New York explores private deal for parking meters

New York City is exploring the possibility of privatising the running of its 39,000 parking meters, currently researching mistakes made by other cities and exploring potential bidders.

According to the Wall Street Journal, NYC officials are motivated in part by a belief that a private company could help alleviate some of the well-known frustrations of parking in New York: circling block after block in a search for an empty spot or feeding a meter during dinner.

Part of the city’s motivation lies in a belief that a private company will help with modern innovations, including pay by phone, or a mobile app directing drivers to empty spaces detected by parking sensors. In addition to this, they also feel that a private company might be able to offer savings on labour costs.

New York’s meters brought in $149 million in revenue in the last fiscal year, but City officials said it was too soon to say what effect a private operator might have on parking rates or revenues.

Entry into privatisation is cautious for a reason; as historically it has been fraught with problems. In 2008, Chicago privatised their parking meters; receiving a $1.1 billion lump payment—used to close a budget deficit—in exchange for granting the investment group a 75-year lease on the city’s meters. The deal done requires the city to pay the investors for lost revenue when streets close for special events or when cutoff times are imposed on meters.

New York City officials say they aren’t looking for an upfront balloon payment and wouldn’t strike a deal that relinquished control over the setting of parking meter rates or policy. Aaron Renn, a well-known urbanist and blogger who has studied the parking issue, says that the parking meters aren’t an asset like a bridge; but primarily a tool for setting policy on the road, dictating where and for how long motorists leave their cars. A contract with a private operator should preserve the city’s ability to say how the space along its kerbs is used, managing a precious real estate asset for the best use for all city residents and visitors. 

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