What happens when government aid doesn't go where it's supposed to?
We Americans love our cheap on-street parking, but it may not be good for us — hunting for spaces can create both pollution and congestion. Some cities — including Washington — are testing a program that adjusts parking meter fees to manage demand. We explore what that means if you’re looking for a parking place in D.C.
- Donald Shoup Professor of Urban Planning, UCLA; and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking" (American Planning Association)
- Karina Ricks Associate Director for Planning, Policy and Sustainability, District of Columbia Department of Transportation
- Michael Perkins Author, "Infosnack Headquarters"; Contributor, "Greater Greater Washington"
PROF. DONALD SHOUPFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. In the car culture we live in, most of us take free or cheap on-street parking for granted. But in some cities, 30 percent of traffic congestion comes from people driving around the block, looking for a parking pace -- parking place, that is. To combat this parking crunch, a few places, including Washington, are experimenting with a new system that adjusts parking meter fees to control demand. The theory is that if street parking is expensive enough, only those people who really want it will use it, and the rest will go to a garage.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt also means those people who park at the curb to do their errands probably won't stay as long because of the higher cost, which creates more customer turnover for local businesses. Here in Washington, pilot programs near the Nationals' ballpark and in Columbia Heights are testing the public's reaction to demand base pricing at the parking meter. And joining us now from a studio at UCLA to discuss this is Donald Shoup. He's a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." Donald Shoup, thank you for joining us.
SHOUPWell, hello and thank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIMost Americans love free parking, but you think it's actually a bad idea, one that's contributing to traffic congestion, pollution and bad land-use decisions. Why?
SHOUPWell, I think free parking is a bad idea in dense areas where there's a shortage of parking that -- of curb parking, especially, as in Washington, that if all the curb spaces were free in Washington, there would be even more cars driving around, hunting for parking. But I guess I wouldn't say that performance pricing, as they call it in Washington, D.C., beats higher prices always. Sometimes it would mean lower prices. Well, I looked at a survey of occupancy at the meters in the area where you do performance pricing. I'd say that the prices should be lower, that the idea is to get the price of parking right, and by right, I mean one or two vacant spaces on every block.
SHOUPIf there are one or two vacant spaces, then the space -- the curb spaces will be well used, meaning most of those spaces are occupied but readily available, so that anybody coming to the area will see a vacant space. So it's sort of like the Goldilocks principle of parking prices. They shouldn't be too high or too low. And I think in many cases, they are too high.
NNAMDIHow does a lack of available curb parking affect traffic congestion?
SHOUPWell, a lot of people say, it took me 10 minutes to find the space or 20 minutes to find a space. And if it took you 10 minutes to find a curb space, it probably takes everybody else. So they're -- everybody who is hunting for a space has been driving for 10 minutes, hunting for one that leads us to a lot of unnecessary traffic. Traffic -- it's driving that people don't want to do. We did a study of this in a 15-block area in Los Angeles, drove ourself 240 times to the area and found out how long it took to park, and the average was only about three minutes. But that's about a half a mile of driving. And when you add it up for the whole year in these 15 blocks, it adds up to almost 1 million vehicle miles of travel, hunting for car parking.
SHOUPThat's four trips to the moon. And that is -- adds to congestion, and the drivers don't pay so much attention to the pedestrians or the bicyclists or wasting fuel. And now we realize they're emitting carbon dioxide that may even have problems all over the Earth.
NNAMDICue to my favorite Henny Youngman joke. I solved the problem of driving around, looking for parking in New York -- I bought a parked car. Donald Shoup, you've estimated that as a nation, we spend about as much money on parking as we spend on Medicare or national defense. How does free parking actually subsidize cars and drivers?
SHOUPWell, just because the driver doesn't pay for parking it doesn't mean the cost goes away. Somebody else has to pay for it, and that somebody is everybody. It wasn't my estimate that the cost of providing this parking that drivers don't pay for is about what we pay for Medicare. It was another researcher. But when you think of all the land and the capital and the -- that is everywhere, all these garages that you see around, who is paying for them, all the parking lots at supermarkets.
SHOUPYou don't pay for it when you drive through a supermarket, but the parking wasn't free. Somebody has to pay for it, and that somebody is everybody who shops there. Even if they're too poor to own a car, they have to pay for the parking for people who do drive.
NNAMDIWhy do you think cities should adjust parking meter prices to control demand? And how do higher prices for curbside parking affect driving behavior?
