An exceptionally kind blog reader bought me “The High Cost of Free Parking” byDonald Shoup recently. This is a book that I’ve flicked through on a number of occasions in the past, but I’m incredibly grateful of the opportunity to read through it properly, particularly at a time when it seems that Auckland Council is fundamentally reassessing the way it handles parking policy. Page 16 of the “Urban Auckland” chapter of the Auckland Plan says some pretty optimistic things about how the council will be relooking at parking policy matters:
Inappropriate regulations and inflexible standards can impact on good design. These can act as impediments to the development of intensive housing and mixed developments. One factor that can affect the affordability of such projects is unnecessary parking requirements. Sometimes traditional parking standards (minimum numbers of car parking spaces) have been imposed in areas where alternative options (for example parking buildings or investment in public transportation) would imply that such minimums are counterproductive to delivering the goal of intensification, mixed use and affordability. The Council intends to review its approach to parking as part of the development of the Unitary Plan.
Minimum parking requirements have a number of flaws, but a fundamental one is that they effectively force you to spend a lot of money (particular in inner urban areas) to provide for one particular mode of transport (car storage), regardless of whether you actually want two spaces, one space or perhaps even no spaces.
The High Cost of Free Parking outlines a really good analogy between parking policy and hamburgers that’s useful to consider:
Suppose cities required all fast-food restaurants to include french fries with every hamburger. The fries would appear free, but they would have a high cost in money and health. Those who don’t eat the fries pay higher prices for their hamburgers but receive no benefit. Those who do eat the fries they wouldn’t have ordered separately are also worse off, because they eat unhealthy food they wouldn’t otherwise buy. Even those would order the fries if they weren’t included free are no better off, because the price of a hamburger would increase to cover the cost of the fries. How are minimum parking requirements different? Minimum parking requirements force people force people who are too poor to own cars to pay for parking spaces they don’t use, and they encourage others to buy more cars and drive them more than they would if they had to pay separately for parking.
Just as the only people who would really do well out of forcing hamburger purchases to include fries would be potato growers, arguably the only people who do well out of minimum parking requirements are those who build cars, roads and parking buildings. The rest of us, regardless of how many cars we own, are either worse off or at best, in the same position as we would be without such requirements. The sooner we get rid of them the better.