't afford any decent shelter we must look for solutions. In market economies, those solutions are (usually) targeted and don't abolish market pricing for real estate generally. In any case, surely parking in busy urban streets is much less of a basic need than housing.

This brings me to 'compulsory car' thinking, which is a culprit in many of these equity objections. Many people seem to assume that driving is the only (tolerable) way to move around or that most drivers have little or no choice. They assume that if you can't afford to park in an area, then you can't afford to go there. Many people seem to be thinking of parking and driving as a basic necessity, like water. We do price water of course, but the politics of pricing for basic needs is always tricky. Highly automobile dependent societies, like the USA, are naturally especially prone to compulsory car thinking. However, the places where parking is scarce enough for performance prices to be high also tend to be the kind of dense urban places that are richest in mobility alternatives. Cars are one option among many and are clearly not a basic need in order to reach such places, even when such a place is located within a generally auto-dependent metropolitan area.

It is a pity the Boston Globe journalist didn't dig further into the connection between equity worries and how we frame parking as a good (which was a strong point in the story).

For example, on-street parking is owned by the community as a whole. But is it like space on an uncrowded beach or is it more like city-owned tennis courts in a popular urban park in a dense city? Both are publicly-owned but their pricing stories are different. Pricing the space on an empty beach is unlikely (and in any case, the 'performance price' there would be zero!). But pricing municipal tennis courts seems reasonable (at least in dense places) since tennis involves relatively few people using up a lot of space. Having 'peak pricing' for tennis courts (higher prices for high-demand times like weekends) also seems acceptable (here are some examples from London). And underpricing of tennis courts would cause nothing worse than a waiting list, whereas under-priced on-street parking causes traffic chaos and disruption. So why are some people so suspicious of performance pricing for on-street parking?

Two eminent left-of-center American economists are also quoted in the article:
“My first reaction was that this is going to create a huge issue of equity,” said University of Oregon economist Mark Thoma, who publicly voiced this concern in a 2010 blog post responding to a New York Times op-ed arguing for demand-based pricing.

Robert Reich, former labor secretary and professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley, who recently lamented the creep of privatization into public life, points out that the current system has a kind of equity built in: People who make less money, and can’t afford to park in a garage, can instead invest their time in the search for a cheap metered space. “Which is best? It depends in part on how much time you have relative to how much money,” Reich wrote in an e-mail. “Upper-income people have more of the latter, of course, which makes the allocation-by-price system better for them. But it’s far from clear it’s the best system for everyone.”
Now I respect these two economists enormously but I don't think they have thought this parking issue through. 

For example, there is a hidden assumption here that the status quo is fair. Why assume that? It seems likely that there are often more low-income people among the victims of cruising for parking (such as bus users) than among the beneficiaries of the under-priced parking.

Here is another way to think about the lack of fairness of the status quo. Imagine a city with a long-standing system of performance pricing for its on-street parking. Would a cap on parking prices really be high on your list of ways to improve equity of access to prime locations in this city? Would such a cap accurately target the people who really need most help? Would the poor really receive a big share of the benefit?

There is much more to be said on equity and performance-pricing but that is enough for one blog post.

What do you think?
4 comments

Friday, January 20, 2012

Parking protection rackets

Parking protection rackets
South Africa's informal car guards were featured this week in the New York Times in an article that highlights the stories of the guards as well as the problems with this practice.

It is a phenomenon that happens around the world.

Latin America has them. Mexico City's informal parking attendants have been featured in various media. Last year I saw an informal car guard operating on a Sunday along a restaurant/market street in the beautiful Buenos Aires district of Palermo Viejo.

They are widespread around Asia too. They were familiar when I lived in Malaysia for several years. My father-in-law, a police officer in Singapore in the 1960s, tells me that 'jaga kereta' (Malay for car guard) were also common in Singapore at that time.

Informal parking attendants provoke polarized opinions. Car guards are often feared and loathed. But their existence also reflects serious unemployment and poverty problems, so that a draconian enforcement approach seems harsh and unfair.

My report on Parking Policy in Asian Cities for the ADB makes the point that this phenomenon seems to emerge to fill a vacuum:
If parking in a vicinity is not managed efficiently by governments, informal fee collectors may step in, as seen in Bangkok, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, and some Indian cities. In Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, and Manila such activities occur whenever and wherever the official fee collection system is absent but where demand remains high.

