Reason TV: How Donald Shoup Will Find You a Parking Spot


Can't find curb-side parking? UCLA economist Donald Shoup can find you a space.

Professor Shoup is the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, and points out that, "just because the driver doesn't pay for parking doesn't mean the cost goes away."

In addition to making it harder to find a spot when you need one, "free" parking exacerbates other problems, from pollution to traffic congestion. Using the power of market pricing, Shoup explains how to fix the parking mess in three steps.

Cities from San Fransisco to Washington, DC are already adopting Shoup's reforms.

Approximately 7:00 minutes.

Interview and editing: Paul Detrick. Camera: Hawk Jensen.

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  1. There are only 2 rules in my personal finance religion:

    1. Never pay credit card interest. For example, I pay off my credit card, weekly.

    2. Never pay for parking if you can help it.

    1. 2. Never pay for parking if you can help it.

      It’s like going to a prostitute. Why pay for it, when if you apply yourself a little, you might get it for free.

    2. You would think libertarians would be more receptive to an argument that have the God Damned government pay for something (through zoning requirements, in this case), thus hiding the true costs and allocating them amongst everyone, while calling the provided good “free”.

      Though I am a driver, I think I would consider giving up my car or paying for parking all the time if it meant goods and real estate were significantly less expensive.

      1. I’m not a libertarian, and I formulate the 2nd rule after working in an office tower for 2 years in Downtown LA. After that, I generally avoid area that depends on parking meter (Pasadena is a prime example).

      2. Sean|11.9.10 @ 3:21PM|#
        “You would think libertarians would be more receptive to an argument that have the God Damned government pay for something (through zoning requirements, in this case), thus hiding the true costs and allocating them amongst everyone, while calling the provided good “free”.”

        There’s a continuing low-level grumble in SF; a noted author owns several/many cars; they are ‘stored’ here and there on the streets.
        If you don’t have off-street parking, sell the damn car. I don’t want to pay for your parking space.

      3. “…if it meant goods and real estate were significantly less expensive.”

        It wouldn’t mean that. Putting money in a meter for the government to collect will never have that effect. They would just spend the revenue like red light camera revenue or any other revenue. Why would this one thing get planned really well and have the desired effect with no unintended consequences? In fact they probably wouldn’t even figure out how to make it pay for itself.

        The governmental entity never paid for the street in the first place. Developers are required, as part of any development to build out the required infrastructure. This includes the streets, built on developer owned land and built to the governments specifications. The new improvement is then usually deeded to the governmental entity, gratis. This is all factored in to the cost of the development and passed along in higher selling prices for adjacent land that is part of the development and rents paid by tenants.
        The cost of maintenance is also paid by the users in the form of motor fuel taxes and sales taxes from the adjacent businesses.
        Parking meters are just a way to squeeze more out of the public.
        Paid parking only makes sense in those very high density areas where there is not enough curbside parking available and private businesses provide parking on a fee basis for the excess need. If you do the historical research you will find that the parking meter FOLLOWS the private parking development. The business patrons who need parking are mobile BY DEFINITION. They are going to park free whenever possible even if it requires driving farther for the same business services (within reason).
        The city of Ventura, Ca. has tried to implement paid on street parking following this Looney Toon professors theories and it has been a disaster for local businesses. There is enough parking, on average, within a couple of blocks of any business in the downtown district, without the need for paid parking lots. The drop off in business has translated to a net loss in revenue to the city as people take their business to next door Oxnard, Ca.

    3. Why do you pay your credit weekly?

      1. I don’t like debt. I’m what the credit card charitably calls leech on their profit. I like using credit card, and I like having balance of zero. Being able to pay the cards online helps with this behavior.

        1. The credit card company makes money from the merchant whenever you pay with their card, so I doubt they are at all unhappy with your conduct.

        2. If you pay it weekly, why not use your debit card?

        3. You get a better float if you pay monthly…and no interest.

          1. And yet, if you have the money anyways, what do you care about float?

            Then again, I learned about float through my high school economics teacher pulling 8-10 credit cards out of his wallet to demonstrate (shortly before declaring bankruptcy)…

  2. Lets see what happens when the first suburban shopping mall starts charging people to park. The other malls would love it.

