Curb Parking: The Ideal Source of Local Public Revenue

Market-priced curb parking can yield between 5% and 8% of the total land rent in a city, according to a journal article by Donald C. Shoup.

January 2, 2005, 1:00 PM PST

By Chris Steins @urbaninsight


Free or underpriced curb parking creates a classic commons problem. Studies have found thatbetween 8% and 74% of cars in congested traffic were cruising in search of curb parking, and that theaverage time to find a curb space ranged between 3 and 14 min. Cities can eliminate the economicincentive to cruise by charging market-clearing prices for curb parking spaces. Market-priced curbparking can yield between 5% and 8% of the total land rent in a city, and in some neighborhoods can yield more revenue than the property tax.

From the journal article: "Free curb parking is an asphalt commons: just as grazing cattle compete in their searchfor scarce grass, drivers compete in their search for scarce curb parking spaces. Driverswaste time and fuel, congest traffic, and pollute the air while cruising for curb parking, andafter finding a space, they have no incentive to economize on how long they park.

When many people want to use a scarce public resource, individual self-restraint doesnot produce any perceptible long-term gains. Free curb parking thus presents the perfectcommons problem—no one owns it, and everyone can use it. In his famous essay on the 'tragedy of the commons,' Garrett Hardin used curb parking to illustrate the problem hewas describing.

During the Christmas shopping season the parking meters downtown were coveredwith plastic bags that bore tags reading:

''Do not open until after Christmas. Freeparking courtesy of the mayor and city council.''

In other words, facing the prospect ofan increased demand for already scarce space, the city fathers reinstituted the system ofthe commons.

Some cities continue to gift wrap their parking meters in December, and they givemotorists a commons problem for Christmas. Although voters may thank their mayor andcity council for free parking at the time of peak demand, vacant spaces become evenharder to find. Drivers circle the block searching for a curb space, and when they find one,they occupy it longer than they would if they paid to park. What makes sense for eachindividual driver is bad for the community as a whole."

[Editor's note: The link below is to a 1MB PDF document.]

Thanks to Chris Steins

Wednesday, May 19, 2004 in Journal Of Regional Science

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