A Market for Everything

Where are traffic jams created? Well, on the road, of course. But in this article from Reason, authors Sam Stanley and Ted Balaker say the roots of the jam reach back to the transportation planners and their fascination with models that simply don’t work. What are their solutions for getting people moving again?

Markets…in just about everything. Even parking:

Market pricing for parking. On 99 percent of our trips we park for free, thanks largely to the minimum parking requirements embedded in our zoning codes. Eliminating those requirements would allow market forces to reflect the true cost of parking. Instead of adhering to arbitrary regulations that often order more spaces than necessary, developers would have greater flexibility to build only the number of spaces that is needed. Workplaces would be more likely to adopt parking cash-out programs, which give employees who do not drive to work a share of the money that otherwise would have gone toward parking costs. Employees would be more likely to work from home.

Market pricing for parking would reduce traffic too. If drivers had to pay the full cost of parking, they might be less inclined to take certain trips, thus putting a dent in congestion. More important, when parking is scarce but free (or underpriced), drivers have an incentive to keep the spots as long as possible. When it is scarce but costs money, drivers are less likely to dally. One additional result: Other drivers have less need to circle around and around, hoping eventually to spot an empty space.

Traditional parking meters can be notoriously inconvenient, but they aren’t the only way to pay for parking. Aspen, Colorado, uses a variety of new technologies, including personal in-vehicle meters. The town determines its parking rates by zones; prices are highest in the city center and drop the further you are from the core. Motorists simply park, type in the number of their parking zone, turn on the meter, and hang it from the rearview meter. A timer deducts the prepaid amount until the driver returns. No one has to hunt for loose change.

Are there really markets in everything? Sure. We just need to look for them.

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6 responses to “A Market for Everything”

  1. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Just wanted to point out that TOLLING – whether it be for roads or parking (or even Metro/Transit/etc) would be more likely to be accepted by the public and more easily – and universally implemented if it used a standardized technology and one “EZ-pass” (compatible) transponder in the car and/or on a keychain.

    I think the proliferation of different technologies and standards actually is what is impeding market-based approaches.

    What we want is the guy from Kentucky who drives through WVA and then to NoVa where he parks to use the same gizmo that the guy from Richmond who car trips to Branson and then to a parking garage in Denver.

    So the same RFID transponder that charged someone for using a TOLL road could/would/should be used to also charge them when they reach their parking spot destination no matter where “point a” was or “point b” was.

    What the public wants is a “no hassle” way of taking not only a reliable auto trip in terms of time transit (predictable level of congestion) but reliability in terms of predictably finding a place to park – pretty much anywhere they go.

  2. E M Risse Avatar
    E M Risse

    Mr. Leahy:

    Good post!

    There is a market for almost everything that generates dysfuctional human settlement patterns.

    Citizens need to work to get the price right. That means the full price of goods and services with location-variable costs must be paid by the parties that benefit.


  3. Ray Hyde Avatar


    We don’t park for free. The vendors and businessess that provide the parking pay for it, and the cost is absorbed competitively in the goods and services they sell. So the market is already involved.

    Eliminating the parking requirements would allow them to shirk their responsibility for creating an attractive nuisance and avoid the cost of providing parking. The result would be more people parking on the street.

    Granted, someone else may see the opportuinty and open a pay parking lot. But that will put the vendor or business at a competitive disadvantage to other places that do offer parking, and the parking may not be as convenient or safe.

    The real market beneficiary is the other vendor that provides the free parking and pays the true market cost for it. If a private parking contractor handles it, hew ill pay true market cost of parking, plus profit to the parking vendor.

    The reason we have minimum parking requirements is exactly so that those who create an attractive nuisance pay for the cost of getting all those cars off the street, where they cost US money and inconvenience.

    Drivers are already paying the costs of parking, but it is buried in the vendor’s overhead.

    So, we already require that attractive nuisances pay the full costs of providing parking, but we do not charge them the price of drawing traffic in to already crowded areas. What we ought to do is charge them an annual road use fee based on the amount of parking they provide.

    If there are drivers circling around looking for parking then the parking requirements are not stiff enough, and more parking should be required, not less. (This applies to off street parking, only) For on street, metered parking your comments hold true. But, there if dallying is a problem, then there is no reason a vendor couldn’t meter his own lot, just as Hotels do.

    Drivers who are cirling, looking for parking are adding to congestion, so again the answer is to provide enough parking to get them off the road and on their feet.

    Reducing parking or increasing the price won’t necessarily result in less traffic, but it probably will result in less localized traffic whre prices are high. By charging by zones, Aspen is basically saying, we don’t wan’t you in the CBD, we have enough business, thank you. Go someplace else where there is more open space(s) to use.

