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Saturday, February 11, 2012

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?