    1. In theory, the mall could reduce the rent they charge the vendors who could then charge the customers less.

      In practice it’s a little sketchy, because people are wary of that upfront charge.

      That said, I know of a mall (in downtown (not suburban!) Norfolk, VA) where the only parking associated with the building costs. Street parking around there is metered, too, so it is hard to go without coughing up a couple of bucks.

      Last time I was there is was busy, looked successful, and was home to high-end retailers, not discount houses.

      Take from that what you will.

    2. Doesn’t apply; private property with ‘free’ parking included in the sales prices.
      No one parks there that doesn’t pay.

  3. In our neck of the woods, the City of Ventura is trying to what Shoup is suggesting. Only problem is the merchants are losing a lot of business to people like myself who avoid the downtown area because of the meters – not matter what they charge. This city has tried meters two other times only to have them ripped out because the program was a failure. Now they got these hi-tech meters that cost the city almost $900,000 – which I predict will also be ripped out, when business completely dries up. Its kind of like the travel tax, charging people a tax for the luxury of coming over to spend money.

    1. If the merchants of a downtown region need free daytime parking in order to survive, they ought to pitch in on ramps to provide it. If they can’t afford to do so, maybe they ought to locate their business in a place with cheaper operating costs. Can anyone tell me why any of this should be the government’s problem?

      1. ^^THIS^^

        The Target in downtown Minneapolis validates parking if you spend twenty bucks.

    2. In large cities there is NO free parking!

      1. Word. I was all like, “What free parking?” Then I realized not everyone lives in fly-into country.

      2. In St. Louis the parking division is separate from the city and operates as an independent department. It keeps all its revenues and builds garages and parking lots and can issue its own revenue bonds. The city makes no money from parking and most of the parking division garages and lots lose money. So while there is no free parking downtown no money goes to the city either.

      3. Houston has “free” parking.

  4. Did you say centrally planned market pricing to encourage a desired effect? That’s the idea we’ve all been waiting for! It’ll work like gangbusters Donald Shoup! Thanks Donald Shoup! Somebody should also stop those greedy private businesses from making people drive to their stores by bribing them with free parking lot parking.

    Go run for office you fucking politician in disguise.

  5. I totally agree. Everyone should pay for all they receive. Fee for service.

    1. Everyone should pay for all they receive regardless of whether or not they receive for all they pay? When I’m no longer forced to pay taxes for all kinds of shit that will never do me any damn good, THEN I’ll make sure I’m paying for all I get. Until then I’m just getting a tiny refund every time I park. And the same goes for the businesses every time they benefit from customers parking free.

      1. “Everyone should pay for all they receive regardless of whether or not they receive for all they pay?”
        “When I’m no longer forced to pay taxes for all kinds of shit that will never do me any damn good, THEN I’ll make sure I’m paying for all I get.” Yes I agree. I meant no tax support, and reduction in taxes. And fee for service only.

        1. Or they could sell the roads and let businesses do everything he’s talking about. Businesses would and already do use all those methods.

    2. You do, and you will. If you think the government provides “free” healthcare, you’ve got another thing coming.

  6. some of your audience was conceived in a parked car

    Leave my wife out of this, beardo!

  7. “Cities from San Fransisco to Washington, DC are already adopting Shoup’s reforms.”

    I don’t need to read any further. If SF thinks this is a swell idea, it has to be some sort of central-planning-crap.

    1. The Traffic Minister of DC explicitly stated that he was raising the meter rates to $2/hour, so that fewer people would drive into the city and more people would ride transit.

      Since I don’t use transit, I promptly obliged him and did (and do) all of my shopping and dining in the ‘burbs.

      1. Maybe DC can go all out like London and charge people to access the city.

        I pay for my ‘free’ parking through my registration, tax on auto, tax on gas, etc. So if they will give me that back, I’ll be more than happy to plop quarters in meters.

    2. The existence of roads and parking spots is the result of central planning. Personally I would rather pay for government provided services when I use them than have to for them even if I don’t use them. The tax payer should not have to pay for your parking, freeloader.