SHOUPWell, I think the real reason for -- to get the price of curb parking right is the -- all the bad things that happen when you get the prices wrong. If the price is too high, then there are a lot of vacant spaces and stores lose customers. If the price is too low, well then there are no vacant spaces, and you feel you have to drive around hoping to see a space being vacated. So I think that the main effect of getting the price of curb parking right is it'll take a lot of cars out of traffic. But it doesn't mean people won't be traveling.
SHOUPIt just means that they won't have to add 10 or 15 minutes at the end of their trip hunting for curb parking. And this will -- by getting a lot of cars out of traffic, it will make it easier for buses to travel, for everybody who's driving to travel, be easier for pedestrians and bicyclists. I think that the main way that getting the price of curb parking right will affect driving behavior is it'll cut out that 10 or 15 minutes of hunting for parking at the end of your trip.
NNAMDIBy your calculations, Donald Shoup, the ideal scenario is to set parking meter prices so that in every block, there are always one or two open spaces and the rest are full. Why is that a good ratio, and how can we achieve it?
SHOUPWell, I think one vacant space would be the ideal. You know, some people think they have good parking karma, that wherever they go, they find an -- a space open, they get up right where they wanna be. And I think getting the price of curb parking right will give everybody good parking karma, that wherever you go, you won't -- you can't say that there's a shortage of parking because as you drive around the block, you see one to two vacant spaces on every block.
SHOUPAnd there's no reason to drive around, hunting for parking. You'll probably, you know, park in front of the -- a store, you'll go in, you'll buy something, and then you'll leave so that somebody else can use the space. So I think there will be probably faster turnover because the longer you stay, the more you'll pay. So I think the spaces will be used a lot better. I think Tommy Wells, who's the councilmember...
NNAMDIWard 6 councilmember here in Washington, D.C.
SHOUPThat's right. He is the -- really the leader in this field, and he calls it performance pricing. And I think you can call it performance pricing for three reasons. One, the curb parking will perform better. As I said, it's well used but readily available. And then, the traffic system will perform better because there won't be a lot of cars congesting traffic while they hunt for parking. And that the whole economy will perform better because the stores will have a steady stream of customers who won't linger in the neighborhood after they've, you know, bought whatever they're buying or gone to whatever restaurants theretofore. And then, they'll make the spaces available for somebody else.
NNAMDICouncilmember Tommy Wells said he would have loved to join us, but he says he's in a budget hearing in the council this morning. And I turned to Council Channel 13 to make sure and, yes, he is in that budget hearing, so he probably won't be joining us. Donald Shoup is a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." He joins us from a studio at UCLA. You can join us by calling 800-433-8850 if you'd like to participate in the conversation.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about adjusting parking prices to control demand? 800-433-8850. Or go to our website, kojoshow.org, and ask a question or make a comment there. Joining us now in studio is Karina Ricks, associate director for planning, policy and sustainability with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. Karina, thank you for joining us.
MS. KARINA RICKSIt's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAlso with us is Michael Perkins, who writes about parking and Metro for the blog Greater Greater Washington. Michael, good to see you again.
MR. MICHAEL PERKINSThank you for having me.
NNAMDIKarina, in 2008, the District of Columbia started a pilot program based, in part, on Professor Shoup's theories of parking dynamics. It's in place in two neighborhoods: the area near the Nationals' ballpark, and the commercial corridor in Columbia Heights. How is the city's so-called performance parking program designed to balance the needs of residents, businesses and customers?
RICKSWell, I think it's important to note that we coupled our performance parking for the metered spaces together with management in the residential parking areas around those areas. Columbia Heights is, of course, a densely populated residential community as well as being now a major retail and entertainment destination. And so, the strategy there in Columbia Heights was to invite patrons to those retail and economic development destinations while, at the same time, protecting the neighborhood residential.
RICKSWe implemented enhanced residential parking in the nearby streets and then sought to manage demand, as Dr. Shoup has advocated, on the metered areas through both pricing and time limit -- limitations on the curbside space.
NNAMDICould you be more specific about how the performance parking program works in the areas, say, near the Nationals' ballpark? What does it cost to park on a meter on game days and non-game days? I gave an exaggerated estimate of that by saying the first hour costs $4 and it's $12 an hour after that, but that was mainly to attract attention.
RICKS(laugh) Well, you're not necessarily so far off.
