The High Cost of Free Parking

Posted on July 19, 2006 

The High Cost of Free Parking

Originally limited to the curbside, parking was destined to become a scarce resource. Cars take up a lot of space, the total area of curbside parking is limited, and certain areas, like workplaces and commercial districts, experience peaks in demand when large numbers of people arrive at once.

Planners concluded that the solution was physical: create enough additional parking to offset the projected increase in demand. What seemed like good public policy at the time has been a slow-motion time bomb for cities. Too much parking is much worse, in the long run, than not enough parking.

When planners calculate how many parking spaces to provide1, they assume parking is free. Obviously, demand for a “free” service will be much higher than demand for a service that must be purchased. If people don’t have to pay for parking, they are much more likely to drive.

There’s just one problem: parking isn’t free. In fact, according to Shoup, “the cost of all parking spaces in the U.S. exceeds the value of all cars and may even exceed the value of all roads.” Parking costs billions of dollars a year.

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