Shoup, Donald The High Cost of Free Parking.
Article Type: Book review
Subject: Books (Book reviews)
Author: Litman, Todd
Pub Date: 06/22/2006
Publication: Name: Canadian Journal of Urban Research Publisher: Institute of Urban Studies Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: Social sciences Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2006 Institute of Urban Studies ISSN: 1188-3774
Issue: Date: Summer, 2006 Source Volume: 15 Source Issue: 1
Topic: NamedWork: The High Cost of Free Parking (Book)
Persons: Reviewee: Shoup, Donald
Accession Number: 155783077
Full Text: Shoup, Donald The High Cost of Free Parking Chicago: Planners Press, 2005 ISBN 1-884829-98-8 733 pp.

There are few planning decisions with more unintended consequences than those regarding the supply, price and management of motor vehicle parking. These decisions directly affect land use: incremental increases in parking supply result in more pavement and more dispersed development, and make urban infill relatively more costly than suburban development, stimulating sprawl. Abundant, free vehicle parking is a subsidy that significantly increases automobile ownership and use, and therefore traffic problems. It tends to be unfair and regressive, forcing people who own fewer than average vehicles to cross-subsidize those who own more than average vehicles, and reducing housing affordability.

Abundant parking supply also reduces the price that can feasibly be charged for parking, making parking free at most destinations. Society has essentially decided to give motorists a valuable gift, with costs borne indirectly through higher rents, taxes and retail prices, and lower employee benefits. This is irrational, in the literal sense: These practices fail to ration valuable resources efficiently, therefore increasing the total costs borne by society. It is time for planning professionals to ask, of all the goods and services that society could subsidize, why choose vehicle parking?

These issues and more are investigated with insight, wit and humor by Professor Donald Shoup in his new book, "The High Cost of Free Parking." The book examines in detail how current parking practices developed, what their diverse economic costs are, and how we can do better. Using numerous stories, examples, jokes and quotes, Shoup explains in a clear and persuasive way how individual consumers and society overall can benefit if parking is priced--rather than free--and provides specific recommendations concerning how this can be achieved.

Shoup points out that there really is no free parking, except in the game of Monopoly; the choice is between paying for parking facilities directly or indirectly. The book explains why "free" parking:

* is based on faulty planning practices and standards.

* is economically wasteful, imposing large costs on governments, businesses, and ultimately on consumers.

* increases automobile ownership and use, exacerbating problems such as traffic congestion, traffic accidents, pollution and sprawl.

* makes it more difficult to find an available parking space, leading to driver frustration and increased urban traffic congestion.

* distorts development patterns, increasing sprawl and reducing land use accessibility.

* degrades urban design, leading to ugly cities, buildings, streetscapes and parking facilities.

* reduces housing affordability

Shoup shows how, for the last half-century, the main goal of parking planning was to insure that abundant, preferably free parking is provided at every destination. The process used to establish recommended minimum parking supply standards was designed to err toward oversupply based on an assumption that, when it comes to parking, more is always better, and costs are of little concern. The resulting standards are incorporated into zoning codes and often applied rigidly, even in locations where geographic, demographic or economic factors reduce parking demand. Where parking supply reflects current standards, most parking facilities seldom or never fill, even during peak periods. These practices may be justified where the costs of building parking facilities are low, and where high levels of automobile ownership and use are not considered a problem, but they conflict with many current planning objectives, such as a desire to encourage urban infill and redevelopment, to encourage more efficient and balanced transportation, and to increase housing affordability.

The book describes successful examples of communities that have shifted from free to paid parking, and the benefits they have gained. It shows that communities which priced parking efficiently and used the revenues wisely have reduced their parking and traffic problems, and stimulated economic development.

Although the book is entertaining, with at an illustrative story or joke nearly every page of text, it takes no shortcuts. Quantitative factors are carefully analyzed and referenced. Like an investigative reporter tracking a hot story, Shoup has collected detailed information on parking facility, parking errors, and the true history of parking planning decisions. There are eight appendices, including detailed economic calculus of parking cost, and an investigation of the etymology of the word "parking."

The High Cost of Free Parking demonstrates that challenging subjects can be addressed in ways that are entertaining and accessible to a general audience, without compromising the depth of their analysis. It conveys the delight of scholarship like few other transportation or land use planning texts. I hope it becomes a classic and a model for future technical books.

Todd Litman Victoria Transport Policy Institute
Gale Copyright: Copyright 2006 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.