Clarity and Parking Conversations…


Clarity and Parking Conversations…

I’m in a bit of a confusing conversation with a friend about parking facilities and their cost and the true cost of parking. I won’t identify him because its possible I just am dense and he is not. Here’s what I believe is the gist of the story:

Parking lots and garages are large, not very environmentally friendly, take a lot of land and cost a lot of money. Fair enough. The problem is that the money that it takes to build and maintain these garages could be used for something more appropriate to wit – schools. hospitals, infrastructure, and the like. When people drive and park in garages, they don’t really pay the "True" cost of that parking, but pay "market" rates for the service provided by the garage. The real cost can’t be judged simply in financial terms, but in the social and environmental costs that garages bring to our society. It is also obscene the amount of money over the cost of the facility that parking operations, particularly airports, make.

There I think that about covers it. My response:

There are two issues here.  First the problem of money being "taken" from schools etc and provided to parking operations. I beg to differ. Take this example. The airport in Indy built a parking facility and no public funds were used on the project. My guess is that with the exception of some mismanaged municipal parking operations, virtually all parking facilities are self sustaining, or at least were meant to be.

As for the environmental issues, the same argument could be made for virtually any project. Unless we are prepared to move back to the caves and huts, we are going to change the world, or at least out part of it. I firmly believe that we should do that with responsibility, but we are going to do it.

Now, lets talk about the second issue, that of the money generated by parking. First of all, parking is a business. It should operate like any other business providing a service. It should supply the service and then charge what people are willing to pay for it. On the private side, that money should be plowed back into the business or invested to provide funds for other activities. On the public side, that money should be invested back into the infrastructure that the parking facilities serve. Simple enough.

Of course that doesn’t usually happen on the public side (and usually does on the private). Airports are the sole example where money generated by the parking operation actually is invested right back in the facility the parking serves. The fancy terminals, landscaping, airport services and most landside operations are funded by parking income. (The FAA rules prevent landing fees from being used for most such purposes.). We may disagree on the effectiveness of these investments, but that conversation is for another day.

The Indianapolis airport example above also fits this side of the story. The airport is going to "lower" their parking fees to attract more parkers and "increase" their gross income next year. A simple, good, capitalist, free market decision. The people pay less, but more will use the facility. Prices down, income up.

Parking is a business. A business that provides a service. Often that business is poorly run and makes bad decisions (see PT the Auditor in October’s Parking Today.) Garages are often built that are not needed because the exiting garage is not operated efficiently, and I grant that such garages may be a waste, but what are they wasting?  Most likely, private funding. Risk takers who want to invest and increase their wealth when a project is successful.

I grant that proper planning and good "pre construction" studies can ameliorate that problem and that often construction can be put off or simply abandoned as unneeded. That, too, is a story for another time.

It is not the responsiblity of the parking industry to solve the social ills of all mankind. Allocation of resources is a decision that is made by the government, at the behest of the populace. Parking, unlike most other public services, is paid for by the users, not the taxpayers. Or at least should be.


John Van Horn

John Van Horn

One Response

  1. Parking garages/lots are a critical component of the infrastructure in any urban or even suburban setting. This isn’t because of any evil conspiracy to make hordes of money off of parking charges, it’s because for the last 50 or 60 years our entire society has been built around the concept that you get everywhere you are going via the automobile. We can debate the pros and cons of that at a later time, but what can’t be debated is that cars have to have a place to go once they reach their destination. The costs associated with parking are much lower than the costs that would be incurred if there were no garages and cars were left to cruise and search for a spot (see any of Shoop’s numerous articles or papers). Having a destination hub without parking would be like having an airport without a runway.

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