Awful Injustice in Parking

Misguided parking policy is harmful and unjust.

No surprise there, you may say. There is no shortage of complaints about parking prices ("unfair!") and about how difficult it is to find parking. We hear the same thing all over the world, whether in Sydney, San Francisco, Singapore, Moscow, Delhi , Jakarta, Beijing, Sao Paolo, Lagos or Nairobi.

Sorry to be unsympathetic. But complaints like those are a problem. They are fuel for the never-ending push for more parking and cheaper parking.

So what? 

It is a problem because the push for cheap parking and more parking is a cause of terrible injustice in many cities.

Injustice? Surely I am exaggerating? 

I don't think so. I am arguing that the supply-obsessed conventional approach to parking policy starves cities of funds for crucial services.  And I am arguing that this a big deal.

It might not be a life and death matter in Los Angeles or Melbourne or Paris where motorists are cynical about parking revenue raising, as if revenue for local governments is a bad thing.

But in Dhaka or Dakar making the local government too cash strapped absolutely can put lives on the line.

If a local government can't afford to create a safe and healthy environment, in part because of underpriced and subsidized parking, then that really matters.

It really matters if parking profligacy undermines the budgets of sanitation systems, water supply, garbage collection, street cleaning, street maintenance, drainage works, flood mitigation, health and safety enforcement, and many more. In some cities, parking policy even undermines basic education and primary health services.

So I mean it. Misguided, 'conventional', parking policy is creating real tragedy and injustice, especially in cities and towns across the global South. 

But almost no-one notices this side of parking injustice. By contrast with the woes of motorists, there is almost no protest.

Most of the people harmed by conventional parking policy don't own a private vehicle. Most of them don't know that parking policy has hurt them.

Now parking is just part of a wider story here. Parking subsidies are just one of many poorly targeted or regressive subsidies. The poor in developing cities often pay premium prices to water vendors while the rich enjoy subsidized piped water. Fuel subsidies are 'eaten' mostly by high-income people, while the costs of the subsidy starve the health, education and infrastructure budgets of funds.

But aren't parking revenue and spending just small change?

Maybe so, compared with fuel subsidies at the national level.

But for local governments the small change of parking revenue quickly adds up. The potential revenue going begging because of underpricing and leakage would make a significant difference to most local government budgets.

Most of Palembang's main roads have no sidewalks.
Could a little parking revenue help?  
Consider Palembang, Indonesia, for example. Even with huge amounts of leakage and without time-based fees, the modest on-street parking system brings in almost US$500,000 per year, not counting parking at markets and the parking tax on commercial lots. The local Mayor has set a target of over US$1 million through simple leakage control efforts. A thorough reform of parking pricing would bring in much much more and start to make a significant contribution to total city revenue which is currently about US$130 million. Just as importantly, it would improve the city and the transport system via the many benefits of effective parking management.

And on the spending side, parking facilities cost a lot even in developing country contexts. Construction costs may often be lower (roughly US$ 6,000 to 15,000 per space) than in rich countries. But real estate costs are often very high in dense developing cities with poorly functioning land markets. So land costs can exceed the construction cost even for multi-level facilities. For example, the total cost cited recently for a 3,000 space parking structure in Beijing's Haidan district was RMB1.1 billion. That's US$175 million or almost US$60,000 per space.

Parking is not small change. Misguided parking priorities make a difference.

If you clicked to this article looking for sympathy about the unfairness of parking charges or a lack of convenient parking, you would have been disappointed I guess.  But I hope you made it to the end.

And I hope you will stop complaining.

Instead, please explore the rest of Reinventing Parking to find out about more constructive ways to think about parking problems and parking reform.