Donald Shoup: Free Parking Isn’t Free

Lynne Kiesling

On Saturday morning NPR had an interview with UCLA urban planning professor Donald Shoup. His new book, The High Cost of Free Parking, sounds like it’s a worthy read. He makes arguments along the lines that nothing is free (where have we heard that before?), and that the cost of providing for free parking gets reflected in the goods and services we buy, as well as in land values.

The interviewer asked him about the effects on public transportation, and he said quite simply that municipalities providing free parking subsidizes driving and reduces demand for public transportation. It was incredibly refreshing to hear an urban planning professor make these arguments. And on NPR, even.


10 thoughts on “Donald Shoup: Free Parking Isn’t Free

  1. Worth reading? Maybe. There’s a strong itch to see this as yet another example of the car-hating Smart Growth or New Urbanism schools, as though fuel taxes weren’t actually paying for more roads and then some. (Further, in practice, the New Urbanists — Portland, OR’s Metro, for instance — have been less than honest about their actual goals.) The real beef all too often is that cars are bad so let’s get rid of them, period.

  2. The problem with unfree parking is that the transaction costs are so high. (Most people I know really, really hate parking at meters, because of the stress involved in remembering how long you paid for and keeping lots of small change around.)

    In most places, plentiful free parking is provided by the merchants (like in shopping malls), except where collective action problems make this difficult (like in downtowns).

  3. The problem with unfree parking is that the transaction costs are so high. (Most people I know really, really hate parking at meters, because of the stress involved in remembering how long you paid for and keeping lots of small change around.)

    In most places, plentiful free parking is provided by the merchants (like in shopping malls), except where collective action problems make this difficult (like in downtowns).

  4. A mall *is* a city. Your city has to compete with it. Ergo, the city must provide the same amenities. Amenities are under-appreciated in terms of analysis. If you don’t think about them, their value won’t go away and your conclusions will be off base.

    Thinking about cities as if they were isolated from their environment is strange. McGrew (above) mentions the transaction cost. I call it lack of amenities.

    This can be balanced by distance to and from parking or access issues. For instance, my local hardware store was down and out for many years due to Home Depot and Loew’s proximity. After a certain period, people realized that the convenience of having 90 percent of what they want only 15 feet from the car overcame having 100 percent 100 yards from the car.

    The important issue is that amenity value is a positive thing and can’t be imposed in a negative fashion. That is, you can’t get people to use a nasty smelly tram by imposing parking fees. People will vote with their feet.

  5. A mall *is* a city. Your city has to compete with it. Ergo, the city must provide the same amenities. Amenities are under-appreciated in terms of analysis. If you don’t think about them, their value won’t go away and your conclusions will be off base.

    Thinking about cities as if they were isolated from their environment is strange. McGrew (above) mentions the transaction cost. I call it lack of amenities.

    This can be balanced by distance to and from parking or access issues. For instance, my local hardware store was down and out for many years due to Home Depot and Loew’s proximity. After a certain period, people realized that the convenience of having 90 percent of what they want only 15 feet from the car overcame having 100 percent 100 yards from the car.

    The important issue is that amenity value is a positive thing and can’t be imposed in a negative fashion. That is, you can’t get people to use a nasty smelly tram by imposing parking fees. People will vote with their feet.

  6. A mall *is* a city. Your city has to compete with it. Ergo, the city must provide the same amenities. Amenities are under-appreciated in terms of analysis. If you don’t think about them, their value won’t go away and your conclusions will be off base.

    Thinking about cities as if they were isolated from their environment is strange. McGrew (above) mentions the transaction cost. I call it lack of amenities.

    This can be balanced by distance to and from parking or access issues. For instance, my local hardware store was down and out for many years due to Home Depot and Loew’s proximity. After a certain period, people realized that the convenience of having 90 percent of what they want only 15 feet from the car overcame having 100 percent 100 yards from the car.

    The important issue is that amenity value is a positive thing and can’t be imposed in a negative fashion. That is, you can’t get people to use a nasty smelly tram by imposing parking fees. People will vote with their feet.

  7. For many years I have managed the City of Seattle’s carpool program and continue to ask the question, “Why is it necessary to provide a parking discount to those who carpool, when it is a higher parking price that creates an incentive to carpool or use other HOV modes?”
    I have been working on a paper that addresses this issue. Who might be interested in reading a draft?

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