Episode 98: The High Cost of Free Parking with Donald Shoup
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Donald Shoup: Market requirements are more like astrology that like astronomy. I mean, you might as well look at the signs of the Zodiac to say how many parking spaces are required. But you have to do it. Everyone wants to park free, including you and me.
Doug Gordon: This is The War on Cars. I’m Doug Gordon. Nearly every fight over how we use our streets comes down to one thing: parking. You want a new bike lane, a new bike share station, better bus service, public seating or an outdoor dining spot? Be prepared to have lots and lots of fights about parking spaces. Beyond transportation and safe streets, parking also affects nearly every other aspect of our lives.
Doug: Many North American cities have minimum parking requirements. Those are a set of some might say byzantine laws that tell developers how many parking spaces they need to build per unit of housing, per square foot of office space, or for what type of business. You want to open a restaurant? Well, your city might have some law on the books where the number of tables you plan to have inside your establishment affects the number of parking spaces you need to have outside.
Doug: These requirements affect everything. They make housing more expensive, forcing developers to build parking no matter the demand. They raise the price of goods and services, they exacerbate sprawl, making it nearly impossible to build neighborhoods and business districts that are accessible to anyone who doesn’t drive. Plus, parking requirements make congestion and the climate crisis much, much worse. On the podcast, we like to say that cars ruin cities, and that’s true in lots of ways. But it might be more accurate to say that parking—specifically parking requirements—ruin cities.
Doug: Today, a movement is afoot to eliminate parking requirements, and that movement was spurred in part by the research of Professor Donald Shoup. Donald Shoup is the distinguished research professor in the Department of Urban Planning at UCLA. His 2005 book, The High Cost of Free Parking, is an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to understand parking, its effects on traffic, land use, the economy, the environment. And it offers many solutions for how to win the political fight against parking requirements. But Professor Shoup isn’t just an author and an academic, he has a really fun cult following: acolytes who call themselves “Shoupistas,” and who spread the gospel of the man known to them as “Shoup Dogg.” But we’ll get to that later.
Doug: First, some really quick business: if you like what we do at The War on Cars and want to hear ad-free episodes plus bonus episodes that you can’t get anywhere else, please support us on Patreon. Just go to Patreon.com/TheWaronCarsPod and sign up today. And if you are already a Patreon supporter, thank you. Now it’s my pleasure to welcome Professor Donald Shoup to The War on Cars.
Donald Shoup: Well, thanks for inviting me. I thought you’d never ask. But one thing I have noticed on your podcast is—there are more than 100 now, I think—I’ve never heard parking mentioned once. And cars are parked 95 percent of the time. That’s the main part of their life. And they move only about five percent of the time, and in New York, some of that five percent of the time is looking for parking. So I think it’s high time that you had a program on parking.
Doug: Well, I agree. And I think this is gonna be fun because one of the reasons we’ve never really done a parking episode—we talk about parking, but never done a parking episode—is because it is such a deep subject. It is the uber issue from which all other issues stem, whether it’s transportation, housing, you name it, parking is kind of all encompassing. And I think we didn’t know really where to dive in first. So there’s really no better way to dive in than with the man who wrote the book on parking. So I really appreciate you being here.
Donald Shoup: Well, I think maybe you and other people neglected it because when you look at parking, nothing is happening. It just doesn’t seem that there’s anything there. But still waters run deep. And I think that parking is one of the deepest problems that we have in the United States, and in the rest of the world. Sometimes when I’ve been on—not podcasts, but I think live broadcasts, they feel they have to bring in somebody from the American Automobile Association.
Doug: [laughs] No, you’ll find—you’ll find no such both-sides storytelling here.
Donald Shoup: And they always say, “Well, this is a war on cars.” And, you know, they say removing off street parking requirements is a war on cars. You know, like, say removing a requirement that McDonald’s has to offer free French fries would be a war on French fries.
Doug: A war on potatoes.
Donald Shoup: Yeah, that’s the whole potato industry.
Donald Shoup: So yeah, I’m part of the war on cars, I’m a part of the war on park—but we’re allies, put it that way.
Doug: A subset of this podcast will be called The War on Parking, and you will be one of the hosts.
Donald Shoup: Not the war on parking, the war on parking subsidies.
Doug: Exactly. Yes.
Donald Shoup: Yeah.
