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Donald Shoup

Donald Shoup Destroys “Libertarian” on the Cost of Parking

9:20 AM PDT on September 2, 2010

We’re reprinting this reply [PDF] from UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, to Randal O’Toole, the libertarian Cato Institute senior fellow who refuses to acknowledge the role of massive government intervention in the market for parking, and the effect this has had on America’s car dependence. It’s an excellent guide to the misdirection, mistakes, logical fallacies, and falsehoods that form the foundation of O’Toole’s arguments.

Dear Randal,

I would like to comment on your August 16 post on the Cato@Liberty blog about “Free Markets for Free Parking.”

shoup_otoole.jpgShoup (left) and O’Toole (right). One of these gentlemen has written the definitive volume on parking policy. The other says he has yet to read
it.

You were responding to Tyler Cowen’s article in the New York Times, “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” in which Tyler explained some of the ideas in my book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

In commenting on Tyler’s article, you made several mistakes in describing my ideas and proposals. I will explain these mistakes, and if you agree with the explanations I hope you will post corrections on Cato@Liberty.

Before I examine your misunderstanding of what I have written, I will first summarize the three basic parking reforms I recommend in The High Cost of Free Parking: (1) remove off-street parking requirements, (2) charge market prices for on-street parking to achieve about an 85-percent occupancy rate for curb spaces, and (3) return the resulting revenue to pay for public improvements in the metered neighborhoods.

I will quote ten extracts from your post, and comment on each of them.

1.

"Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, even though many do not."

Does
the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government
planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many
parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in
every city?

Even Houston, which does not have zoning, has minimum parking requirements, and they resemble the parking requirements in almost every other city in the United States. Houston requires 1.25 parking spaces for each efficiency apartment in an apartment house, for example, and 1.333 parking spaces for each one-bedroom apartment. Here is the link to the minimum parking requirements in Houston’s municipal code.

Does the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in every city, no matter how much the required parking spaces may cost and no matter how little drivers may be willing to pay to use them? Does the Antiplanner really support Houston’s minimum parking requirement of 1.333 spaces for each one-bedroom apartment because he believes that Houston’s government planners can accurately predict the “need” for parking at every apartment to one-thousandth of a parking space?

Since you say that many cities do not have minimum
parking requirements, can you provide a list of some of these cities?

2.

“Shoup assumes that . . . without such requirements there would
be less free parking. This last assumption is extremely unlikely, as
entrepreneurs everywhere know that (outside of New York City) 90 percent
of all urban travel is by car, and businesses that don’t offer parking
are going to lose customers to ones that do.”

Removing a minimum parking requirement means that a city
will never force developers to supply more parking spaces than are
profitable, but developers would be free to provide as many parking
spaces as they like. If developers did always voluntarily supply at
least as many parking spaces as cities now require, the minimum parking
requirements would be unnecessary. The only research I have seen found
that developers usually do not provide more parking spaces than cities
require (pp. 78–84 of The High Cost of Free Parking). Recent econometric
research also strongly suggests that minimum parking requirements force
developers to provide more parking spaces than they would voluntarily
provide in a free market [PDF].

3.

“Shoup portrays such free parking as a ‘subsidy’ because not all
people drive and so the ones who don’t drive end up subsidizing the
ones who do. But any business offers a variety of services to its
customers and employees, and no one frets about subsidies just because
they don’t take advantage of every single service. How often do you
actually swim in the swimming pools or work out in the exercise rooms of
the hotels you stay at?”

Every
person plays many different roles in life — tenant, homeowner, worker,
consumer, investor, and motorist. With bundled parking, we pay for
parking in all these roles except, usually, as motorists.

You use swimming pools and exercise rooms as examples of bundled
services at hotels, but cities do not require hotels to provide swimming
pools and exercise rooms. Suppose, however, cities did require all
hotels to provide swimming pools and exercise rooms, perhaps as a part
of a public health campaign. Cities could require all these swimming
pools and exercise rooms to be of at least a minimum size related to the
number of rooms or gross floor area in a hotel. For example, cities
could require every hotel to provide a swimming pool with at least 2,500
gallons of water per guest room. If cities did have minimum pool
requirements, I expect that almost all hotels would bundle the use of
the pools into the room rents. Would you then say that all these
swimming pools are the result of free choices made in a free market?
Would you say the market had demonstrated that hotel guests like to
swim? Would you say the minimum pool requirements do not subsidize
swimmers at the expense of nonswimmers? But let’s get back to parking;
even swimming pools have parking requirements, and here is the minimum
parking requirement for swimming pools in one city: 1 parking space for
every 2,500 gallons of water in a swimming pool (Table 3-4 in The High
Cost of Free Parking).

