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SGV Connect 116: Chris Greenspon interviews Donald Shoup

CG: We're here with Donald Shoup. He's a distinguished research professor of urban planning at UCLA. He's here to talk with us about Pasadena's strategic parking plan. You may know him as author of Parking and the City and The High Cost of Free Parking. Donald Shoup, welcome to SGV Connect.
DS: Well, thanks for inviting me.
CG: So Donald, we want to focus specifically on Pasadena, which you've written more than once about, and what we want to look at is the incoming strategic parking plan, like I mentioned. So the city of Pasadena seems poised to implement a plan to charge market based prices for its city parking and shopping districts; the more popular the destination, the higher the rate, and also higher rates for longer stays. What do you think of this idea?
DS: Well, I think it's not very much different from what it's doing already. But it is an improvement. I think that it's good to have gradual changes. Try it out. And I think that Pasadena has a lot of experience in the high technology that is now available. And they've surveyed their customers to see what they like they test out different parking meters. And I think the the consultants that Pasadena hired is the best there is, that Dixon Associates, they they did a wonderful report, I think, and they recommended just about everything I would recommend.
CG: So what do you like about the idea of prorating the cost of parking as time goes on?
DS: Well, I think in Pasadena the parking meters have produced benefits it two very different ways. One is to manage the curb properly, that if the spaces are, are half empty, there are a lot of customers who could be there that aren't there. So I think that if they're if there are a lot more open spaces, the city ought to reduce the price or make it free. And that's what Pasadena did when they installed parking meters in 1982, they started the operating at 8am and ran until, in some places until midnight. And they quickly realized that they shouldn't be charging anything until 10 or 11. in the morning. Because you shouldn't that they have the same price all day long. So it went from zero up to $1 an hour at 8am. That was just the wrong time to start. So I think they wait, they delayed it till 11am to start the meters kept their brother until at least midnight on all the heavy shopping days. So I think the important thing is to see the prices go down when there are empty spaces. But by the same reasoning as they should go up, but there are no empty spaces, people would rather pay for parking than not find it at all. And the goal is to make sure that when you're driving down the block, you see one or two open spaces, which is exactly what the drivers want to see they will see that open space waiting for them. And I think that's what the new consultant's report has has pushed on Pasadena, that Pasadena didn't have variable prices during the day, it was just one price all day long. And I think that other cities have pioneered these variable prices or dynamic prices or demand-based prices, they all mean the same thing. But they they be that you should aim for about 85% occupancy, because an open parking spaces like inventory at a store that... if there's no inventory, people won't want to go to the store. If there's a lot of inventory, the stores will cut prices to sell the goods. And that's the way parking should be as well. If you have a very high inventory of open spaces, you should lower the price and if you have no open spaces you should raise it. It's as simple as that. It doesn't happen in real time in the sense that if this afternoon you went to Pasadena and found that there were no empty spaces for three blokes, you wouldn't say that today, we should raise the prices, usually they wait two or three months to get the experience and see what it was like and find the areas that are chronically under occupied or over occupied. And in the cities that do this, the drivers don't even notice it. So you don't know what the price of parking was yesterday or a month ago, when you get there, you're just happy to see a curb space. And so I think that the drivers really won't notice it. But they'll enjoy the open curb spaces. So that's the first benefit of the parking meters. The second one is the revenue. And that is what worked out miraculously in in Pasadena. It was the first city, I take, int the world to do it... is to tell the merchants, and the property owners, and the residents that all the meter money that we're gathering will go to pay for added public services, in old Pasadena. You're too young to know that old Pasadena used to be a commercial slum. It was a skid row, that most of the storefronts were underused or empty. There was nothing, no tenants above ground. People thought it would never recover. There were wonderful buildings in terrible condition, and the street trees were dead and tthe sidewalks were buckled. And when they said he proposed putting in parking meters the merchants opposed it, they said "We don't have enough customers now it will drive away the customers we have," although many of the curb spaces were occupied by the employees of the stores who move their cars every two hours. so they can find a spot. And the store owners do that too. So they they complained about the lack of parking, and monopolized it themselves, and they oppose the idea of paying for parking. So they argued for two years and then the mayor - Rick Cole then - was meeting with the merchants and he just blurted out and said that if we put in the parking meters, we'll spend all the revenue paying to repair your sidewalks, put in historic street furniture, street lights, clean up the alleys. Add the merchants said "Well, that's different. Why didn't you tell us that? Let's run the meters on Sunday. Let's run the meters till midnight." And when when Rick came out of the meeting and told his staff that they've said yes, after I said that we will spend all the revenue in Pasadena, his staff were very angry with him. And they said, "Well, we need that money. You know, we need that money to help pay for the off-street garages." And he calmed them down by saying, "Well, we'll get the ticket revenue from the meters." But I think that in Pasadena, it was the revenue from the meters that made the biggest effect, that they rebuilt all of the sidewalks. And they did all of the alleys, put the wires underground and cleaned out all the trash, and the dead animals and things like that in the alleys and now people go to Pasadena to walk around to walk in the alleys. And how many places in Southern California do you think people want to walk around in the alleys when they get there? So I think that there are these two things that have helped in Pasadena, is putting in the parking meters to manage the parking and two, to spending the revenue with the right place. And then this new proposal from the consultants is to vary the prices during the day. And by location different blocks will have different prices. So that's a long answer to your short question. But I have more more things to say if you want to know more.
CG: So this is maybe a little bit redundant or a little bit maybe 'dummy's advocate,' but doesn't this idea still just incentivize people to hunt for cheaper parking elsewhere away from their destinations?
DS: Yes. Yes, they do. Because the prices are lower at the least popular places and they can park off-street, Pasadena has another good thing which is municipal parking garages; the ground floor is retail, but the upper floors are parking. And what the consultant has recommended is charging a lower price in the garages then on the street. So people who are gonna stay for a long time will park in the garages, they'll walk and the people who just want to stop for 10 or 15 minutes to pick something up, they'll pay to park at the curb. So that's what you want. You want some people to walk farther and the people who are going to walk farther or those who are going to park longer and who don't want to pay much for parking. So I think that yes, there's not a problem that people have to walk in fact that one of the earlier analysts for old Pasadena, Stefanos Polyzoides, invented the term "park once", that you want people to park once and walk around. So and now people come to Pasadena because they do want to walk around as there are stores everywhere and restaurants and it's safe. They spend a lot of the meter revenue on added police patrols. They didn't have police on horseback on the weekends, which are just decorative, really, I'm sure that give the impression that is very safe. And is quite glamorous. But yes, the answer to your question. There's no problem if people walk. people ought to walk more.
CG: Okay. And do you see any possible hiccups in the system, if the city puts out an app that tells people where parking is open?
DS: I think they won't have to put out an app to show where parking just opened, it will be open. They put out an app showing what rather prices are what the prices are everywhere. But I think most people don't think about parking until they get to where they're going. And then they think about parking. But other cities do have apps showing prices everywhere. And I think if people want to plan their trip around their prices, that's a good thing.
CG: All right. Donald Shoup, thank you so much for joining us on SGV Connect. Again, Donald is the author of Parking and the City and The High Cost of Free Parking. Some have called these the Bible's of parking. Would you concur, Donald, but your own books are the written word of the Almighty on parking?
DS: Well, I'm biased.
CG: All right. Well, I'm glad that at least you're honest, if biased. Thanks so much for joining us.
DS: Well, thanks for inviting me.