RICKSThe -- in the metered streets on game day, it's $2 for the first hour, but then $8 for the second hour, $8 again for the third hour. And then it decreases to $2 for the second hour -- sorry, for the fourth hour again. So, if you're to stay for a whole game, you would be paying about $20 for the on-street space, and that's competitive with what the off-street lots are also offering.
NNAMDIOh, yeah, I've paid that $20 in the off-street lots on many (laugh) -- on occasion. The other section of the city with a performance parking pilot program is Columbia Heights. How are parking meter rates set there?
RICKSParking meter rates in Columbia Heights are $1 -- I'm sorry, $2 an hour in Columbia Heights. But we're looking to adjust those now as we've gotten new reports on the performance in that area that indicate that we're not meeting the 85 percent occupancy work seating it. So nearly all metered spaces in Columbia Heights are typically occupied, and that would indicate that perhaps the market can bear a higher parking rate so that we can achieve that small number of vacant spaces to decrease the circling, looking for parking to increase accessibility to the businesses there. And so we are looking to change the metered prices in Columbia Heights to increase those parking rates.
NNAMDIMichael Perkins, how have Washingtonians responded to these two pilot parking programs? Is there a lot of support for this new performance parking system? My own experience seems to be that people have two general kinds of responses, A, I don't like paying more for parking flat, B, but I do like having more access to parking.
PERKINSI think that the response has been, at least in the comments that we have on the blog...
PERKINS...is that a lot of people have said that they don't like paying more for parking, but that there are a lot of people on the blog comments that say that they like having the ability to drive and find a space. And the other thing is that the revenue, at least a portion of it, is devoted to the local neighborhood to fund improvements. And so they like that aspect of it. DDOT has had some community meetings to discuss the performance parking. So I think that the comments that were at those meetings -- I can ask Karina to respond if you were there or you know any of the reports from those meetings.
NNAMDIWell, Karina, how do you decide when to raise or lower parking fees in performance parking zones? And what have you learned from your reviews of the program?
RICKSWell, it's a data-driven process. And so we adjust the parking rates based on the information that we get on their occupancy. And I think Dr. Shoup can talk a bit more about some of the innovations that are happening in San Francisco to have real-time occupancy data reported in that city. We are not to that level yet. We do annual assessments of what the occupancy is. We do get data throughout the year on what the occupancy is, and then make adjustments based on that data that we're receiving.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on setting the price of D.C.'s parking meters, and inviting your calls, 800-433-8850. If you live or shop in Columbia Heights, are you aware of the performance parking program there? And how do you think it's working? Have you parked at the meter to go to a Nationals baseball game? How do you feel about the performance parking system there? 800-433-8850. If you've already called, stay on the line. If the lines are busy -- and they're filling up fast -- you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or send us an email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about setting the price at D.C.'s parking meters, something that is being called performance parking. And we're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. We're talking with Karina Ricks, who's associate director for Planning, Policy and Sustainability with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. Donald Shoup is a professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." And Michael Perkins writes about parking in Metro for the blog Greater Greater Washington. Michael, you've raised some concerns about the city being too slow to collect new data about the parking program and to adjust meter rates accordingly.
PERKINSWell, that's right. The program started -- I think it was authorized in 2007. And it didn't really get rolling until 2008. And it took a year before their report -- their first report on the occupancy levels came out. And from that report, DDOT reported some of the levels of parking that were outside of the, you know, the band that you're supposed to be in. And they made a, sort of, a comment that they were gonna be adjusting the prices for the blocks that were listed in a certain table. And then a lot of time went by, and none of the adjustments that they had mentioned were actually going through.
PERKINSAnd so, now, we got a new draft report in March. And they improved the report a lot by stating, you know, which particular blocks were gonna be adjusted. But it's been, you know, 3 1/2 years since the performance parking idea was officially approved. And I'm not sure that we've done -- we've actually done any adjustments that were based on measured demand.
NNAMDIThis is, after all, a pilot program. Karina Ricks, do you think that you need to be looking at data and making changes more rapidly?
RICKSWe definitely need to be looking at data. And that's, as I said, a really important part of this whole program. I think the other thing to keep in mind is that the ballpark area is a highly dynamic neighborhood. It's -- from month to month, there's new tenants, new occupants, more housing units coming on line. The context is changing very, very rapidly in that neighborhood.
