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Subsidized Parking

I can't stand the phrase "free parking". I much prefer "subsidized parking", which I think I'll start using from this point forward. That said, Tyler Cowen has a very good article in the New York Times on subsidized parking.

(from Flickr user bossco)

This is one of those instances where libertarians and urbanists tend to agree pretty strongly. And Cowen's article has also already spurred discussion beyond the group of usual suspects, which I hope continues throughout this week.

In my opinion, Cowen's most compelling argument is right here:
Many parking spaces are extremely valuable, even if that’s not reflected in current market prices. In fact, Professor Shoup estimates that many American parking spaces have a higher economic value than the cars sitting in them. For instance, after including construction and land costs, he measures the value of a Los Angeles parking space at over $31,000 — much more than the worth of many cars, especially when considering their rapid depreciation. If we don’t give away cars, why give away parking spaces?
Emphasis mine. This inspires an interesting thought experiment: what if the government required auto manufacturers to give away a certain number of cars every year at no-cost, but required all parking be priced at its market rate? (Admittedly, this is a flawed comparison since automakers and non-parking infrastructure are already heavily subsidized by the government, but for the sake of argument, bear with me). Yes, of course, a few luxury car brands would sell at a small premium, but 99% of Americans would get a vehicle at absolutely no cost to them.

My guess is that you would have a lot of people who very much appreciate that they get automobiles at no-cost. You would also have a bunch of urbanists and a few economists coming out and asking how allocating cars like this makes any sense? How it is sustainable? And how we can turn back the years of bad policy? And of course you would have people arguing that reversing the policy would be impossible because people love their free cars and would lobby hard against any change.

Over at Marginal Revolution, Cowen brings up valet as an alternative to big parking lots. This is something I've addressed before, but which typically flies under the radar of most urbanists. If government is going to demand that convenient parking be available wherever people go, then mandatory 'free' valet is the lesser of two evils, as at least it allows (in theory) the preservation of density in certain areas.


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