The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald C. Shoup is an excellent investigation into the problems of parking in city centres.
The old saying is that "there is no such thing as a free meal", the same can be said for free parking.
Most city centres have limited space for parking, yet there is a reluctance by social authorities to charge the social cost of parking.
Because the price of parking is free (or very low), demand is greater than supply which results in highly inefficient waiting for available spaces.
On a recent visit to New York, we spent 20 minutes driving around several blocks looking for a car parking space. My driver said this was quite common, he also reckoned 25% of the traffic on the street was cars driving around looking for an empty space. When we finally found a space, the spot was of course free. But, in parking, we had actually faced several hidden costs.
- Time wasted - Time is Money. If you earn $30 an hour. 20 minutes is alot of money
- Cost of Gas.
- Frustration and uncertainty of ever finding a parking place
- Next time we may go to an inferior restaurant - at least we can get parking there. People worry that charging for parking leads to lower business. However, what they forget is that the difficulty in getting parking also puts people off.
- Increased pollution from driving around the block.
- Increased congestion of people driving around looking for parking spaces.
The problem is that people have an aversion to any new taxes or charges. But, if parking was better regulated through charging a realistic price they would actually benefit from greater social efficiency. It would mean those who really wanted to drive and park near the restaurant would be able to. A certain % would be discouraged from travelling to city centres by car, they could find alternative methods of transport; this would solve the problem of traffic jams as people look for available spots.