Every person plays many different roles in life — tenant,
homeowner, worker, consumer, investor, and motorist. With bundled
parking, we pay for parking in all these roles except, usually, as
motorists. Because we pay for parking indirectly, its cost does not
deter us from driving. Because off-street parking requirements force up
the supply of parking spaces, they “externalize” the cost of parking by
shifting it to everyone but the parker. Only if we pay for parking
directly does its cost affect our decisions whether to drive or not.

If cities require an ample supply of parking spaces for
every building, this saves everyone the trouble of thinking about
parking — or its cost. Parking appears free because its cost is widely
dispersed in slightly higher prices for everything else. Because we buy
and use cars without thinking about the cost of parking, we congest
traffic, waste fuel, and pollute the air more than we would if we each
paid for our own parking. Everyone parks free at everyone else’s
expense.

The issue is not simply whether parking is subsidized.
Even without minimum parking requirements some firms would choose to
offer free parking, just as some hotels offer swimming pools and some
coffee shops offer wi-fi. The real issue is whether the government
should mandate the parking supply.

When
the US Census Bureau surveyed owners and managers of multifamily rental
housing to learn which governmental regulations made their operations
most difficult, parking requirements were cited more frequently than any
other regulation except property taxes.

If a city like Houston will not allow any developer to build a
one-bedroom apartment without also providing at least 1.333 parking
spaces, is it any surprise that most landlords bundle the cost of
parking into higher rents for housing? As a result, we have free parking
and expensive housing. Cars are more affordable but housing is less
affordable. When the US Census Bureau surveyed owners and managers of
multifamily rental housing to learn which governmental regulations made
their operations most difficult, parking requirements were cited more
frequently than any other regulation except property taxes. (p. 141 in
The High Cost of Free Parking).

Off-street parking requirements collectivize the cost of
parking, because they allow everyone to park free at everyone else’s
expense. American drivers park free at the end of 99 percent of all
their automobile trips. If the cost of parking is hidden in the prices
of other goods and services, no one can pay less for parking by using
less of it. Off-street parking requirements thus change the way we build
our cities, the way we travel, and how much energy we consume. All the
required parking spaces spread the city out, and the greater travel
distances make driving almost a necessity. Free parking also reduces
the price of driving wherever we want to go, so the increased travel
distances combined with the reduced price of driving make cars the
obvious choice for most trips: 87 percent of all trips in the U.S. are
now made in personal motor vehicles. (pp. 621–625 in The High Cost of
Free Parking)

Off-street parking requirements produce the free parking
that everyone wants, but ubiquitous free parking helps explain why
American motor vehicles, by themselves, consume one-eighth of the
world’s total oil production. We import two-thirds of this oil and we
are paying for it with borrowed money. America’s extravagant consumption
of imported oil to fuel our cars is not sustainable, economically or
environmentally, and anything that is not sustainable must eventually
stop.

4.

“Shoup also supposes (and Cowen accepts) that universal parking
fees would greatly reduce the amount of driving people do. ‘Minimum
parking requirements act like a fertility drug for cars,’ Cowen quotes
Shoup as saying.”

Please cite any occasion on which I have recommended
“universal parking fees.” I am not even sure what you mean by this term.
If you mean all parking everywhere must have a substantial price at all
times, I most certainly do not recommend that.

Figure 12-1 in The High Cost of Free Parking shows what I
mean by the right price for parking, and the right price will often be
zero. For example, if half of all the parking spaces at a suburban
shopping mall are empty even when parking is free, it would not make
sense to charge for parking. On the other hand, if all of the curb
parking spaces in a congested business district are occupied and drivers
are circling every block in search of a vacant curb space, the price of
curb parking is too low. Here is the link to a video that shows how to set the right prices for curb parking.

5.