NNAMDISo that's more difficult than Columbia Heights because the businesses...
NNAMDI...are still moving in and things are changing all the time, whereas in Columbia Heights, you've got the USA Mall there and all of the businesses there, so you kind of know what's going on there. Donald Shoup, to make these market-driven parking fees politically feasible, you recommend that cities spend the parking meter revenue on improvements to the blocks with the meters and you cite Old Pasadena in California as an example. Could you explain?
SHOUPYes. Michael did mention the fact that the meter money does go -- 75 percent of the meter money does go back to the metered blocks. I think that's very, very important. You said that Tommy Wells was in a budget hearing. Well, this money is part of the budget. And I think it helps justify the performance pricing if the city can show the neighborhoods, well, here is what your money paid for. Here's a cleaner sidewalk. Here are new street furniture, new street trees, new bicycle racks, new bus shelters. So that when people get out of their cars, they see a much better neighborhood.
SHOUPAnd I think another aspect of the budget is that when they did this annual survey last year, they found that more than half of the cars in the pilot area were from out of D.C. That is that more than half of the revenue comes from -- mainly from people from Virginia or Maryland who are visiting the District. So I think that's a great source of revenue. Monty Python said that the ideal source of revenue comes from taxing foreigners living abroad. And this is sort of what the performance prices do, if most of your -- more than half of your visitors come from outside the District.
SHOUPBut when I look at neighborhoods that do benefit from these services paid for by the meters, most people think that's the biggest benefit of performance pricing, is these physical improvements that people can see and touch. They can't really see a lot of transportation improvements. They don't know how much of the traffic is cruising, but they can see that these meters paid for something that they really wanted, maybe cleaning up their alleys or having extra police protection.
SHOUPCalifornia turned an area in old town Pasadena from what had been a commercial skid row into one of the most popular tourist destinations in California when they put in meters and spent all of the revenue to completely fix up the public infrastructure of the neighborhood.
NNAMDIAnd we have a number of calls. I'll start with Cameron in Frederick, Md. Cameron, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CAMERONThank you, Kojo. I completely agree with the economic arguments, and I understand the benefit of having more parking and more turnover for people who can pay for it. But with every economic decision, there are winners and losers. And the winners are upper class and upper-middle class people who have discretionary income. The losers are people who, you know, paying an extra five or $10 for parking or whatever it may be, is a real financial burden. This decision serves people who have money and it hurts people who don't, and that should be clear.
CAMERONAnd if you wish to make that decision, probably you'll make more money for the city, but you'll hurt people's, I guess, freedom of movement who might not have that discretionary income. And that -- I'll take my -- the response off the air. Thank you, Kojo.
NNAMDIOK. Here is Karina Ricks.
RICKSWell, that's really not the case. In the District of Columbia, over 35 percent of our households have no access to an automobile at all, so these populations are transit dependent, they're walk dependent, they're bicycle dependent. And access, of course, to the amenities of the region and the jobs are not only through auto-mobility. And the performance parking, as Dr. Shoup indicated, really helps all modes. When there is a overburden demand on the curbside, real estate, what happens is it causes people to park in loading zones, park in bus zones, double park in bicycle lanes, park in crosswalks. And this really hinders the ability of all modes to move safely and efficiently into access those goods and the opportunities of the region.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Cameron. Care to comment on that at all, Michael?
PERKINSNo, other than the idea that a lot of the meter money does get devoted to improving non-automobile transportation that can be used by people who, you know, can't afford a car or choose not to use their car.
NNAMDIThe District of Columbia has collected almost $1 million from the performance parking meters near the National Ballpark. It is my understanding $50,000 from the ones in Columbia Heights. Is that correct, Karina?
NNAMDIAnd that money is being used in those neighborhoods?
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Again, Cameron, thank you for your call. Here is Allison in Hyattsville, Md. Allison, your turn.
ALLISONHi. Yes. Thank you, Kojo. It seems like this idea could be a very good idea if done well. My concern is that the real time adjustments (unintelligible) suggested the area by the ballpark or tourism in the summer, I'm thinking down by the Verizon Center, you know, after a game, and I'm wondering how the rates could be regulated in real time, even seasonally. And I also wondered if there was, you know, some kind of online or an app for a phone, I'm not sure, a way for drivers to check the rates before traveling.
