What is ‘fair’ in the provision of parking?

Two weeks ago, the Boston Globe wrote an article about San Francisco’s SFPark, a pilot program of applying variable parking prices and putting Don Shoup’s market-based parking theories to trial.

Whilst the article presents a good view of the program in general, the waters get very muddy when it introduces the concept of what it feels is ‘fair’ and equitable in the parking provisions:

“…inevitably, attempts to bring demand-based pricing to America’s cities will involve a reckoning with difficult questions about fairness, as city officials and citizens ask themselves whether it’s right to allocate a highly desirable public resource based on who can afford to pay the most for it.”

Fair enough, until they bring the question of ‘legal rights’ into the argument:

“… (As parking spaces adjusted) to a market price, lower-income drivers would effectively lose access to parking spaces that they have as much legal right to as anyone else. The result, ultimately, would be a city where the rich have access to whatever spots they want, while everybody else has to settle for what’s affordable.”

Paul Barter, Singapore-based academic and author of the blog “Reinventing Parking”, picks up from here:

“How does having the ‘legal right’ to park have anything to do with how parking should be priced? I have a ‘legal right’ to rent an apartment in the most prestigious street in my city. The fact that I, like most people, can’t afford to do so has nothing to do with whether apartments should be market-priced. Of course, if significant numbers of people can’t afford any decent shelter we must look for solutions. In market economies, those solutions are (usually) targeted and don’t abolish market pricing for real estate generally. In any case, surely parking in busy urban streets is much less of a basic need than housing.”

We agree with Paul: The US, like Australia, is such a high car dependant society that a mindset of “can’t park = can’t go” prevails, often subconsciously ignoring a range of other transportation options. We believe that cars, as well as car parks, are a privilege, not a right. Although the latter may be publically owned, a lower price doesn’t necessarily mean that more people will be able to use the resource. 

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