Related Posts with Thumbnails

Saturday, January 28, 2012

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. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

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?

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?