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It is no doubt ironic that the motorcar, superstar of the capitalist system, expects to live rent-free. -- Wolfgang Zuckerman

Some people say curb parking is a public good but they're wrong. Public goods are non-rival in consumption (my use doesn't affect your use) and non-exclusive (no one can be excluded from receiving its benefits.) (There's others: rivalrous non-excludable are common goods like ocean fisheries, excludable non-rivalrous are club goods like cinemas or satellite TV.) Parking spaces are as rival and excludable as most other land property uses; my using it keeps you out, and parking meters with enforcement keep non-payers out.

Most cities undercharge for curb parking and rely on time limits to create turnover. This is crap. People using it for less anyway aren't affected, while those who need more time are barred or have to rush back to move their car and game the system. One place found that school custodians were moving teachers' cars every few hours, using the public's money to defeat the city's laws. Enforcement is often weak and difficult (you have to track cars over the period, rather than simply looking for expired or unpaid meters) and the city makes money only from fines.

Traffic engineers say about 15% or 1 space in 7 should be empty, ideally, to ease use. Arguably this means a price of zero at usage below 85%, shooting up above that. This would be a policy different from maximizing revenue like commercial lots and garages. "The right price for curb parking is the lowest price that will avoid shortages." Or that might be too low: in heavy traffic a parking event (entering or leaving) slows nearby traffic by 10% or more. The proper price thus might be higher, to reflect the external cost.

In the 1950s -- pre-network -- Vickrey suggested pay-by-space meters, a cluster of meters in one place for all spaces on a block; presumably the single machine could choose prices based on how many were used. Now, of course, we have computers and electronic networks.

Typically the city council must change parking meter rates, making it a big political decision, not a routing administrative-economic one. A council might instead decree a target occupancy rate and let the parking authority adjust prices to fit.

Analogously, San Diego replaced high occupancy vehicle lanes with high occupancy/toll lanes, usable by multi-person cars or by drivers who'd purchased a permit. As HOV lanes they'd been underused. But demand rose, and drivers objected to the price rising. So the board chose a computerized system that adjusts tolls to keep the speed above 54 mph. It's been a great success.

A 1965 experiment in London found that with quadrupled parking prices, park-and-walk times dropped 66%, or an 8 minute decline; doubling means 38% drop, or 3.08 minutes. Most of the fall was from decreased time to find a place, but walking distance dropped as well, and even the time to park a car fell slightly with quadrupled prices.

As significant as reducing the average parking time may be reducing the *variability* and uncertainty. The experiment found that falling by 2/3 as well.

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Damien Sullivan
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