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How do you find a parking spot in the city, Economist?
A daily chat about tomorrow / #31
P: Good morning, Economist.
E: Good morning, Photographer.
P: You economists like problem-solving, don't you?
E: The best thing that can happen to a human, the philosopher Karl Popper once said, is to find a problem, to fall in love with that problem, and to live trying to solve that problem unless another problem is even more lovable appears.
P: So here is the problem: Why is it so difficult for drivers to find a parking space in cities? And what can be done about it?
E: You call this a problem?
P: Listen, I've read that motorists spend an average of 17 hours a year searching for spots on the street, in lots, or in garages. Wouldn't it be massive progress if there was always a parking space wherever we wanted to go? People would be happier, and we would save a lot of money. Presumably, our prosperity would also be greater since finding a parking space wastes time and gasoline.
E: It would also be nicer if there were heaven.
P: Be serious, Economist.
E: Listen, the parking problem has an economic origin and an economic solution.
P: Now it's getting interesting.
E: The problem is that parking is way too cheap. As a result, the demand for parking spaces exceeds supply.
P: You always with your markets.
E: Here in Berlin, for example, where I live, you pay 20.40 Euro for a resident parking permit valid for two years.
P: That's really cheap. So prices must rise to solve the parking problem?
E: Yeap, prices have to go up.
P: Then only the rich in a city could afford a car.
E: Counter-question: Why should the rich benefit from parking spaces that are too cheap? The thing is, with higher parking fees, cities would generate millions of extra revenue, which they could take to help low-income earners, for example.
P: Plus, although there wouldn‘t be more parking space, there would be less frustration when looking for a parking space.
E: Exactly. Because fewer people were looking for one. The ideal amount to charge is so that most of the spots on a block are used, but there's usually one or two available for drivers who come along and need to park.
< silence >
P: Do you think, Economist, your thoughts ever have a chance of being implemented? Who votes for higher parking fees if they own a vehicle? I can not imagine this.
E: I can. For three reasons. First, not charging means nearly every space downtown is filled almost always. Not being able to park at all discourages even more than a meter would. Second, more and more cities around the world actually follow the idea of charging market prices. Third, to be politically successful with this idea, you only have to spend the revenues for a clear purpose.
P: What could be such a purpose?
E: Create parking benefit districts where you charge more and use the money to improve local services in this district, such as better sidewalk cleaning, tree planting and graffiti removal. People would immediately experience the benefits of a reasonable parking fee.
P: Great idea.
E: I took it from the Journal of Planning Education and Research, where urban planning professor Donald Shoup published the paper "Parking Benefit Districts".
P: Smart guy.
E: Shoup's central message goes this: The key to success in urban planning is to get the prices right for everything.
P: I'll remember that. But tomorrow, let's not talk about markets, okay, Economist?
E: We can give this a try. Have a nice day, Photographer.
P: You too, Economist.
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