      1. Yes, of course. Without central planning, there could be no roads!

  8. “Professor Shoup is the author of The High Cost of Free Parking, and points out that, “just because the driver doesn’t pay for parking doesn’t mean the cost goes away.”

    In addition to making it harder to find a spot when you need one, “free” parking exacerbates other problems, from pollution to traffic congestion.”


  9. Fuck. Now I have “Lovely Rita” going through my head, repeatedly.

    Whatever you do, don’t think of that Beatles song!

  10. Good gawd, I hate people like Shoup. I just want to make the world a better place! No, he doesn’t. He hates you and your car, and your property, and he wants to pry your money from your wallet any way possible. He wants to FORCE you into public transit or some geeky little bike, and will do so with an endless list of fees and taxes. ‘Cos he’s smarter than you.

    He’s a damned kook and he deserves to be pelted with rotten fruit.


    1. Fuckin-A. Is Reason promoting social engineering now?

    2. Getting rid of free parking would probably not encourage use of mass transit or a bicycle. The only advantage using a bike has over a car for most people is not having to drive around looking for a parking spot and not having to walk from the spot you found half a mile away. This is one of the reasons the majority of people using bikes for transportation will be in dense downtown areas or college campuses where parking is scarce and far away. With decently priced parking, you should be able to find a spot quickly and close to your final destination.

      1. Shoup isn’t interested in “decently-priced” parking or free markets; he wants to find that point between “decently-priced” and “prohibitively-priced” to maintain scarcity of parking, with the net profits going into the city’s coffers. He only HOPES that the money will be used for visible improvements.

        He doesn’t seem too concerned about graft, waste, corruption, or negative impacts.

        Incidentally, his claim that “the highest percentage of cities’ land use goes towards parking” is provably false.

        1. So he isn’t interested in forcing people to ride transit and bikes?

          Knew I should have used “at or just below market clearing price” instead of “decently priced.”

    3. Parking spaces are not your property, the government owns and maintains them, so if you want to use them don’t make others pay for them. How dare someone suggest you pay for what others provide you.

      1. Actually they are owned and maintained by the businesses that own the parking lots.

  11. The problem is that this solution doesn’t really make sense to libertarians in the context of a public world. Sure people should pay for their own parking, but these are public streets. We already pay for them through taxes. Unless Shoup supports eliminating taxes that pay for public parking, parking should continue to be “free” for taxpayers.

    1. DING DING DING. I don’t know why everyone here seems to be so turned on by the idea of double-paying for parking. They already take it from you. Adding meters won’t make them take less, it will just get spent on BS.

      1. But of course. The taxes must also be reduced.

  12. When revenue for parking space maintenance comes from taxes everyone needs to pay for them even if they don’t use the service. This means the tax payers who use the spots are not paying for the full price of maintenance and that is far from fair.

    1. How much maintenance do parking spaces require? I’m willing to bet they require far less than the public roads they are adjacent to.

    2. The only way you are going to have a “fair” system using your apparent definition is when every vehicle is equipped with a monitored tracking system where you are billed for every mile you drive and every minute that you spend parked on “public” property.
      The exchange you make for not paying for public parking is not having to pay toll to use the public roads.
      Don’t get caught up in the liberal -social engineering – trap of getting hung up on details while completely missing the big picture agenda (making you get rid of your car, suburban home, ability to travel when and where you want, and shop where you choose.
      The hidden agenda here is moving society closer to the age of the techno-peasant where you are tied to a certain location and virtually owned by corporate interests.

  13. With computerization the price for parking should be flexible. If 10% of the spots are taken parking is cheap. If 90% are taken it’s expensive. If that one spot on the block is open only Bill Gates can afford it.

    1. The demand for parking is very fat tailed. This means that most of the time, the market clearing price for parking is zero. And at very rare times, it is above zero. A good example in my town, is that all the businesses have free parking, but charge for parking during cowboys games.

      1. Who wants to see the Cowboys play?

  14. This guy is a liar. The Pasadena example he talks about is false. The reason those enhanced services are there is because of PROPERTY ASSESSMENTS, not parking meters.

    Read about it at the Old Pasadena Management District website. Their funding comes mainly from property assessments and they provide the services.

    He is a liar and a fraud.

  15. This guy looks and acts like John Cleese.

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