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The Parking Free-For-All

I can't get enough of the show Parking Wars on A&E that I blogged about a few months ago. The more I watch, the more I notice a few repeating trends.

(from flickr user lobstar28)

Few parking violators admit to wrongdoing. This might just be selective editing by the folks at A&E, but it seems like everyone who gets busted for a parking violation wants to put up a fight about it. This doesn't surprise me. When I worked the rides at an amusement park, people would routinely violate safety rules. When informed, rather than accepting the error and saying "sorry, I didn't know" many would lash out and refuse to admit any wrongdoing.

Most of the violators who get upset are upset at the wrong person. Blowing up at the person writing the ticket or booting your car really is pretty pointless. It's the lawmakers who should really be the object of hostility; but the blue-collar foot-soldiers often take the heat. This also doesn't surprise me. People at airports get more upset with the TSA people running the metal detectors than the do at Gale Rossides (the bureaucratic head of the agency, in case you didn't know) or Janet Napolitano (our current Homeland Security Secretary).

Few parking violators understand why the rules they violate even exist. Admittedly, it's hard to think about this, because it's counter-factual. A single person with an expired meter might not have much impact on everyone else, but if everyone were able to park and not feed their meters, it would be a hell of a challenge to find an open space in heavily trafficked areas (street parking in Manhattan is actually a pretty good empirical case study of this). Similarly, if one car double parks, it's an inconvenience, but if everyone started to double park without penalty, it would be an all-out traffic disaster.

In fact, because the market for parking is so challenging to appropriately price, letting people park wherever and whenever they wanted would turn it into the ultimate 'free-for-all market'.

When you think about it, if everyone just followed the rule of law, entire bureaucratic agencies dealing with parking wouldn't even exist. The fact that they do, that they employ dozens of people with an endless supply of work, and they turn big profits every year really tells you something about how willing people are to gamble with parking in places where they aren't allowed.


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