Doug: Let’s start with the stuff that has been happening on the parking front. In the last few years, and really in the last few months, a number of small- and mid-sized US cities have ended off-street minimum parking requirements for new construction. That’s Lexington, Kentucky, Raleigh, North Carolina, Hartford, Connecticut. Buffalo did it a few years ago. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Minneapolis. Nashville eliminated minimum parking requirements in a sort of urban zone, and then actually turned its minimum parking requirements into maximums. And then San Jose became the largest city in America to end parking requirements, and they didn’t just end parking requirements, they now have minimum bicycle parking requirements.
Doug: And then I know there’s a bill that you were very involved with, Assembly Bill 2097 in California, which Governor Gavin Newsom signed. It eliminates parking requirements for new developments built within a half mile of a public transit stop, and that includes housing, that includes retail offices, schools, basically anything close to transit. So why is that such a win in California, but also in a lot of these small- and mid-sized cities?
Donald Shoup: Well, it took a long time happening. When The High Cost of Free Parking was published in 2005, I thought that the world would change the next month, that people would read it and say, “He’s right. You know, the park is—is causing so much of these problems, and parking requirements are a terrible idea, that they’re an epic disaster.” And then nothing happened. It takes a lot longer for things to happen than you thought it would, but that it starts happening faster than you thought it could. And nothing much happened for at least a decade, and then Buffalo was the first city, big city to remove its parking requirements.
Donald Shoup: And they heard the usual reactions at the beginning, that some people thought, “Well, there’ll be no place to park,” or “Everything will be built without parking.” But a study done three years after it by a professor at Buffalo University, Daniel Hess, studied well, what did happen with new buildings? And it turned out about half of them provided at least as much parking as was previously required and then the other half provided less. But on average, there were only 17 percent fewer parking spaces than previously required, because developers are not going to suddenly build without parking just because they don’t have to, just because the city doesn’t require it. I mean, they have closets in their apartments. That takes away space for living. But the developers don’t have to be required to dedicate some space to closets.
Donald Shoup: So I think that in Buffalo it shows that any reactions will be slow and they will be gradual, and will not be any example of the sky falling just because the city stops telling everybody exactly how many parking spaces to require for any building—and not just new buildings, but for old buildings. You can’t reuse an old building, say, as a restaurant if it doesn’t have the required parking spaces. So I think the parking requirements were perniciously eroding everything else in cities that we wanted except for free parking.
Doug: So explain to people who might not be aware—although a War on Cars audience is probably very aware—what’s wrong with minimum parking requirements?
Donald Shoup: Everything. Minimum parking requirements are a house of cards. How would you know how many parking spaces are required for a nail salon or a hat shop? But parking requirements have been set for over 600 different land uses. And the people who set them, the urban planners, they don’t know anything about how many parking spaces are needed anywhere. They certainly don’t learn it in their graduate studies in urban planning because the professors have nothing to teach them. The only thing that planning students learn about parking requirements as students is that they get in the way of anything they want to do.
Donald Shoup: If they have a project like building an affordable housing, they realize that it can’t pencil out because the parking adds so much to the cost, or that it leads to so much asphalt in the city, and it leads to water runoff and the free parking leads to more driving, which creates air pollution or hastens global warming. I mean, they sense that in any project they do, parking requirements get in the way of what they would like to do. But when they graduate, they have to work for planning departments, and anybody who comes to, say, reuse an old building or build a new one, the first thing they have to ask, “Well, where is the required parking?”
Donald Shoup: I think most of them gradually realize that they’re enforcing laws that work against everything they want to see happen. But, you know, an urban planner, if they are asked by the planning commission what should be the requirement for a new adult bookstore, they can’t say there shouldn’t be parking requirements. They’d be fired. I mean, they can’t just say, “I disagree with parking requirements,” they have to look at a manual that says, “Well, what are the parking requirements for adult bookstores in other cities?” And they say, “Well, they’ve been adopted in that other city. That must be right.” And so they just copy other people’s mistakes. Yeah, there are a lot of things wrong with minimum parking requirements. It takes a long time to really go into it in general, but I hope I suggested to you that there are a lot of problems.
Doug: I mean, in fact, in your book, you call it “A form of pseudoscience.”