ALLISONI know if I showed up and was expected to pay $12 for a parking for an hour, that would be quite a shock, but if I could plan my trip, then maybe we could all get on board. It seems like it could work if it's done well. I'll take my answer off the air. Thank you.
NNAMDIAllison, you're exactly on the right track. First, here is Michael Perkins.
PERKINSIn the San Francisco system, which is the most advanced performance parking system that's currently being run, they have limits that are set by policymakers on the size of the adjustments that can be made and on the frequency of the adjustments that can be made. So we're not really talking about real-time computers reading data and then instantly adjusting the prices so that you have no idea when you get there. The prices, San Francisco puts them online on a Web page, and they also have apps for your smartphone that you can look at to see what the price will be on curbs that you're planning on visiting.
PERKINSSo I wouldn't be a very strong advocate of a system that would adjust the prices so quickly that they would be unpredictable. I would look for, you know, the prices to be adjusted regularly and in small increments so that they reach an equilibrium.
NNAMDIKarina Ricks, is that where we're headed?
RICKSWe certainly hope so. Technology is going to be a major component of having performance parking that can adjust in real time. The District has rolled out a number of parking meter pilots over the last year. And we've now invested in smarter meters that have the ability to network together and tell us what the occupancy are. Where we go from here is similar to where San Francisco is in having sensors that could tell us when a vehicle is occupying a space and upload that to a real-time database to inform consumers of where parking spaces are located and what the pricing would be.
NNAMDIIndeed, Donald Shoup, San Francisco has just started testing their program on a much bigger scale than we, here, in the District of Columbia at roughly one-fifth of the city's parking meters. We just heard about some of the initiative, but how is it doing as far as you know?
SHOUPWell, they just started it two weeks ago. But the sensors are in every curb space and it tells the city, in real time, what the occupancy rate is on each block. But they intend to adjust the prices only once a month. They'll look at what happened in the previous month and they know what hours they will nudge the price up or down. And there'll be different prices at different times of the day. I mean, that's one of the main things is that it isn't in the same price all day long.
SHOUPAnd they already have telephone apps and computer display showing what is the price of -- and time limits for curb parking in every block. And with your app, you can look at the occupancy rate. But they're really aiming to have the occupancy rate about 85 percent. So you won't really worry about the occupancy. You'll simply worry about the price. And I think a lot of people will see that it's cheaper five blocks away from their destination, they'll park farther way and walk to save money. So I think people who are short of money will benefit greatly from this.
SHOUPI think -- getting back to the point made by the caller from Frederick -- I'm not saying that he's doing what I'm going to say, but I think the people who don't like paying for parking often push poor people out in front of them like human shield, saying, you know, don't charge for parking because it'll hurt the poor when none of us wants to pay for parking, including me. But I don't think we should object to what Washington is doing on the grounds that it will hurt the poor.
SHOUPAs Karina said, the 35 percent of the people don't have cars. You can bet that most of those people are too poor to own a car, but they're stuck in -- they're riding buses, stuck in traffic, congested by people who were driving around, looking for free parking or underpriced free parking, so -- underpriced parking. So I think that this new system in the District will help low-income people in two ways. One, it'll speed up the public transit. And second, it'll improve neighborhoods where people live. The sidewalks will be cleaner. The street furniture will be better. The safety will be greater.
SHOUPSo I think that it's not true that this will hurt poor people. I think that the higher-income people will be paying for parking, and the money will be spent to help neighborhoods and to improve public transit.
NNAMDIHow do you feel about adjusting parking prices to control demand? Call us at 800-433-8850. What neighborhoods or business districts in our region do you think would benefit from a performance parking system? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet, @kojoshow, email to firstname.lastname@example.org, or just go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Here is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, hi. You're on the air.
SAMHi. As the prices for parking, like any other monetary value, is an association of allocation of resources between goods and services, people and resources. Do you think that the parking prices represent a general hike in all oil-related based things that consumers now have to pay more to support?
SAMWell, if the price of...
NNAMDINo, go ahead, Donald Shoup.
SHOUPI'm not sure exactly what the question was. But people pay for gasoline, they pay for their tires, insurance and everything else. And they don't expect somebody else to pay for these costs of driving. So I think that the caller is exactly right, that the price of parking is priced like for anything else in the economy. And if you get the price right, you'll get the supply and demand right. And that's how things work. I think our parking problems stem from the fact that we have not got the price of parking right in the past.