“Shoup claims that a single parking space costs, on average, 17
percent more than the cost of an average car, and as a result, the cost
of parking greatly exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country.
This is ridiculous… Even structured parking typically costs only about
$10,000 a space.”

Table 7-3 in The High Cost of Free Parking shows that
parking spaces built on the UCLA campus have cost, on average, 117
percent of the price of a new car in the years that the parking spaces
were built, but I did not rely on this figure to calculate that the cost
of parking exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country.

Using
data on the capital and operating costs of parking lots and parking
structures, I estimated that the subsidy for off-street parking in 2002
was between $127 billion and $374 billion, or between 1.2 percent and
3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. In comparison, in 2002 the
federal government spent $231 billion for Medicare and $349 billion for
national defense.

I relied on Census data to estimate that the cost of all parking
spaces exceeds the value of all the automobiles in the country. The
Department of Commerce estimated that the average value per vehicle was
$5,507 in 1997. This average value may seem low, but the average age of
all vehicles in 1995 was 8.3 years, and 62 percent of all vehicles were
more than five years old. The depreciation of the older vehicles
explains the low average value of $5,507 per vehicle. (Table 7-2 in The
High Cost of Free Parking)

There are more parking spaces than vehicles because
drivers must be able to park wherever they go, and many parking spaces
are vacant much of the time. Cities typically require enough parking
spaces to satisfy the peak demand for parking at every land use — at
home, work, school, restaurants, shopping centers, movie theaters, and
hundreds of other places — so that drivers can have convenient access to
all addresses at all times. To see the result, think of what happens
when almost all vehicles are parked at home in the middle of the night:
almost all the spaces necessary to meet the peak demand for free
parking at all other land uses are empty.

Cities require a specific number of parking spaces for
every land use, but no city collects data on its total parking supply.
No one knows the total number of parking spaces in the US, but the
eminent land-use planner Victor Gruen estimated that every car has at
least one parking space at home and three or four waiting elsewhere to
serve the same car. More recently, Davis et al. (2010) used detailed
aerial photographs to estimate the number of parking spaces in surface
parking lots in Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, and Wisconsin. Parking lots
were identified as paved surfaces with stripes painted on the surface
or where more than three cars were parked in an organized fashion.
Although the estimates did not include any on-street parking spaces, or
any parking spaces in structures (other than the top floor if the
structure has an open roof), or any residential parking spaces that are
not in parking lots, the total area occupied by parking lots in the four
states would cover about half the state of Rhode Island. In two cities
in Indiana for which there were detailed observations, parking lots
covered three times more land than parks.

Using this limited category of parking spaces (only the
spaces in off-street surface parking lots), Davis et al. estimated that
the parking supply ranged between 2.5 spaces per car in Indiana to 3
spaces per car in Michigan. Presumably, most cars also have one parking
space at home, and many more parking spaces are on the streets and in
structures.

To be extremely conservative, suppose there is one
parking space at home for every car and only two additional parking
spaces elsewhere (at work, school, supermarkets, and so on), for a total
of three parking spaces per car. Let us also take your
back-of-the-envelope estimate of $2,200 for the land and construction
cost of a surface parking space, an extremely low value. The cost of
the parking spaces available per car would be $6,600 (3 spaces per car x
$2,200 per space). In this case, the per-car cost of parking exceeds
the average value of a car ($5,507). If so, the total cost of the
parking supply exceeds the total value of all cars. And this estimate
does not include the cost of any parking spaces on the streets or in
structures.

Please cite the source of your statement that “Even
structured parking typically costs only about $10,000 a space.” The
national average construction cost for an above-ground parking structure
in 2010, according to Carl Walker Associates, is just over $16,000 per
space (excluding land value). Underground parking structures are even
more expensive. The most recent underground parking structure built at
UCLA, for example, cost $31,500 per space (Table 6-1 in The High Cost of
Free Parking). Yale is about to spend $20 million to build a 200-space
underground parking structure for its new School of Management, which is
a cost of $100,000 per space. Your rough estimates of $2,200 per space
for surface parking and $10,000 per space for structured parking are
probably far too low for parking lots and structures in many cities.