Donald Shoup: Well, it gives pseudoscience a good name. Parking requirements are more like astrology than astronomy. I mean, you might as well look at the signs of the zodiac to say how many parking spaces are required. But you have to do it. And nobody had really paid much attention to how flimsy these parking requirements were. In studies that the American Planning Association did, a publication that they had four editions of, it’s called “Parking Standards,” it’s nothing to do with standards. It just said how many parking spaces other cities require. A standard sounds like a good thing. How could you object to a parking standard? Well, it’s not like the standards for electrical wiring, for example. It’s just what cities require. And I think that free parking is good politics but it’s bad policy. Everyone wants to park free, including you and me. Nobody said they want to pay for parking. So politically, it seemed like a quick way to commit political suicide if you say that you’re going to remove all street parking requirements.
Doug: I do want to talk about some of those wild parking requirements and that kind of pseudoscience that goes into which types of businesses get how much parking. I put the call out to some friends of the podcast, and Tony Jordan with the Parking Reform Network, which you’re involved with, he sent me some great examples from Washington State. These are all related to bowling alleys. So the city of Bellingham requires four spaces per lane, Ferndale, three spaces per lane, the city of Linden, five per lane. Mount Vernon, five per bowling alley, which sounds kind of reasonable to me. And Burlington, 10 spaces per lane, which just seems outrageous. I mean, how many people are bowling on any one lane at one time? Most of them can come in one car. What do you make of those kinds of things?
Donald Shoup: Well, there’s no explanation for the difference. I speak in a number of cities, and I always ask the planners, “Well, how do you know that the parking requirements should not be higher or lower?” And none of them knows. In fact, you know, the parking requirements were set decades ago, and they were there since before they were born. But as an example of the lack of any foundation for parking requirements, consider the requirements for a concert hall in downtown. Say, in Los Angeles, everybody’s heard of Disney Hall. Seven years before they could even start the hall, they had to build the garage. Six levels of underground parking with an escalator cascade up into the lobby. Most people who go to Disney Hall, they drive to the concert hall, and they go into the garage, and they go up to the lobby and they enjoy the concert, and they go back down into the garage and leave. And they never set foot on a sidewalk.
Donald Shoup: In San Francisco, the equivalent hall has no parking at all. Well, why is that? LA requires 50 times more parking spaces as a minimum than San Francisco allows as the maximum. So somebody has got to be wrong. And I—I don’t think it was San Francisco, because when you come out after a concert in San Francisco, everybody is on the sidewalk. The bars are open, the bookstores are open, the flower shops are open. There are people everywhere. But in LA, if you stepped out on the sidewalk, as I did by mistake once, there was nobody else there. Once my wife and I went to a concert at Disney Hall, we had dinner, we walked up maybe six blocks to Disney Hall, and it was terrific. And when we left to go back to our car, the streets were dark and we were the only two people on the street. If you’re in your 80s and you’re walking down a dark street and you’re the only one there, you don’t feel safe, and you’ll probably go right into the garage the next time you go to Disney Hall.
Doug: And in fact, they’re still servicing the debt on building that parking garage, correct? Like, it can’t make enough money, essentially. They have to have a minimum number of performances at the concert hall to make sure that they are servicing the payments on the construction of the garage. Is that correct?
Donald Shoup: That’s right. Walt Disney’s daughter Lillian, donated, I think, $50 million, and the city had to raise more money [Editor’s note: Lillian was Walt Disney’s widow]. And they were working very hard. The mayor worked on it, but they started building the garage first because they had the money. It took about seven more years to get the rest of the money. So the garage sat there bleeding money, and then when they finished Disney Hall, to make sure that the garage could pay for its debt service, they required the LA Philharmonic to schedule at least something like 240 concerts a year. And so it wasn’t that the parking was serving Disney Hall, Disney Hall was serving the parking garage.
Doug: One of the things you talk about in your book is that traditionally, planning for parking is a rather strange form of economics, which you call “Planning without prices.” And you don’t dispute that parking can be important, it’s a necessary fixture of our transportation ecosystem. And you write in your book that parking can have enormous benefits in some cases, but you then note that it doesn’t follow that what we need always is more parking and more free parking. So what is the optimal amount of parking, and how should prices be set?
Donald Shoup: Well, that’s like saying, “Well, what’s the optimum number of oranges in the country, or the number of avocados?” Parking requirements are a huge exception from the way that we run the rest of the economy. You expect to pay for gasoline and tires and car insurance and repairs, and you have to pay for the car itself. Nobody ever asks the question of how many cars are needed or anything like that, that it just happens that if people are willing to pay for it, they’ll get the cars. There are people who are willing to work for GM that will produce the cars. So we leave it to the market. But minimum parking requirements are a terrific exception. And I think we should pay attention to what that tells us not just about transportation, but about everything. And if we ran the rest of the economy the way we run the parking requirements, everybody would join the Tea Party. If they told you what earphones you should wear during a podcast, that’s none of their business.