SHOUPAnd we're used to prices that vary at other kinds of transportation like airplane fares, depend on the -- how far you're going and the time you're going or -- bus fares. Transit fares now in Washington, I think, are higher at the peak hours. I think that we should just bring parking more into line with the rest of the economy.
PERKINSThe other thing that I'd point out is that the parking meter money doesn’t just disappear into a black hole, that the money that you put into the meter goes into the city's revenue and can displace the money that they would spend on other things, including possibly reducing your taxes or reducing the pressure to increase taxes. So while it's more money coming out of the consumers' pocket when they pay for parking, the money doesn't disappear and it is used for things that help out that consumer as well as other people who live in the District.
NNAMDIOn now to Conrad in Silver Spring, Md. Conrad, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CONRADHi. I have no objection whatsoever to paying for the space that I use. What I can't stand is getting tickets. I've been using the new meters over near the convention center. And I think the system works really well. But twice in two days, the same time of day, I've gotten a ticket from the same officer. But then the company is offering to take care of the ticket in terms of fighting it because I have a receipt for the time I paid for. So I think the system works well, but it has these little kinks in it. But I'd much rather give the money to the city than to a private parking contractor.
NNAMDISo you're saying that you were wrongfully ticketed?
CONRADYeah, I can prove that I paid for the space. Somebody perhaps doesn't know how to read a machine or something. But the company -- I think it's called Pay by Phone -- is looking into it for me. And so I'm just hoping they take care of it and I don't get booted.
NNAMDIDepartment of Traffic Adjudication? Is that where he needs to be going, Karina Ricks?
RICKSYeah, he can contact adjudication.
NNAMDIYes, if you wanna challenge a ticket. I just challenged one during the course of this past week myself, as a matter of fact. That's where you write to, the Department of Traffic Adjudication. We've got to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on setting the price at D.C.'s parking meters known as performance parking. And taking your calls at 800-433-8850. How much money are you willing to pay to park right outside your destination? At what price would you decide to head to a nearby garage instead of parking on the street? 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're discussing adjusting parking meter fees on the basis of demand known in the District of Columbia as performance parking. And joining us to have that conversation is Donald Shoup. He is a professor of urban planning at UCLA. Karina Ricks is associate director for planning, policy and sustainability with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. And Michael Perkins writes about parking at Metro for the blog Greater Greater Washington. Karina, adjustable parking fees require high-tech parking meters. What are you using here in the District?
RICKSWe have several different meters that we use in these areas. We have our multi-space meters, where it's a single meter that will actually service a number of different spots on the street. We also have new solar-powered, single-space meters that are able to network back to a central location. They take credit cards, so you don't have to carry around a bag of quarters. And we've also launched and are expanding our Pay by Phone service, which...
NNAMDIWhere people can pay by cell phone. How does that work?
RICKSI think it works spectacularly. I'm a mother of two small children, and it's wonderful to be able to go to a meter, be able to call on your cell phone and tell the system exactly where you are, which block, how long you would like to pay. And fabulous services, that it does call you back to ask you if you'd like to feed more money into it but not exceed the time limit.
NNAMDIWhere is that system in place?
RICKSThe Pay by Cell is something that we are -- have piloted in several neighborhoods, the DuPont Circle and other neighborhoods across the city, and now are actually taking to roll out generally city-wide over the next month or two.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about paying by cell, Michael Perkins?
PERKINSPaying by cell is really convenient and with apps on your smart phone. But it also allows people to not worry so much about when the meter is gonna expire. You know, if you're sitting down at dinner and you wanna think about dessert, you don't wanna go, oh, man, the meter is gonna be up in 10 minutes, so we really have to go. And it's good for the restaurant, too, because that gives you the time that you need. You can order dessert.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones. Here is Sam in Adams Morgan. Sam, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
SAMHey, Kojo. Thank you for having me. My question for the panel has to do more with the role that parking garages play in all this. You know, I think that it's great to price parking so people can go in and out quickly. But I do know that the District is looking to raise taxes on the -- on parking garages. I know most of the garages in the District are private anyway. But for people that wanna, say, go to a movie or aren't just running in to get something from a store, you know, what role do parking garages play in the -- in managing parking and congestion down in the city? Thanks so much.
RICKSWell, that's a great question. And we have about -- by our estimates, we have about 45,000 off-street parking spaces in the central business district of the District of Columbia compared to 17,000 metered spaces city-wide. So the main stock of parking is in these off-street garages and where we prefer to see the curbside space turned over on a regular basis because that provides more access to more customers. The better place for storing vehicles is in the off-street garages if you are going to be at your job all day long or if you're going to come to a movie and dinner in the District.