If the total cost of all parking spaces in the US exceeds
the total value of all the cars parked in them, and if drivers park
free for 99 percent of all their trips, the total subsidy for parking
(the total cost of parking not paid for by drivers in their role as
parkers) is huge. Using data on the capital and operating costs of
parking lots and parking structures, I estimated that the subsidy for
off-street parking in 2002 was between $127 billion and $374 billion, or
between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. In
comparison, in 2002 the federal government spent $231 billion for
Medicare and $349 billion for national defense. (Chapter 7 in The High
Cost of Free Parking)

Free curb parking may be the most costly subsidy that American cities provide for most of their citizens.

In addition, there is the subsidy for all the on-street parking
spaces. Consider a 36-foot wide residential street with two 10-foot-wide
travel lanes and two 8-foot-wide parking lanes: curb parking takes up
44 percent of the roadspace. Clearly, curb parking spaces account for a
significant share of the total cost of roads, and an accurate estimate
of the total subsidy for parking would take curb parking into account.
The US Department of Commerce estimates that the value of roads is 36
percent of the value of all state and local public infrastructure (which
also includes schools, sewers, water supply, residential buildings,
equipment, hospitals, and parks). Because curb parking occupies a
substantial share of road space, it must be a substantial share of all
state and local public infrastructure. Drivers do not pay gasoline
taxes while their cars are parked, except perhaps on the gasoline lost
through evaporative emissions, which pollute the air. Since drivers do
pay gasoline taxes while they are driving, curb spaces are subsidized
much more than the travel lanes are. Free curb parking may be the most
costly subsidy that American cities provide for most of their citizens.
(p. 206 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

6.

“Strangely, one of the examples Cowen uses in his
article is Manhattan, where (he claims) ‘streets are full of cars
cruising around, looking for cheaper on-street parking, rather than
pulling into a lot.’ Give me a break! I defy Cowen to find any free
parking anywhere in Manhattan, where ownership of a single parking space
can cost more than a median home in other parts of the country.”

I see that you retracted this no-free-parking-in-Manhattan claim in a later post.

Unfortunately, this retraction includes several new errors of fact.

7.

“Many streets in Manhattan offer free parking, albeit often with
the caveat that you have to move your car from one side of the street
to the other every night.”

New York does not require owners who park on the street
to move their cars every night. It requires owners to move their cars
twice a week so the city can sweep the streets under them. Most of the
curb parking spaces in Manhattan are free, on some of the most valuable
land on earth. As you say, a parking space in Manhattan can cost more
than a house in other parts of the country, so these free curb spaces
must provide an awesome subsidy for cars. And the competition for this
awesome subsidy requires cruising to find a rare vacant space. This
cruising for free parking wastes time and fuel, congests traffic, and
pollutes the air.

A study of cruising in one 15-block business district in
Los Angeles found that, over the course of a year, the search for
underpriced curb parking created about 950,000 excess vehicle miles of
travel—equivalent to 38 trips around the earth, or four trips to the
moon. And here’s another inconvenient truth about underpriced curb
parking: cruising those 950,000 miles wastes 47,000 gallons of gasoline
and produces 730 tons of carbon dioxide. If all this happens in one
small business district, imagine the cumulative effect of all cruising
in throughout the United States. (Chapter 14 in The High Cost of Free
Parking)

8.

“But this doesn’t change my main point, which is that it is one
thing for Cowen to argue that cities should not price parking below
market rates where there is a market for parking. I have no problem with
this. But it is quite another thing to argue, as many urban planners
following the Shoup model do, that private businesses should be required
to charge for parking (or be limited in how much parking they are
allowed to provide) in areas where the market rate for parking is zero.”

Please cite the source of a Shoup model that would
require businesses to charge for parking. Opposing minimum parking
requirements is very different from proposing minimum pricing
requirements.

I have supported the policy of “parking cash out” whereby
employers who offer commuters free parking at work also offer commuters
the option to choose the cash value of a parking space if they do not
take a free parking space at work. This policy does not mandate parking
charges because commuters who choose to drive can still park free.
Parking cash out gives the same subsidy to every commuter, regardless of
travel mode choice, while free parking gives a subsidy to drivers and
nothing to other commuters.