Doug: So what are the solutions here?
Donald Shoup: Well, the Shoup Dogma has three parts. The first one is for all on-street parking, for curb parking, it is charged for—all the meter money has to go to pay for added public services on the metered block. So the people and businesses on that block will see that if there are parking meters, they get clean sidewalks, they get healthy street trees. Some cities give free transit passes to everybody who works on the block or lives on the block. So the people who live or have businesses on the block will see parking meters in a new way, as a sort of a cash register. And if they think that the services that they want and will not get unless they charge for parking, then charges for parking make sense.
Donald Shoup: Now if then you have these parking benefit districts—that’s what I call them—how much do you charge for parking? And the solution that dates back to the 1950s when the Nobel Prize winner in economics said the price of parking should be the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two vacant spaces on every block. So wherever you go in your car, you arrive at your destination, there’ll be an open curb space waiting for you. It won’t be free, but it will be available. It would be like a Hollywood version of life in Manhattan in that whenever you arrive at your destination, there’s a parking space waiting for you, that nobody has to drive around for 20 minutes looking for a curb space, they pull into the space right where they’re going. So if you get the price right for curb parking and spend the money on public revenues, then you could remove all street parking requirements. Because why do you need parking requirements? There’s always an open space at the curb.
Donald Shoup: Parking requirements don’t exist without a reason. If curb parking is free, and a new building is built without a lot of parking, the curb spaces will be filled up. People will say, “You’re creating a parking shortage.” If this building doesn’t have all those spaces we say it should, then the curb will be crowded. And if the curb is free, the off-street parking has to be free, too. Because if they charge for off-street parking and curb parking is free, people will say, “This building creates a curb parking problem.” And they will say to the council members, “How did you let this happen?” Or, “Don’t let this happen.” NIMBYs have a point: if you build a new building without any parking and the curb parking is free, it will create a curb parking shortage.
Donald Shoup: So I think that if you have a parking benefit district that spends any meter revenue on public services on the block, and if you charge the right prices, then you could get rid of minimum parking requirements. The city will be better in many ways. All the War on Cars people will think it’s a good idea, but just think of all the other people who will think it would be a good idea. For political purposes, the most important people are the residents or the business owners on the block and they are in favor of it, especially because many of the people who park on the curb are visitors, or Uber or Lyft or UPS. A lot of the people do not live on the block. Many of them don’t even own a car. It’s like Monty Python’s idea for solving Britain’s economic problems by taxing foreigners living abroad.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Monty Python: To boost the British economy, I’d tax all foreigners living abroad.]
Donald Shoup: All the people who are paying to park at the curb will not be freeloaders, they’ll be paying guests. And they’ll get something for what they pay for. So I think that that’s the solution that I recommend. If you compare that to what we have now, and I’ll use Manhattan as an example, the current situation looks ridiculous. They had four episodes on Seinfeld about parking, but one of them was where George and Elaine were driving toward Jerry’s apartment, and George started circling the block hunting for a parking space. And Elaine said, “Let’s just park at the garage.”
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Seinfeld: You don’t understand. A garage. I wouldn’t even pull in there. It’s like going to a prostitute. Why should I pay, when if I apply myself, maybe I can get it for free?]
Donald Shoup: Well, we’re all trying to get it for free. And if everybody wants parking for free, you have to have some political reason to say, “Well, we’ll remove these parking requirements.” Now the Upper West Side does not have parking requirements, which is one reason why its curb parking problem is so bad. There was one study by Transportation Alternatives. They found after I think six months of study that the amount of cruising around each block was equivalent to driving around the Earth.
Donald Shoup: One block would produce that much and a ton of carbon emissions.
Doug: Professor Shoup, I have a question for you on this, though. So let’s say you did propose this on the Upper West Side or a neighborhood like it where you said, “Okay, we have a free for all right now. The parking is free. There’s high competition for these spots. We have way too many drivers circling for parking, and what we want to do now is we want to meter additional spots. We want to raise the meter price where it exists. And yes, we will put some of this money back into the local community. Every block will see that revenue in the form of maintain street trees, etc.” What do you do then, though, when George Costanza shows up at the community board meeting and says, “Uh-uh. This has been free for me my entire life. I don’t care about street trees.” That’s the political piece of this. How do you solve that?