RICKSAnd, indeed, there have been conversations about increasing the parking tax in these off-street garages. In general, we tend to believe that the market is probably still somewhat low for the true price of parking and the true price of driving in the city. And so we don't anticipate that that increase in parking tax is going to substantially affect the use of these garages or the accessibility of them to the patrons that wish to come to the District.
NNAMDISam, thank you very much for your call. We move on to Ifty (sp?) in Woodbridge, Va. Ifty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
IFTYYes, Kojo. Thank you for taking my call. This -- I'm -- my comment is specifically about the National Mall area, 2nd Street, Independence Avenue and the side streets. Until about two years ago, there was no meter parking required for the weekends -- that is, Saturday and Sunday. So about two years ago, they started the meter parking for Saturday, first until 6:30 p.m., and now until 10:00 p.m., which really is ridiculous because there -- this area, if you know about this area, there is nobody there that would like to park there after 10 -- after, like, 5 p.m. when the galleries and museums close.
IFTYBut my comment is this one, that as a result of this change, if you go there now on Saturday during daytime, like about, like, when the museums and galleries are open, that there is no -- you cannot find a parking. But soon after -- as soon as the museums, they close, everybody wants to leave because they don't want to keep on paying parking and inconvenienced and while they are having dinner. So most of the people are leaving and, instead of going to a movie, are going to theater or dinner. And I think, in the long run, the city is going to lose that revenue. People don't want to stay too long. You have to go there and see your...
NNAMDIWell, let me place the question this way to Karina Ricks. Are there other areas of the city -- such as the one our caller just referred to -- in which the city is considering performance parking as opposed to simply extending the hours when parking meters are in operation?
RICKSYeah. We are operating these to districts as pilots. I think that we've seen enough promising signs from the pilot that we would like to consider this in other areas. Primarily, this would work best in commercial districts, the neighborhood Main Street-type areas, where there are limited parking spaces, and we really want to increase the access to those areas. So we are considering them before those Main Street areas, such as H Street, perhaps Georgetown and some other communities.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call. We move onto Susanne in Kensington, Md. Susanne, your turn.
SUSANNEThanks, Kojo. One of the things I -- now, I haven't heard the entire show so you talked about this, but why are there not more public parking garages in Washington real estate? But, you know, and you're saying it's so affordable. It's $20 to park in the private garages, and it's really your only choice if, like me, you go see -- for, say, a doctor's appointment, and the limit is two hours. It takes a lot longer than two hours. You end up paying $45 for a ticket because you could run out. You can't, you know, re-up your time.
NNAMDISo you're talking about public parking garages the kind people see a lot of them in places like Silver Spring and in Bethesda.
RICKSMunicipal parking garages require a substantial public subsidy, especially in a very high real estate market like the District of Columbia. If we were to invest in a municipal parking garage in the downtown, the cost of the land alone would be incredibly expensive, and so the District has generally invested our transportation subsidies in mass transit and other more accessible modes and allow the private sector to fill the parking, off-street parking demand.
PERKINSTo the caller's point about a two-hour time limit on a meter not being enough to handle the business, one of the things that is sometimes associated with performance parking is a reduction or an elimination of those time limits. San Francisco had a large array of time limits for all of their meters, and as part of their change, they -- all of the meters now are four-hour time limit, and some of them don't have any time limits. So as long as you're willing to continue, you know, paying, they'll let you park as long as you want.
NNAMDIAnd that's where sometimes the garage becomes more appealing alternative even though it might be a few blocks away. Donald Shoup, you point out that a single parking space has an economic value that can exceed the price of the car parked in it. How has your system of land use regulations -- how has our system of land use regulations developed in a way that so heavily favors cars and low-priced parking rather than letting market forces dictate how the land is used?
SHOUPWell, I think the answer to that question is minimal parking requirements in zoning ordinances and don't let anything be built unless it has a lot of parking spaces and without regard to how much these spaces cost. And you're quite right that most parking spaces and structures cost more per space than the vehicles parked in them. But I'd like to get back to that interesting point that the caller made about the National Mall. Well, I think this would be a terrific opportunity for the -- for Washington, especially for -- to serve tourists. That -- I think that the time limit on the meters on the mall should be, you know, six or four or six hours, not two hours or maybe even no time limit.