So the car guard phenomenon is best understood as a sign of our failure to manage on-street parking properly. 

These guys are telling us something important. Where parking is saturated for long periods of the day, then motorists will be willing to pay for parking. If cities don't do the pricing, then informal attendants often will.

Harsh action against them is futile (others take their place) and just hurts people who are already poor and marginalised. But the actions of illegal parking guards ARE often problematic. Wouldn't it be better to provide legitimate employment to legal parking attendants by improving and expanding legal parking fee collection systems? This would enhance the level of security and trust on both sides of the transaction.

Indian cities are an interesting case. Most have legal parking attendants, providing employment and managing parking (after a fashion). That is a start. But with weak contractual arrangements and very low prices, the contractors are often tempted to overcharge.  The City of Makati in Metro Manila does a better job, with uniformed attendants wielding digital devices.

Arresting illegal parking attendants is not going to solve the problem. Filling the vacuum with legitimate parking management may.

A Makati parking attendant with digital device.

Do you have any insights or anecdotes on informal parking attendants or car guards?
5 comments

Monday, January 16, 2012

"A rethinking of what parking is in the first place"

"A rethinking of what parking is in the first place"
If your parking policy debates are going in circles, there is a good chance the protagonists are 'framing' parking in totally different ways. 

They have different ideas about 'what parking is in the first place', as the Boston Globe's Leon Neyfakh puts in in his short feature, which focuses on the rise of performance pricing for parking in US cities. 

I have written before that parking debates often involve different ways to frame the whole idea of parking. So I liked this bit in the article:
At one level, the idea is a novel piece of urban engineering made possible because of new parking technology. But at another, it amounts to a rethinking of what parking is in the first place — not a public resource to be shared by all, but a scarce commodity whose price should fluctuate depending on how badly people want it. 
Possible translation into policy-speak:  parking is not a public good, it is a private good which can have a market price.  

Does that claim shock you?

How could parking in public space (such as in a street) be a private good? Well, you need to understand that when policy wonks use the term 'private good' they do NOT necessarily mean it must be privatized. It just means that it is both rivalrous and excludable.

Now, you CAN try to pretend that parking is a public good if you really want to. This means you would refuse to ration it (or 'exclude' some people some of the time). But, unfortunately, you can't magically stop parking from being rivalrous. If I am parking in a specific spot you can't park there at the same time. So you end up not with a public good but with a common-property resource (or 'commons good'). This means it is non-excludable (or inconvenient to exclude) but it is rivalrous (or 'subtractable'). It also means that you are likely to face a tragedy of the commons situation, such as saturated parking with lots of cruising for parking and much moaning about the parking 'shortage'.

Image from Living Economics
By the way, we have lots of choices on how to manage common-pool resources. Shifting them into the private goods box (eg by pricing it or allocating property rights) is one approach. Others include central planning or local community solutions, such as the common property regimes highlighted by Elinor Ostrum's Nobel winning work on common pool resources). 

Further into the article we can see some of these ideas applied to parking and expressed in everyday English:
At the heart of the early resistance to meters was a sense of entitlement to free street parking that has endured in America to this day. We carry a deep-seated belief that people should be free to go where they please on the streets we’ve built, and that a city’s curb space is public — that, like air and water, it belongs to everyone.
To Shoup and his adherents, this is the wrong way to see it: Curbside parking isn’t a shared resource, like Boston Common, but rather a valuable piece of real estate, managed by the city, that should be priced according to what it’s worth. As Shoup put it, “We have a problem with parking exceptionalism in this country. Somehow people think that the normal laws of supply and demand don’t apply.”

So Shoup's thinking on parking, even on-street parking, sees it as a 'private good' (in the policy-wonk sense of the term). This causes dismay to people who are thinking of it as somehow 'public' or 'common'.

This post was about on-street parking. What about off-street parking? That's a whole different story. Conventional parking policy treats off-street parking as like the restrooms we require with each building and we should probably treat parking more like the cooked-food outlets that the market provides and planners usually allow in any walkable district. More on that some other time.

Are parking debates where you live going in circles? Is it because of different ideas about what parking is in the first place?
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