Donald Shoup: I’d let the money do the talking. So I did estimate how much revenue it would generate, and for the block—I think it would be 74th or 75th and Amsterdam and Columbus. And it turned out that the parking revenue, by my estimate, would be about $1,000 per household per year to pay for added public services. That only a tiny share of the residents would pay anything. And all of these things like better sidewalks and healthier street trees benefit not only the huge majority who live on the block, but everybody else on the Upper West Side.
Donald Shoup: What I’m saying is that the visible improvements on the block are what will create the political support for reform. You can’t say it’s gonna slow global warming. That will influence nobody.
Donald Shoup: For one thing, the businesses are worried about going broke in the next month, and the rest says, “Well, that’s all over the world, and it’ll be 50 years from now.” What do they do about the air pollution that it creates? Or the traffic crashes or the pedestrian deaths or the bicyclists who are killed by people driving, sometimes hunting for parking? So those things will not create political support for charging the right price for curb parking. What will create political support is to spend the revenue on the metered blocks so everybody will say, “I’m getting this because the meters charge the fair market price, just the way we pay for gasoline and electricity and the shirts we buy and the shoes we wear. We’re just treating parking like everything else. It’s provided by the market, not by government decree.
Doug: I want to take a little bit of a detour into sort of your status as a bit of a cult figure in the urban planning world. Your website is ShoupDogg.com. You have Shoupistas, people who really follow your teaching and have learned a lot from—from your book and from everything else. You made an appearance on Adam Ruins Everything, hosted by Adam Conover in animated form.
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Shoup: Parking lots are deserts in the city.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adam Ruins Everything: Who’s this dude?]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adam Ruins Everything: This dude is Professor Donald Shoup, our foremost expert on the economics of parking.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adam Ruins Everything: Oh, okay.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Donald Shoup: Parking lots don’t employ any people. They simply provide space for cars. We have expensive housing for people and free parking for cars. We have our priorities the wrong way around. And the worst part is many cities require far too much parking, and this blights their downtowns. We’re killing our own cities. It’s a huge bummer.]
[ARCHIVE CLIP, Adam Ruins Everything: It is an honor to animate you, sir.]
Doug: Did you ever think when you were starting out in this area of research and study, that your work would have this impact and you’d become this figure? What do you think of it today?
Donald Shoup: Well, it’s sort of like what the hippies used to call a natural high. It wasn’t anything I expected. I just thought that the planning profession would reform, and I’ve had very little effect on the planning professors. Let me say that I have success because I’m the only person who is really looking at parking seriously. Universities emphasize how they’re committed to equality, but the universities are very unequal. That everything is status-oriented, their chancellors and vice chancellors and associate vice chancellors, assistant vice chancellors. And all of these ranks determine where you park on campus. You know, you could be sure that the top people get the best spaces and all of the freshmen don’t get any. So I think that universities are very hierarchical, and also in what we study.
Donald Shoup: You know, international affairs seem really important, and national affairs are just as important. State-level studies are a big step down, and local government is parochial. And what would be the lowest status that you could study at local government? And that would be, I suppose, sewers and parking. So I was a bottom feeder for 15 or 20 years, and I had no competition. So I was moving very slowly, but I kept solidifying what I had been saying.
Donald Shoup: And you’re right that there was a cult, but a very small one. That I’m famous in a small circle. But in a big country, even a small number of people who get interested in it could have an effect. And Tony Jordan, of the Parking Reform Network, he became a true believer and he found a lot of others. And they now have a wonderful website, and you could look on the website and see all the cities that have removed their off-street parking requirements. And in some weeks, there are three or four cities are announcing that they’re getting rid of parking requirements. So I think things are changing.
Doug: By the time this episode airs, we’ll have been on the other side of the holiday season, but this is a thing that comes up every year. You have towns that they say in the interest of promoting downtown commerce and supporting local business, will suspend meters for the holiday season. Or you have towns that suspend meters. New York City, for example, suspends meters on Sundays and other religious holidays, for example. I’m kind of laying this out here. I know the answer to this, a lot of our listeners know the answer to this, but I think it can be helpful to hear it from someone like you explained clearly. Why is that a bad idea?
