A Conversation with Michael Ronkin about Parking

By Dom Nozzi

May 15, 2013

MR: There’s the idea that charging for parking is a regressive tax, one that will impact the poor more than the rich (… market pricing to free up spaces favors wealthier drivers). This can be said of any tax on a resource that is limited and that you want to see used less. The cigarette tax is a good example: poor uneducated people smoke more that rich educated people, but nobody advocates for giving poor smokers a tax break. Same with a fuel tax, carbon tax etc., it’s something we have to accept, and work on solutions that actually help those with less money, for example create an environment what you don’t “need” a car for daily errands.

DN: Excellent point. One comment I saw recently to respond to this common concern about hurting poor people with market pricing (to efficiently allocate a scarce resource) is that much (all?) of the parking revenue should be allocated to programs that help the poor more than the wealthy, such as putting the money into creating more, better and more frequent transit.

MR: Free on-street parking for short periods has been tried, but 2 hours is much too long.

DN: As I understand it, my girlfriend is NOT suggesting free, time-limited parking. She is suggesting a hybrid: PRICED, time-limited parking. Time-limited so that even a rich person must vacate the parking space fairly quickly, and would not be allowed to keep feeding the meter (because the programming of the meter would not allow it).

MR: Most errands can be accomplished in 2 hours; you can even have lunch n 2 hours. And this also leads to another undesirable phenomenon: people who want to stay longer, even all day, will move their car every 2 hours, adding to traffic and hogging the more desirable parking spaces.

DN: Good point. This would defeat Ann’s suggestion, I believe, since even if the meter would not allow a wealthy person to keep feeding the meter, the wealthy person would only need to move to another parking space. And as Shoup points out, a huge amount of traffic on streets consists of motorists searching for parking. In this scenario, both rich and poor motorists would be searching if the meter was time-limited.

MR: So how’s to make it work, combining your idea with Shoup’s: offer say 30-minutes free.

DN: But wouldn’t that result in folks just moving their car every 30 minutes?

MR: You also make the more desirable spots, the ones closer to the downtown core, more expensive.

DN: Yes, this must be done. One of the downsides of being less wealthy is that you are less able to afford to park in spots that are more desirable (closer). You are also less able to buy as much electricity for your home. Or purchase a steak dinner each time you go to a restaurant. Such a state of affairs is NOT “unfair” to lower income people. It is an unavoidable consequence of having less money. And is it really an intolerable thing that a lower income person would have to walk an extra block or two? Or use less electricity? Or eat steak only once every two weeks?

MR: So if you want to save money, you park a bit further out and walk a few blocks.

DN: Agreed.

MR: Which can lead to another problem, people parking in residential areas close in. Which you solve by issuing permits to residents, and limiting others to an hour or two, or heaven forbid, making them pay.

DN: Yes. The only thing that prevents this is a lack of leadership.

MR: Sounds crazy? It’s been done with other resources. Your electric bill for example. Okay, you don’t get free electricity, but you do pay more per KWH after a certain monthly amount. This was introduced about 25 years ago and nobody thought it would work. Prior to that, you paid less per KWH after a certain amount, just like the big box of cornflakes costs less per ounce than the small box. The paradigm shift occurred because people didn’t want more coal-fired or nuclear power plants.

DN: Exactly. Many, however, howl in agony when this sort of thing is proposed. “What about poor people????”

MR: Too long drivers have considered [parking] a right, something the public should make plentiful and cheap, even free. So one way another those parking spots have to be paid for, they are not free. Which is the point Shoup makes, we pay for them is so many other ways that also end up hurting the poor – mostly by creating an environment where people do need a car to survive.

DN: Precisely. Another way “free” parking hurts the poor: When “free” parking is provided, since it is not free, it must be paid for in hidden, indirect ways. Poor people therefore end up being forced to pay more for groceries when the grocery store parking%20lotprovides free parking – even if the low-income person arrives by walking, by bike, or by transit! That low-income person, in other words, is sometimes paying for parking he or she is not even using. And is partly subsidizing more wealthy motorists using parking spaces. If the parking at the grocery store was priced and paid for directly, the cost of fruits, vegetables and meats in the grocery store would be lower.




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