Case studies of employers who offer parking cash out in
Southern California show that it reduced vehicle travel to work by 12
percent — equivalent to removing one of every eight cars from the road
during peak commute hours. Parking cash out cost the employers only $2 a
month per employee because they saved almost as much on parking
subsidies as they paid in cash to commuters. Federal and state income
tax revenues increased by $65 a year per employee because many commuters
voluntarily traded their tax-exempt parking subsidies for taxable cash.
Employers said that parking cash out is simple and fair, and that it
helps recruit and retain workers. Parking cash out thus produces
benefits for commuters, employers, taxpayers, cities, and the
environment. It accomplishes all these goals simply by letting
commuters choose how to spend their own money.

Can you tell me if the Cato Institute offers free parking
for its employees? If so, does it also offer commuters the option to
cash out their parking subsidies?

9.

"Cowen’s complaint about Manhattan is not about free parking but
that the government is pricing on-street parking below the market. If
that were the extent of Shoup’s argument, I would have no problem, as I
noted in my blog last week. But Shoup’s goal isn’t market pricing of
public parking; it is to create artificial shortages of private parking.
He doesn’t want to simply eliminate the minimum-parking requirements
that are found in many zoning codes; he wants to replace them with
maximum-parking limits so that places like WalMart will not be allowed
to provide their customers with as much parking as they like."

You have misunderstood what I recommend. Here are four
quotes about parking requirements in The High Cost of Free Parking:

“Most markets depend on prices to allocate resources — so
much so that it’s hard to imagine they could operate in any other way.
Nevertheless, cities have tried to manage parking almost entirely
without prices. . . cities have without a second thought imposed
planning requirements to ensure affordable parking. Rather than charge
fair market prices for on-street parking, cities require ample
off-street parking for every land use.” (page eight)

Why
do you say that planners are annoyed when developers voluntarily
provide more parking than zoning codes demand? Most off-street parking
requirements are a minimum with no maximum. Minimum parking requirements
imply that planners care only about having enough parking spaces, and
that there can never be too many.

“Planners cannot even agree on whether to require or restrict
off-street parking. Consider the diametrically opposed approaches in
the Los Angeles and San Francisco CBDs: Los Angeles requires parking,
while San Francisco restricts it. For a concert hall, Los Angeles
requires, as a minimum, 50 times more parking spaces than San Francisco
allows as the maximum. . . If some physicians prescribed bloodletting
and others prescribed blood transfusion to treat the same disease,
everybody would demand to know what is going on. But when city planners
do essentially the same thing, nobody questions the contradiction.” (p.
121)

“Despite their ambivalence on whether to require or restrict
parking, planners always regulate it. This behavior recalls a Soviet
maxim: ‘What is not required must be prohibited.’” (p. 121)

“Although market prices can allocate parking spaces
fairly and efficiently, cities now require off-street parking everywhere
— imposing enormous costs on the economy and the environment. Cities
can and should regulate off-street parking to improve its quality, but
they should deregulate its quantity and instead charge market prices for
curb parking. If cities deregulate off-street parking and charge the
right price for curb parking, market forces will improve transportation,
land use, the environment, and urban life. You will not pay for my
parking, and I will not pay for yours. Instead of planning without
prices, we can let prices do the planning.” (p. 499)

I did not mention WalMart anywhere in The High Cost of Free Parking.

10.

“The empirical question is: do shopping malls, office parks, and
companies like WalMart provide parking for their customers and employees
because of zoning mandates, as Shoup claims? Or would they and do they
provide parking just because it is good for their businesses? Texas
counties are not allowed to zone, yet shopping centers and office parks
in unincorporated Texas still provide plenty of parking. Much to
planners’ annoyance, many developers elsewhere routinely provide more
parking than zoning codes demand. This suggests that free parking is a
free-market choice, and Cowen, who generally supports free markets,
should have no objection to it.”

Your “empirical question” attacks a straw planner. I have
never said that developers provide parking only because of zoning. I
have said that zoning often forces developers to provide more parking
than they would voluntarily choose to provide in a free market, where
they take into account both the cost of providing the parking spaces and
the revenue the spaces will generate. So please cite the evidence for
your statement that many developers routinely provide more parking than
zoning codes demand.