Donald Shoup: Well, I have two answers to that question. The first is, if we had parking benefit districts, they wouldn’t say, “Oh, let’s make it free during Christmas so people will feel good.” No, if you had a parking benefit district, well, the services would decline on your block. Some cities give a month of free parking. Well, would you give one-twelfth of all your income for public services in order to make parking free? So that’s one answer.
Donald Shoup: The second answer is not that different. I think that if cities instead said we will donate all the meter revenue to pay for help for homeless people or for a food bank, rather than making it free to drivers, let’s keep it at the price that leads to one or two open spaces on every block and give all the revenue to pay for charity. Some shopping centers do that, that they have parking meters and they very conspicuously donate the money to a different charity every year. Every year they choose a different charity. So clearly that the shopping centers are not trying to make money, it’s that they want the most convenient spaces to be metered. So if you’re gonna be at a shopping center for maybe 10 minutes, you will pay 25 cents at the nearby meter. If you’re gonna be there for two hours, you’ll park in the parking garage that is free.
Doug: Let’s also talk in another form of free parking, and that’s the parking given to employees, usually at office parks or office buildings. One of the perks that comes with a lot of jobs is a free parking spot. You mentioned the hierarchy of getting that choice parking spot on a college campus. How can we tackle the problem, and what should be done for the people who don’t drive to work? We have a lot of listeners who bike or take transit to work, but who are working at places where the drivers get a giant parking garage where the spots cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 per stall. That’s a huge benefit. What can be done there?
Donald Shoup: 91 percent of people who drive to work in the United States park free when they get there. It’s a tax-exempt fringe benefit. If the parking costs $100 where you work and your employer pays that $100, it’s like $100 worth of income, but there’s no income tax taken out of that. So it’s a tax-exempt fringe benefit if the employer pays for it. My proposal, and one of the first ones that was accepted politically, was called parking cash out. So you can’t say, “I’ll give you free parking or nothing,” which is what most employers do. They have to say, “I’ll give you free parking or its cash value.” And I got a grant to study the effects of this, and on average, 13 out of every 100 employees who were offered parking cash outs shifted away from solo driving.
Donald Shoup: Most of them went to carpooling or transit or bicycle or walking, but most of them went to carpooling, which shows you don’t have to have good public transit to make this work, because everybody who said they were offered parking cash out, they began asking fellow workers, “Well, do you want to carpool?” See, because they would, with one free parking space that served two people. So I think that parking cash out is a very good idea. It’s fair and it treats everybody equally. It doesn’t treat pedestrians or bicyclists better than drivers, it just treats pedestrians and bicyclists as well as drivers. They would all get the same benefit, the cash value of the parking space.
Donald Shoup: But I studied employers who complied with the law. I ran into many interesting stories. One of the best, I think, that had never occurred to me was that one of my student’s girlfriends had just moved into an expensive apartment building in downtown Los Angeles, and this boyfriend criticized her, saying, “You’re overpaying.” And she said, “Well, they just started offering parking cash out at my firm”—it’s a law firm. “And they said I could have $150 a month extra if I didn’t drive.” And she had previously been driving downtown from the valley because it was cheaper to live in the valley than downtown. So it didn’t just change the way she got to work, it changed where she lived. And cities have been spending a fortune trying to get people to live downtown and walk to work. And the simplest solution is to say, “Well, if you don’t take the parking, you could have the cash value.” She took it as a rent supplement, and saying that, “Now I can live in a place where I don’t have to drive to work.”
Doug: You’ve written a lot about parking fines, fees for overstaying the meter, and how we can rethink parking fines so that they are not hurting people who are least able to afford them while still having some sort of enforcement kick that gets people to comply with posted rules. And one of the things that you’ve written about are graduated parking fines. Could you talk about that?
Donald Shoup: Some cities have these graduated parking fines, and the first time you get a ticket, it’s a warning—in the year, it runs for a year. The first ticket you get is a warning and it tells you the next ticket would be $25. And if you have another ticket after that, it will be $50. And if you have another ticket after that, it’s $75. So it will make people realize that the city is not just grabbing for money, it’s saying you get one freebie. And I think that there are some people who now are not deterred by the possibility of getting a ticket. Richer people or just people who are not necessarily good actors, they think the chances of getting a ticket are low, and maybe it is $75, but I could pay that. So they just think it’s a natural thing to do is not pay, or overstay at the meter. Because it’s rare that you get a ticket, and when you get a ticket, you say, “Well, why me?” You know, you see other cars that are violating the parking rules and they don’t get tickets, because it’s expensive to enforce parking violations. So I think that it’s fair to low-income people to warn them that if you get the next ticket it’ll be expensive. So I think it’ll shift the cost of tickets from low-income drivers to high-income drivers.