SHOUPSo that when people do want to stay for the evening, they can stay in the same space, but the interesting thing about the mall is that most of the parking is free on the mall, on the streets that go along the length of the mall, and it's -- so, of course, it's almost impossible to find a space, and the -- a lot of the traffic on those avenues along the mall are hunting for parking. I think it would be a terrific idea to put performance parking meters with no time limits on -- in -- along the mall and use all of that money to fix up the mall, which has gotten quite ragged in many parts. I think the idea of having free parking on the mall on some of this extraordinarily valuable land and then stepping out onto a degraded mall is a bad idea.
SHOUPYou know, I think it's -- to have free parking and poor public services is not the right priority. So I think it would be a lot better for people who are visiting the art -- the galleries, which are free. They ought to be. That you should -- people who arrive by car should pay the performance price, the right price for parking and be able to park for as long as they want, and I think that you'll get a lot of money to pay for public services along the mall, and a lot of it will be paid for by tourists from certainly outside Washington.
NNAMDIHere is Carla in Washington D.C. Carla, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CARLAHi. Thank you, Kojo, for taking my call. I wanted to tell you about and your panel about another version of the kiosks that I've experienced. I spend a quite bit of time in Montreal, and the way their downtown parking system works is when you park your car on the sidewalk, there's a space number, and then so when you go to the kiosks, you pay for that space number. But let's say you've walked a couple of blocks, and like we were talking before, you're having dinner, don't want to be disturbed or your travels take you further out, you can go to any kiosks, punch in your number and pay at that kiosk as long as you know your space number, which you can get a printed copy from, you know, the local kiosk. It's the same idea, I guess, as this whole cell phone, but this is just another practical use of the whole kiosk system.
NNAMDIAnything similar here, Karina?
RICKSWe had piloted among those pilots that I've talked about over the summer, which she's referring to is referred to as pay by space.
RICKSTypically, our meters that we have now, the multi-space meters, are pay and display, so you'll get the ticket, put it in your windshield. These are the pay by space. And indeed, we've also looked at them and found great success in it, so we'll be having more of those in the District as well.
NNAMDIAnd you know of any other jurisdictions in this area that are either looking at or implementing performance parking?
RICKSOh, I think that performance parking has garnered a lot of interest from the area as we are a very congested region, and so we are seeing Arlington and Alexandria and Silver Spring and some of the other adjacent jurisdictions looking at options for performance parking there as well.
NNAMDIMichael, you were going to say something. Did I interrupt you? Oh, good.
NNAMDIHere is Alfred in Ashburn, Va. Alfred, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ALFREDHello. Thank you for taking my call. One of the problems I have when I park in D.C. is the first thing I need to do is feed the meter, and I never have enough coins, so I have to go to the nearby shop, buy something. And then they already are well aware of the need for coins, and they have a limit on maybe a couple of dollars. And if that doesn't do you -- so I was wondering is there any plan to perhaps have change machines or -- I know that you have the cell phone approach for the future, but in the meantime?
RICKSNo plans for change machines, though that's an interesting thought. We are looking just to modernize the meters throughout the city, and so that we are investing more and more in the solar-powered meters that do take credit cards to help alleviate the need to have pockets full of quarters as you travel around the city.
NNAMDIAfraid we're just about out of time, Donald Shoup, but quickly, high occupancy toll lanes whose tolls rise as the lanes become more congested are a variation it seems of the same economic principle to set the price to control the use. Is this an economic strategy that's catching on among transportation planners generally?
SHOUPWell, not just transportation planners but among cities and states. We have several of these toll lanes in California now, and they've been very popular once people get used to them because it takes some people out of their free lanes, several drivers who pay their way into the toll lanes, so it's better for people who are in the free lanes, and it brings in money to -- in California, they use the extra money to pay for added public transit along the routes.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all time we have. Donald Shoup is a professor of urban planning at UCLA, author of "The High Cost of Free Parking." Donald Shoup, thank you for joining us.
SHOUPWell, thank you for inviting me.
NNAMDIKarina Ricks is associate director for planning, policy and sustainability with the District of Columbia Department of Transportation. Karina, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd Michael Perkins writes about parking and Metro for the blog "Greater Greater Washington." Michael, good to see you.
PERKINSGood to see. Thanks for having me.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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