    Far from being a good post, I think this is logically and economically backward. I don’t see any evidence that it will reduce traffic because the basic requirement for the trip still exists, whether it is pizza and beer or emergency heart surgery.

    All I can say is that it makes nice wishful thinking. If people really want to make a reliable trip and consistent level of congestion, then they will go to places that are less congested.

    Despite Larry’s thoughts on the subject the effects of tolling are still unknown. Unless we actually use the road tolls to provide new roads, (which I think is unlikely) then those who pay the tolls are naot paying for better access, they are paying for the right to exclude others.

    Those others still have their trip requirements, so othey will go someplace else for pizza beer, and heart surgery when they need to.

    Congestion is the fault of planners who have allowed and encouraged situations like downtown Aspen to develop. Now they want to send us the bill for enduring their mistakes.

    The Ark was built by Amateurs, the Titanic by “experts”.

  4. Larry Gross Avatar
    Larry Gross

    Yeah.. I was thinking about this and Ray has good points but it depends on context.

    My TOLL comments were focused more to non-retail parking…

    but I’m also amused a little with Ray’s characterization of an “attractive nusiance” because my understanding is that such a thing has to actually be ON THE PROPERTY of the landowner.

    Yes – McD’s in Tyson would not do well without parking but the same McDs in an urban area does not provide parking.

    So – the question is – why – and, in my mind, if the answer is something along the lines of market-based influences why should the government interfere with regs that are not market-based?

    What if urban areas still REQUIRED McD to provide parking? What would happen to all of those businesses along that grid street?

    This is actually a big discussion issue for many smaller, more traditional city grids – like Fredericksburg – where indeed – the discussion about parking requirements centers around whether the city wants it store fronts to have businesses in them or be vacant.

    And of course, at the same time, the city does not want College Students or VRE train riders using those “free” parking spots.

    I sense that parking and free parking are key and central issues to a place like Tysons but I don’t think I have it worked out in my own mind.

    Perhaps someone like Wamsely can offer further enlightenment on the issue.

  5. Ray Hyde Avatar

    I am referring to an overabundance of businesses in one area as an “Attractive Nuisance”. They are a nuisance if a) they don’t provide enough parking for the people they attract, b) if they attract more people than the roads can handle (at one time) and c)if they cause people to commute to their jobs, which is really a subset of b).

    My argument is that since we require them to provide adequate parking, then why not make the logical leap and require them to provide adequate roadways? If you want to go after the cause of congestion, then go to the root cause instead of taxing or tolling drivers who are merely responding to the attraction.

    While you are at it, you could require that they also provide incentives to create enough local housing sufficient for their employees. Once you go down that line of thinking it becomes obvious that the whole problem was caused by our planners, who failed to grasp the idea of balance in land ue, commercial activities, roadways, “alternative” transportation and open space.

    Cars require parking when they are not being used. So do Metro cars. Cars need more parking because they spend less time travelling around empty. Take your pick.

    If you are fundamentaly opposed to cars and auto travel then it would seem to make sense to be oppposed to parking. On the other hand, you could equally well argue that sensibly placed parking reduces travel: as long as you are parked you may as well enjoy that double latte and get a manicure.

    Call it mixed use parking.

    I’ve argued before, that one thing we can do is to put the park back in parking lots. There is no reason we have to allow them to be vast moonscapes of automotive slums, and creators of runoff. However, to properly landscape and plant parking lots will require more space and a lot of money.

    The parking lot is the new city square, where we “run into” friends and acquaintances. Instead of beating up on them, let’s make them the best we can.

    I never understood why we run the parking lot or mall “street” right along the storefronts. When we do that everyone has to run the gauntlet to get to their car. In a grid context, you can do as Front Royal and Warrenton have done: Put the parking behind. Then you have grid, parking, grid, parking. In a residential area this works out to grid, alley, grid, alley.

  6. Reid Greenmun Avatar
    Reid Greenmun

    sigh – the anti Freedom to Drive your own car crowd are at it again.

    No thanks – I don’t want to be forced to depend on Government managed “mass transit”, nor to have to live in an urban jungle – just so some “visionaries” can use excessive fees to force people to live, shop, and work, here the enlightened class feel “others should live” to create what they feel are more “logical” human settlement patterns . . . Freedom is a wonderful thing. Our cars offer a greta deal of Freedom – the freedom to go where we want, when we want, and often to live where we want while we change jobs every few years.

    Like someone said, cars need a place to park. It makes sense to require businesses to provide adequate parking.

    Removing the requirements for businesses to provide adequate parking will simply shift the burden to pay for parking structures onto the already over burdened taxpayers.

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