Can policy make meters more popular?
Discounts for Residents
In Miami Beach, for example, residents pay only $1 an hour at meters in South Beach areas where nonresidents pay $1.75 an hour. Some British cities give the first half-hour at meters free to residents. Annapolis, MD, and Monterey, CA, give residents the first two hours free in municipal parking lots and garages.
Pay-by-license-plate technology enables the resident discounts at meters. Drivers can pay by cellphone or by entering their license plate number at a parking kiosk and paying with cash or credit card. These meters can automatically give discounts for curb parking to all vehicles with license plates registered in a city.
Cities link payment information to license plate numbers to show enforcement officers which cars have paid, or not paid. Pay-by-plate meters are common in Europe, and several U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, now use them.
Like hotel taxes, parking meters with resident discounts can generate substantial local revenue without unduly burdening local voters. The price break for city plates should also please merchants, because it will give residents a new incentive to shop locally. To encourage local shopping in very big cities, the resident discounts in each neighborhood could be limited to the residents of the neighborhood. More shopping closer to home might even reduce total vehicle travel in the region.
These discounts are economically justified because residents already pay taxes to maintain the roads and sidewalks in their city. They also are politically justified because they can increase voter support where meters are needed to manage the parking supply. As Monty Python advised, the most popular way to raise public revenue is to tax foreigners living abroad.
Discounts for Cleaner and
Cities can also use parking discounts to achieve environmental goals. Parking meters in Madrid, for example, charge 20% less for “clean” cars and 20% more
for “dirty” cars. Cities can give these discounts for cars that pollute less by linking license plate records to emissions data from car manufacturers or smog tests.
According to the head of Madrid’s sustainability division, “We thought it would be fair if the cars that pollute more pay more, and compensate those who use more efficient vehicles.”
Cities also can classify license plates by car length to give discounts for smaller cars that take up less curb space. Because smaller cars tend to be more fuel efficient, discounts for smaller cars will reduce both fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. Parking discounts based on car size will, therefore, not only provide local economic benefits, but also reduce global environmental costs.
Table 1 illustrates parking discounts based on car lengths. Column 1 shows a selection of cars, and Column 2 shows their lengths, ranging from 20 feet for a Rolls-Royce down to 8.8 feet for a Smart Car. The typical length of a marked on-street parking space is 20 feet, but pay-by-plate systems do not require marked spaces, so smaller cars can therefore save space at the curb.
Column 3 illustrates the discount for each car based on its length. Because the Rolls-Royce is 20 feet long, it pays the full price, while the 10-foot Scion receives a 50% discount. Two Scions pay the same as one Rolls Royce, so the payment per foot of curb space is the same for both cars.
Parking discounts for shorter cars also favor higher fuel efficiency and lower CO2 emissions. Column 4 shows each car’s fuel efficiency, ranging from 14 miles per gallon for the Rolls up to 37 mpg for the Scion. Finally, Column 5 shows the CO2 emissions per mile of travel.
If cities want to reduce CO2 emissions, they don’t have to wait for state or federal action before they offer parking discounts for small cars. Each city can choose its own discounts according to its own priorities.
Will parking discounts for small cars be fair? The manufacturer’s suggested retail price starts at $474,990 for a Rolls-Royce Phantom and $13,270 for a Smart car. In this case, it seems unfair not to offer parking discounts for smaller cars. Most people who can afford to buy a longer car can probably afford to pay more to park it on the street.
Cities may have to raise their pre-discount meter prices to prevent overcrowding the curb spaces, but only nonresidents with the biggest and “dirtiest” cars will pay the full pre-discount prices.
Parking discounts may seem complicated, but few residents will be confused by or object to discounts automatically given at meters. The meters can even print the discounts on parking receipts to reinforce the rewards of shopping close to home and driving small, clean cars. The resident discounts will appeal to local voters, and the other discounts will achieve public goals.
Prices are the most reliable way for cities to send signals about the behavior they want to encourage, and parking meters can easily send these price signals. If meters give discounts for smaller and cleaner cars, more people will drive them.
Using the Meter Money
Cities can further increase political support for parking meters by using the meter revenue to improve public services on the metered streets, such as repairing sidewalks, planting street trees, and putting utility wires underground. Pasadena, CA, for example, offers neighborhoods a package that includes both parking meters and additional public services financed by the meters.
Meters not only manage the curb parking, but also provide a steady stream of revenue to pay for public services. People who live, work and own property in the neighborhood can then see their meter money at work. With discounts for residents, locals will see that parking meters are working for them, rather than against them.
A World of Good
Many cities have scarce curb parking, polluted air, poor public services, and political opposition to parking meters. To solve these problems cities can charge fair-market prices for curb parking; give discounts for residents, smaller cars and cleaner cars; and spend the revenue to improve public services.
Parking meters can then do a world of good.
Contact Donald Shoup, Distinguished Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, at firstname.lastname@example.org.