Why do you say that planners are annoyed when developers
voluntarily provide more parking than zoning codes demand? Most
off-street parking requirements are a minimum with no maximum. Minimum
parking requirements imply that planners care only about having enough
parking spaces, and that there can never be too many. Furthermore, the
planning approvals for specific projects often require developers to
provide more parking spaces than the zoning code requires. Few planners
are annoyed when developers provide more parking than the code requires;
they are annoyed when developers try to provide less parking than the
code requires.

All the evidence I have seen suggests that developers
often request planning variances to provide fewer parking spaces than
the zoning codes require, because these requirements can seriously
overestimate the peak demand for free parking. Developers must
commission expensive transportation studies to justify a planning
variance. Consider the results in a study commissioned by Home Depot
for of the peak parking occupancy at its stores in the Southwest United
States. The Parsons Transportation Group observed the parking occupancy
at hourly intervals at 17 Home Depot stores on a Saturday, the busiest
day of the week, and found “no correlation between the square footage of
a store and its resultant peak parking demand.” Parsons used the sales
data at each store to predict its peak parking occupancy on the
5th-busiest day of the year, which was selected as the “design day” for
the parking supply. As Parsons explained, “Choosing the 5th-busiest day
as the design day would mean that some customers may not be able to
find a parking space immediately during the peak hour of the busiest
four or five days of the year; however, they should have no problem
finding a parking space in the lot at any other time.”

Parsons then compared these estimates of peak parking
occupancy with the number of spaces that cities typically require at the
rate of 5 spaces per 1,000 square feet of floor area. The average
municipal parking requirement based on floor area was more than double
the estimated peak parking occupancy on the 5th-busiest day at a Home
Depot store. That is, the study commissioned by Home Depot found that
cities required twice the number of parking spaces needed to meet the
peak demand for free parking at Home Depot stores at the busiest time of
the year. (pp. 35–37 in The High Cost of Free Parking)

City planners have no training that would enable them to
estimate the demand for parking, and no financial stake in the success
of a development. They know much less than developers do about how many
parking spaces to provide for each project. Planners may, at best,
know a little about the peak demand for free parking at a few land uses,
but they know nothing about the marginal cost of parking spaces at any
site, or about how to estimate the demand for parking as a function of
its price. Markets will quickly reveal the demand for parking if cities
cease requiring off-street spaces. Developers, landlords, and
residents will all be able to make their own independent decisions about
the right number of parking spaces. Market-priced parking will allow
cities to evolve naturally in response to developers’ costs and
citizens’ preferences, while minimum parking requirements force
evolution toward car dependency and sprawl. In planning for an
uncertain future, flexible prices are far better than rigid
requirements. Could things be any worse if there were no planning for
parking at all?

The vision behind most planning for parking is a drive-in
utopia, and cities legislate this vision into reality for every new
building, regardless of the cost. Off-street parking requirements that
satisfy the peak demand for free parking are, in reality, free parking
requirements. Planners may believe in the immaculate conception of
parking demand, and economists may believe that market choices reveal
consumer preferences for travel by car. But the demand for parking was
not immaculately conceived, and it does not result from consumer
preferences revealed in a free market. Free parking is not always a
free-market choice. Instead, governments and the market coupled long ago
to produce today’s swollen demand for cars and parking.

After he has studied the evidence and reconsidered the
issues, I hope the Antiplanner at the Cato Institute may decide to
condemn rather than condone a complex web of wasteful and harmful
minimum parking requirements that severely restrict the use of private
property.

Well, that’s about it for pointing out mistakes in your
blog post. Because you have said that you did not read The High Cost of
Free Parking, I can understand why you have some misconceptions of what
is in it. If you had read the book, you would probably have found much
with which you agree. I do not expect that you will want to read a
733-page book on parking, however, so here are the links to a few sites
that will give you a quick view of what’s in the book.

I did not spend all this time simply to send you a
personal message about your blog post. If you take responsibility for
the accuracy of the facts you have confidently stated on Cato@Liberty,
and if the Cato Institute stands behind the accuracy of what its staff
members post on its blog, I hope you will use the information in this
message to correct all the errors in your original post. If your post is
so careless with the facts and so filled with errors, and it is not
corrected or retracted, what should one assume about all the other posts
on Cato@Liberty?

