The Parking Gamble

I’ve been thinking about parking a lot since I listened to some very smart people discussing it on Kojo the other day. I think Donald Schoup’s argument against free parking is, economically speaking, very compelling. Yet, no matter how well articulated, you just can’t convince people that getting rid of free parking is anything other than the worst idea in the world. What gives?

(from lodev on Flickr)

City parking is a lot like playing the lottery. It’s a loser’s game, for the most part. But occasionally, if you play enough, you win; and winning the parking lottery sure feels good. I don’t think that people misjudge the value of good street parking spaces. They know they’re highly valuable, and that’s why it’s so exciting to get one. It’s one of the few opportunities in life to truly get something for nothing.

Last winter a few friends and I went to a party in Dupont Circle at 10pm on a Saturday night. Parking in that neighborhood is “free” at that time of night, and there wasn’t a spot to be found anywhere. After circling for a good 15 minutes, we were close to calling it quits and skipping the party. Then, right in front of us, we saw someone about to leave a prime parking space. We took it and the car stayed in that space for the rest of the night. I’ll admit, it felt pretty thrilling to get that spot.

So yes, I get why people think free parking is so great. That doesn’t mean we should base public policy on this lottery mentality.