Daily News Highlights How City Blew Opportunity When Raising Meter Costs

4_29_09_meter.jpgPhoto: Nahh/Flickr

In the late fall of 2008 and early in 2009, the City Council and Mayor Villaraigosa decided to fill a hole in the city’s budget by raising the cost of parking curbside at city-owned parking meters. The wildly unpopular move is estimated to generate $18 million dollars for the city, but the backlash from constituents has turned several Councilman who voted for the raise into "low-cost-parking" advocates including Tom LaBonge and Dennis Zine.

To help justify their plan, they tried to push the idea that they were following a Smart Growth model based on the teachings of UCLA Economics Professor and Parking Guru Donald Shoup.  Shoup has explained how street parking is undervalued throughout America and by capturing those revenues and putting it back into the communities from which it comes cities can begin to remake themselves.

The City of Los Angeles seems to have forgotten that last part, and now is facing a political backlash because the meter hike they pushed through is being rightly viewed as increased fees with all the negative things that come with them and no benefit seen in the community. 

While increasing meter rates isn’t a bad idea by itself; the political reality is that people don’t like to pay more money without seeing something in return.  In this case, Los Angeles blew a chance to build a political alliance for increasing meter fees and politicians burned by this experience are going to be less likely to take a stand in the future.  That’s not Don Shoup’s vision.

In short, by not using the parking fees to improve transportation or reinvesting in the community, the city neglected to develop a group of people that push for meter increases because of what can be done with those dollars, so when newspapers write stories on the increases it’s not at all surprising that a reporter can’t find a person willing to explain why raising rates isn’t a bad idea.  Take today’s Daily News:

Business owners, shoppers and restaurant and
theater patrons throughout the San Fernando Valley are up in arms about
the increased parking meter rates that have been introduced over the
past year – and demanding something be done about it.

Councilman Dennis Zine agrees and has asked officials to
re-evaluate the rate hike, which was intended to raise an extra
$18 million for cash-strapped city coffers. He believes the rate
increase may have been counterproductive.

Even as activists around the city prepare to make a point that as a society we’re wasting open space in the name of cheap parking during Park(ing) Day in just 10 days, the city bungled raising meter rates so badly that it created a backlash against any future meter raises, even those that might be usable for Livable Streets means.

  • DJB

    Old Town Pasadena sends part of its meter revenue back to the neighborhood thorough the Business Improvement District there for things like sidewalk cleaning and extra security.

    If sending all of the revenue back to the neighborhood doesn’t meet the city’s needs, why not send half back instead? This should go along with signage on the meters that tells people that part of their money is being reinvested in the neighborhood (which the meters in Old Town do).

    People are usually wiling to contribute if they feel like they get something out of it.

  • It is unbelievable that the city that is home to Donald Shoup is so completely, obviously, ridiculously, wrong about how they went about raising metered parking. Can these folks be this dumb or clueless?

    If all the money that the City collects from meters goes downtown into a fiscal blackhole, and the whole Shoupian idea goes with it!

  • limit

    Donald Shoup is an urban economic guru.

  • M

    There have been other articles on the Daily News where people were moaning about the meters (and the recession and other things), which was decreasing business along Ventura Blvd. for a while. The funny thing is that no one in any of those articles has anyone suggested doing something other than driving to get to these places. Since I started biking to stores along Ventura 1) I visit way more places 2) I can see the sale signs that the business owners complain can’t be seen when people are driving by 3) parking is free and not an issue. No one in the articles even mentions that there are parts of Ventura Blvd. without sidewalks (how pedestrian friendly!) and a bike lane is considered to be infeasible along Ventura because it takes space away from cars. There are a few buses that go up and down Ventura for less than some people would pay in parking (or more depending on how many people you squeeze into your car), but I understand when standing at the busstop for these buses exposes people to sites such as people coming up next to you and urinating next to a “Welcome to Studio City” sign or you have to deal with people sleeping or screaming at you while you’re standing at the bus stop, the bus becomes significantly less attractive. At least with road rage, you only hear yourself screaming (most of the time).

    I don’t know, it seems like they blew it so many ways. They just increased the parking cost and stopped there. I live a single train stop away from North Hollywood and there is no advertising or easily accessible information in my neighborhood about getting to NoHo by train, expect if you’re already on the train and pick up some of the pamphlets. Why? I personally lived less than .5 miles from a subway stop for a year before I even realized LA had a subway because it wasn’t even something my apartment manger advertised with the apartment and I didn’t realize the mysterious looking buildings on street level were subway station elevator shafts.

  • DJB

    “While increasing meter rates isn’t a bad idea by itself”

    Shoup argues for a context-dependent approach to the price of parking. Basically, street parking should be priced to match the price of off-street parking so people don’t cruise around looking for a deal and add to traffic and pollution finding a spot, and/or street parking should be priced to produce enough vacancies that people don’t have to cruise (about 15% vacancy). Hence, the price should vary throughout the day, as more and fewer people try to park.

    The other big part of his argument is letting developers decide how much parking to build instead of forcing them to build more parking than they think they need to sell/rent their buildings (eliminating the “off-street parking requirements” in zoning codes). This would, for example, reduce the cost of building housing. In the long run, this is supposed to reduce the amount of parking and make it easier to foster a parking market.

    The idea isn’t to raise the price of parking per se, but instead to have drivers pay for their own parking directly. Parking is never “free”, it’s always paid for by someone, usually by people who shouldn’t be paying for it. The direct price that drivers pay for parking can ensure that the resource will be under-utilized, or over-utilized.

    So, people benefit from his ideas because there will be less traffic (less cruising), less pollution (less driving overall), more land for things besides parking, non-drivers will no longer have to subsidize drivers’ parking, and the meter revenue can be partially or fully returned to the spot where it is collected.

    Still, it’s a tough sell politically, as the guy acknowledges in the beginning of his book. He compares the way we do parking planning to the way medicine used to do “lead therapy”.

    Shoup is right though, parking is “a fertility drug for cars”. The High Cost of Free Parking (2005) should be required livable streets reading. It’s my second-favorite planning book ever :)