Doug: And as you said, it sort of reduces that gotcha feeling that a lot of drivers tend to fall back on when they get a ticket, even if they are clearly in violation of the posted rules.
Donald Shoup: That’s right. But I think the more important thing is to reduce violations. Many people think that parking without paying is a victimless crime, but it means that should you park, somebody else couldn’t park. If you overstayed the limit, you’re hogging more time than you should. But I think there’s a much better solution, and that is to have progressive parking prices. You know, the first 15 minutes would be free, the next 15 minutes would be, well, that’s a dollar an hour after that. And then for the third hour, it keeps on going up. The people who park for a long time pay much more per hour, the price per hour increases the greater the number of hours you park.
Donald Shoup: So I think that it’s much fairer in that nobody overpays by putting in $2 at the meter and then leaving before your time is up, and nobody will get a ticket for parking too long because you’re paying for parking as long as you’re at the meter. And then as soon as you pull away, the charges cease. Now we’re used to doing that with cell phone payments for parking, but some of the new cars now have migrated it into the dashboard. The dashboard is just as connected as your cell phone is. And the car knows where it is, it knows what the price of parking is, the price of curb parking. So you could just pull into the parking space, and you touch the dashboard to say, “I’m beginning to pay for parking,” and that begins automatically paying for parking and it charges your credit card for it. So there’s no question of not paying. And then as you pull out, it ceases charging you.
Donald Shoup: So I think it’s like the sort of thing that we’ll get—we’ll get used to. That there’s certain things in cars that seemed amazing when they were new like automatic transmissions and power steering and cameras looking behind you. They seemed like magical at first, but they’re just—you accept them as part of cars. And I think that if we begin having cars pay for their own parking without you doing anything, it would be like having an automatic transmission.
Doug: Professor Shoup, how can a War on Cars listener who has heard this episode, who now might be fired up about this subject and hoping to end parking requirements, minimum parking requirements in their city, how can they get involved? What are some concrete steps that people can take?
Donald Shoup: You want to join the Parking Reform Network. It’s really for people who are trying to reform parking, and it connects you with a lot of other people who are like minded and who have had success. And another thing is if you’re on Facebook to join the Shoupista group. It’s not about me, obviously, but it’s about parking reforms. But you’re kept up to date on what these parking reforms are, or ideas about parking or publications on parking. There are long op-eds about parking that—yes, write an op-ed if you can. I think Doug, you ought to write an op-ed.
Doug: Excellent. There’s one final question for you. I think it’s probably a good way for us to end. This is a pretty dense subject, there are lots of ways to approach it. What is one thing you want people to take away from the discussion about parking?
Donald Shoup: My message, I think, is very optimistic for cities. If cities do adopt these ideas, if they have parking benefit districts, and the right price of curb parking and getting rid of parking requirements, I think the whole world will be better off. But one of the best things about these parking reforms is they don’t cost anything. And it’s so easy, the legislation is so simple. Just a few words, change “minimums” into “maximums.” They’re very simple changes, and they will make the city a much better place. So yes, I’m an optimist. I don’t know if I’ll live to see all these benefits, but they’re beginning to happen.
Doug: Professor Shoup, thank you so much for joining The War on Cars. This was amazing.
Donald Shoup: Well, it’s—it’s odd because many people like you think I’m an enemy of the car. I’m not the enemy of the car. I’m an enemy of parking subsidies, and I think that cars are great. It’s just that we way overuse them, you know, just hugely overuse them. And we don’t regulate them enough. I think that the right parking policies will tame the car. Like the car itself, parking is a good servant but a bad master. And I think that if we made parking a good servant, the cars would be a lot better servants as well.
Doug: That’s it for this episode of The War on Cars. Thanks again to Professor Donald Shoup for joining me. I will put info about all things Shoup in the show notes, including a link to get your copy of The High Cost of Free Parking.
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Doug: This episode was recorded by Josh Wilcox at the Brooklyn Podcasting Studio. It was edited by Ali Lemer. Our theme music is by Nathaniel Goodyear. Our logo is by Dani Finkel of Crucial D Designs. I’m Doug Gordon, and on behalf of my co-hosts Aaron Naparstek and Sarah Goodyear, this is The War on Cars.