Progressive Parking Pricing

Tom Vanderbilt has a really interesting column in Slate about the history behind parking meters, the challenges of current parking policy, and how these might be dealt with in the future.

(from itspaulkelly on Flickr)

Last week I was thinking about how the pricing for Capital Bikeshare (and similar bikeshare systems) might be applied to parking meters. Currently, most parking meters charge a fix rate for a fixed amount of time. For example, 2 dollars per hour. If you want to park for up to a half-hour, you pay 1 dollar. If you want to park for four hours, you pay 8 dollars.

Capital Bikeshare, on the other hand, uses a progressive pricing system. So the longer you keep the bike, the more you have to pay.

The pricing structure breaks down like this:
0-30 min: $0.00
31-60 min: $1.50
61-90 min: $4.50
91-120 min: $10.50
2 - 2.5 hours: $16.50
2.5 - 3 hours: $22.50
3 - 3.5 hours: $28.50
3.5 - 4 hours: $34.50
4 - 4.5 hours: $40.50
4.5 - 5 hours: $46.50
5 - 5.5 hours: $52.50
5.5 - 6 hours: $58.50
6 - 6.5 hours: $64.50
6.5 - 24 hours: $70.50
Theoretically, this makes perfect sense. The goal of bike sharing is to maintain high turnover of the bikes. Charging low prices for short trips and very high prices for long trips accomplishes this. It provides incentive against grabbing a bike and keeping it out all day when they're not using it.

Why not apply this pricing scheme to parking?

Consider a neighborhood that has both on-street and garage parking - Georgetown in DC, for example. In most cases, on-street parking is disproportionately less expensive than garage parking, so it's no surprise that all the street spaces fill up before all the garage spaces. This can be a problem for those who show up at the wrong time and can't find a street space.

If parking were priced at a progressive rate, then short-term parking would be relatively less expensive on the street, but long-term parking would be relatively less expensive in the garage. People looking for short-term parking would have an easier time finding a space and that space would still be affordable to them. In this scenario, the losers are those who want to park for a low-price for a long period of time.

So, is this better than a market-based system of pricing? Yes and no. The market-based system is theoretically more efficient, but it also requires more advanced technology and it makes the price of parking less predictable. The progressive system is more predictable, but payments will have to be credit/debit card or digital payment only.

Perhaps the best thing it has going for it is that it's not entirely unfriendly in the political realm. Being able to say that short-term parking is "free" should appease some of the people who would otherwise oppose paying.


    This is truly an extraordinary observation. I never made the connections that you make in this article.

    It does make sense to price for high turnover. However, as you said, the enforcement would be challenging. Also, this should only be offered where a long-term garage option (which would be heavily advertised) is located nearby.

    Overall, a good concept that should be discussed in the political arena. But alas.... maybe one day.