Parking rates go up, cities make bucks
An open parking spot in Greenwich Village in New York.
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Tess Vigeland: Yesterday the Atlanta city council voluntarily gave up about $400,000 of potential revenue. Not something you hear a lot in these austere days of government budget-cutting. They voted to suspend parking meter enforcement for 30 days because residents complained about the aggressive tactics of a private company that runs the meters.
But coin isn't the only benefit meters bring to cities, and the businesses that line their streets. From WNYC in New York, Andrea Bernstein has more.
Andrea Bernstein: I'm walking on Sixth Avenue, in Greenwich Village, a place famous for limited parking. About a year ago, the city Department of Transportation decided to do an experiment here. They started charging more for parking during peak periods.
Dr. Rachel Weinberger is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and author of a recent study on parking. She says one way to get more parking spots is to get people to leave faster.
RACHEL Weinberger: Which means make it more available for more people to use, and if you make a price that's a little bit closer to what the demand is, then you'll see people share better.
On the street it costs $2 an hour at a meter, $3 an hour during peak periods. But it costs $17 an hour to park in a garage, so it's hard to believe that an extra dollar an hour for a meter can be much of a disincentive. But I notice several open spots as we walk.
Bernstein: I'm shocked.
Weinberger: I was a little shocked myself.
But Weinberger adds...
WEINBERGER: People are actually quite price sensitive to very small increments in price. This can be a very effective tool for effecting different kinds of behavioral changes in how people transport themselves around.
As we're walking, I see a man putting money into a machine to pay for parking.
Bernstein: Hi, how are you?
Mechanic Victor Duran says he drove down from his home in Upper Manhattan to shop. Finding parking, he says, was a breeze.
Bernstein: Was that worth it to you?
VICTOR DURAN: Nah, it's too much.
Bernstein: So would you rather drive around and look for a spot, or would you rather pay the dollar?
Duran: It's better to pay the dollar.
Weinberger says no one likes paying for parking, but paying can influence behavior. When spots are more expensive, they open up more quickly. Drivers circle less. Congestion eases, pollution drops. Paying for parking can push people to carpool or take transit. But making parking more expensive isn't exactly popular.
Greg Ninyasov runs a hair salon. He says the new fees are discouraging his customers.
GREG Ninyasov: Nobody wants to park because everybody's complaining because it's too much money. All my clients, they're like complaining why so much?
But the city liked the results of its Manhattan experiment. Last fall, it launched another pilot in Brooklyn.
Hardware store owner Victor Chabbad is pleased with the results there.
VICTOR Chabbad: Well, make it easy for customer. This way people park, and they move on, and what happen. It's much better.
Business owners in Pasadena, Calif., also came to like the idea of collecting all those quarters.
Steve Mulheim heads up the shopping district. To get the local merchants to embrace the plan, he said, a promise was made. The parking revenue would go right back into the streets.
STEVE Mulheim: The city on a normal basis would sweep streets about once a quarter.
Mulheim: We sweep every street, every alleyway, every night.
Mulheim says without the parking money, the district faced cutbacks in maintenance.
Mulheim: It really makes a big difference to even our consumer base when they know that money isn't just going into a big bottomless pit somewhere.
Mulheim acknowledges there are still unhappy drivers.
But as more cities face drastic cutbacks, parking revenue looks sweeter and sweeter.
Janette Sadik-Khan is New York City's transportation commissioner. At a recent conference, she had this to say...
JANETTE Sadik-Khan: I think, in a way, in 50 years, people are going to think we were insane to give free space to parking on city streets because it's such a valuable resource.
Arrayed around the table were transportation officials from Houston, Philadelphia, Washington, and elsewhere. Their heads were nodding up and down vigorously in agreement.
In New York, I'm Andrea Bernstein for Marketplace.