2012/06/07

Parking policy can boost modality choice


We often use the notion of choice when discussing mobility:
“We should have better transportation choices.”
“We should be able to choose where we live.”
“I have no choice but to drive.”
“I would bike, but cars are dangerous leaving me no choice.”

Cartoon from
New York Times
A key effect of many parking policies—and some of this is largely unintended—is to diminish our choices. I use the expression “diminish” in both senses. Our parking policies sometimes give us fewer choices, but more often they bias our choices in ways we do not often recognize. One example is employer-subsidized parking. If I have cheap or free parking at my place of employment, I am more likely to use my car. While I haven't been completely denied the choice to use transit or a bike, the fact that I have free or cheap parking makes the selection of those other modalities more unlikely than they already are. Another example is street parking that is dramatically less expensive than nearby garage parking. In this case, while I still have the choice to use garage parking, the low cost on the street encourages me to cruise around the block—an average of 3.5 minutes according to parking guru Don Shoup—to find a cheap spot. Again my choice is strongly biased by a parking policy. A third example is a policy that permits monthly parking (or better put, the lack of a policy which forbids the practice). In this case, given a choice of a discounted monthly parking pass versus paying the full daily rate, it is easy for me to purchase the monthly pass. What this means, however, is that during the month, if faced with a choice of, say, carpooling, biking or an SOV, I would be more likely to choose to drive.

There are individual remedies for each of these. Regional or municipal governments could mandate a “parking cash-out”, i.e., an equivalent subsidy to all employees to offset employer-subsidized parking. For example, having non-driving employees receive an equivalent cash subsidy that may be used for transit, bike, shoes, gas money toward a carpool, or offsetting internet costs for teleworkers, would reduce the automaticity of driving for some people. This increases each employee's choice, and still provides for employer subsidized parking which in itself is not necessarily a bad thing—as long as it's balanced.

Cruising for street parking can easily be managed by setting prices so that there is a 15% vacancy rate for parking spots. This is another Shoup solution and ends the cruising problem, while not needing to match garage prices (garages have a different role to play than does street parking, anyway).

Monthly parking is a bit tougher, since it makes sense to know you have a spot for your vehicle if you are indeed going to drive into your office each day, or if we are talking about the condo building you live in. However, it is possible to replace monthly passes with some form of parking loyalty program or bulk purchase program. Rather than purchase a parking pass for a calendar month, purchase 200 hours of parking at a bulk rate and there is no need to spend it all in a particular month. In fact, employees could be rewarded for making the 200 hours last longer! This would free up some people to make divergent modal choices, since the value of the parking pass is not ticking away if they choose not to drive.

There are numerous ways to make parking policy fairer and more responsible to the environment and to our cities. As well, tweaks to parking policy, such as I have described, are not nearly as politically toxic as road-use charging, but can, if deployed thoughtfully, can lead to similar congestion-reducing results.  Unfortunately, many of them are not readily apparent.

1 comment:

Rodney Lorrimar said...

I like the parking cash-out idea. Or letting Catbert the evil HR director decide: http://dilbert.com/strips/comic/2012-06-09