Donald Shoup
Department of Urban Planning
University of California, Los Angeles

Original post by Randal O’Toole on CATO@LIBERTY:

Free Markets for Free Parking
Posted by Randal O’Toole
August 16, 2010 @ 7:49 am

I am disappointed that the distinguished George Mason University
economist, Tyler Cowen, has fallen for the “high-cost-of-free-parking”
arguments of UCLA urban planner Donald Shoup. Shoup is an excellent
scholar, but like many scholars, he has the parochial view that the city
that he lives in is a representative example of what is happening
everywhere else.

Should free parking be a thing of the past?

Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s
densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring
builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to
provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country
has such parking requirements, even though many do not, and that without
such requirements there would be less free parking. This last
assumption is extremely unlikely, as entrepreneurs everywhere know that
(outside of New York City) 90 percent of all urban travel is by car, and
businesses that don’t offer parking are going to lose customers to ones
that do.

Shoup portrays such free parking as a “subsidy” because not all
people drive and so the ones who don’t drive end up subsidizing the ones
who do. But any business offers a variety of services to its customers
and employees, and no one frets about subsidies just because they don’t
take advantage of every single service. How often do you actually swim
in the swimming pools or work out in the exercise rooms of the hotels
you stay at?

Shoup also supposes (and Cowen accepts) that universal parking fees
would greatly reduce the amount of driving people do. “Minimum parking
requirements act like a fertility drug for cars,” Cowen quotes Shoup as
saying. Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, submitted this
question to its transportation model and concluded that requiring all
offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to charge for
parking would reduce driving by about 2 percent. The model showed that
charging for parking has a greater effect on driving than spending
billions on light rail, building scores of transit-oriented
developments, or increasing the urban area’s population density by 20
percent. But 2 percent still isn’t going to do much to relieve
congestion or solve any of the other problems Cowen associates with
driving. Plus he never really explains why he thinks reducing mobility
is a good idea in the first place.

Shoup claims that a single parking space costs, on average, 17
percent more than the cost of an average car, and as a result, the cost
of parking greatly exceeds the value of all automobiles in the country.
This is ridiculous. Most free parking is surface parking, which costs
about $2,000 a space plus the cost of land. In areas that have not used
urban-growth boundaries and similar tools to create artificial land
shortages, vacant suburban land with urban services typically costs
about $20,000 an acre. Since each acre can hold about 100 parking
spaces, the total cost is about $2,200 per space. From the point of view
of a business owner, this cost can be amortized over 30 years at 6
percent, for an annual cost of about $160. If that parking space is used
by just two customers a day, the cost is about 22 cents per customer.
That’s pretty trivial, and the costs of collecting fees for such parking
would probably be greater than the parking itself. Even structured
parking typically costs only about $10,000 a space (or, using the above
assumptions, $1 per customer), but structured parking is rarely provided
for free.

Strangely, one of the examples Cowen uses in his article is
Manhattan, where (he claims) “streets are full of cars cruising around,
looking for cheaper on-street parking, rather than pulling into a lot.”
Give me a break! I defy Cowen to find any free parking anywhere in
Manhattan, where ownership of a single parking space can cost more than a
median home in other parts of the country.

Cowen’s complaint about Manhattan is not about free parking but that
the government is pricing on-street parking below the market. If that
were the extent of Shoup’s argument, I would have no problem, as I noted
in my blog last week. But Shoup’s goal isn’t market pricing of public
parking; it is to create artificial shortages of private parking. He
doesn’t want to simply eliminate the minimum-parking requirements that
are found in many zoning codes; he wants to replace them with
maximum-parking limits so that places like WalMart will not be allowed
to provide their customers with as much parking as they like.

The empirical question is: do shopping malls, office parks, and
companies like WalMart provide parking for their customers and employees
because of zoning mandates, as Shoup claims? Or would they and do they
provide parking just because it is good for their businesses? Texas
counties are not allowed to zone, yet shopping centers and office parks
in unincorporated Texas still provide plenty of parking. Much to
planners’ annoyance, many developers elsewhere routinely provide more
parking than zoning codes demand. This suggests that free parking is a
free-market choice, and Cowen, who generally supports free markets,
should have no objection to it.

Randal O’Toole • August 16, 2010 @ 7:49 am
Filed under: Energy and Environment

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