Parking should always cost money

November 16th, 2020

There should be no such thing as free public parking.

SF’s streets are clogged with street parking. Convenient for low-density areas, street parking is a disaster in high density areas. Not only does it reduce the amount of usable space by occupying it with cars at rest, it also makes the lanes next to the street parking less useable — cars trawling for a spot drive more slowly or even double park while camping out a block. SF has the additional problem of campers parked in the streets, which are parked long-term and take up huge spaces. The ridiculousness that you can basically have rent-free land use in SF is accentuated by the pandemic: restaurants are not re-using the space for dining when their expensive indoor spaces sit idle. What would a restaurant pay to rent this space, if given the chance? I promise the answer is way more than $1/hour.

Lots of new areas have street parking, even parking with dynamic pricing. I would love to see a city where that’s applied everywhere. In fact, the longer you park in a space, the higher the price should be. It should adjust based on the time of day and week AND the per-hour price should increase the longer you park in the same spot — it should be cheap to park for 2 minutes (dropping off a friend), but expensive to stay in the same spot for 2 days.

Why more expensive for longer stays? Isn’t that the opposite of “bulk purchasing” discounts? Because cars are still incredibly useful, but you really want to dis-incentivize car ownership in cities. You’d much rather have a city where the majority of cars are ride-shares and commercial trucks, with mostly the rich having cars (and paying dearly for it). Yes, it also helps the new yuppies, who live/work in the city and ride bikes, but…is that so bad? These yuppies mostly live in <200sqft flats and work in <10sqft cubicles: they are an incredible tax-revenue-dense class of workers.

The problem is this is a retrogressive tax, hitting the city’s lower-income first and particularly families. They often do not have jobs in the city and rely on cars to get around. I think, in return, you want to massively invest in public transit and honestly, just make public transit free within the city for residents. Travel into the city via public transit should cost money. If libraries can have library cards, why can’t the city create and distribute public transit cards to its residents?

It’s also relatively straightforward to transition to such a system: install the meters everywhere but keep fees incredibly low and potentially only during the daytime (when most people are at work). First target the cars that sit idle for days or weeks at a time. Over the years, gradually increase the rates and reinvest the money in more/better buses and subways. Eventually, when raising the parking meter costs becomes a populist issue to try and tax the rich…you’ll know you’ll have succeeded.