Parking fact of the day

On average [in the U.S.] a new parking space has cost 17 percent more than a new car.  Drivers may not realize it, but many parking spaces cost more than the cars parked in them, especially because cars depreciate in value much faster than parking spaces do…the parking supply is worth more than the vehicle stock.

That is from Donald Shoup’s The High Cost of Free Parking, a detailed, economically insightful, data-rich, and lengthy, impassioned plea for charging people for parking spaces.  Here is Dan Klein’s excellent review of the book.


As a bicyclist, one thing that bugs me about curbside parking is that it makes a "parking lane" out of a would-be traffic lane. This often forces slow traffic (small vehicles: bikes, Segways, motorized wheel-chairs) into the same lane as fast traffic (large vehicles: cars and trucks), to everybody's detriment.

From the review, it doesn't seem that this topic was covered in the book. I'd love to see an analysis of this trade-off.

$80,000 won't buy an acre in any Northeastern suburb I'd want to live in. More like $320,000, making the parking space cost $1600 (a bit more given the inevitable area around the space in order to get in, etc, much more given driveways or given extra lanes of street to accomodate a few parked cars, or search time if you have a few lanes of street full of parked cars). However, the suburbs are the natural habitat of cars, and I doubt anyone recommends doing away with free parking in suburbs. Any healthy urban area has a cost of land which is trivially much greater than the cost of average cars that can sit on that land even before considering search costs.

Sorry, that should have been "He (Klein) implies that *Shoup* is almost-but-not-quite lying" and "This explains why *Shoup* doesn't suggest the obvious solutions".

As a suburban dweller, I'm wondering where the suburbs with cheap land are. Land is over a million bucks an acre where I live. And no developer voluntarily puts in one more parking space than zoning requires.

"As a suburban dweller, I'm wondering where the suburbs with cheap land are. Land is over a million bucks an acre where I live."

Well, cheap is relative, isn't it? $1 million per acre is expensive compared to $2,914 per acre for Iowa farmland (, but it's pretty cheap compared to $626 million per acre in Manhattan (

Digging up concrete numbers on the spur of the moment is hard, but what I did find shows a huge amount of variation along three axes: purpose, location, and time. Residential is cheaper than commercial, out-of-town is cheaper than in-town, Iowa is cheaper than New York, and everything was cheaper yesterday than today. If you think land is expensive where you are, go shopping for land closer to the city and let us know if it's more affordable.

"Perhaps you can enlighten us with specific examples, but from what I have observed, most developers are rational and only seek to meet the local jurisdiction’s requirements for parking."

I'll admit ignorance and defer to your observations. But even if the jurisdiction had no requirements at all, don't you think that shopping malls would build enough parking to let their tenants' customers reach their doors? That office parks would build enough parking to let their tenants' employees get to work?

The issue of parking opens deep wounds for those who have any affiliation with George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. The university has been kind enough to offer parking, but not nearly enough for the amount of residential and commuter students that attend. To even be allowed to park on campus at any time, one must have a parking decal, or be faced with a parking ticket of an excess of $75. These little decals cost quite a bit each semester, and they don’t necessarily guarantee a parking space. In order to be ensured a space the cost of a decal doubles. To many students these prices seem ridiculous. However, I understand what the university is doing. There is simply too much demand and not enough supply. By raising the price of a decal, demand goes down and equilibrium can be met between supply and demand. Also, the university is trying to recoup opportunity loss. By putting in parking spaces the university losses the chance to build another academic building and allow even more students to come in and crowd the parking lots. So, all in all, George Mason is a brilliant school, but their parking sucks.

Eddie and others: you are mistaken about how planning works in most suburbs. The statement " land is sufficiently cheap and in sufficiently private hands that developers voluntarily build huge amounts of parking;" Is genereally incorrect.

Ever hear of zoning ordinances? There is little voluntary about how many parking spaces a store provides. Any store that wanted to experiement with less parking would be forbidden by P&Z commision.

The suburbs have endles sprawls of asphalt because bureaucrats say so, not because of Adam Smith's Invisible Paver.

For a reference point: We paid $41K for a 1/4 acre lot in the northwest suburbs of Minneapolis in 2000. I think same size lots go for about $100K now.

In what universe, I wonder, is charging for parking something you have to beg for? My parking space at home is an itemized component of my monthly rent. Parking at work is only free for me because I work in the middle of the night (when there is an overwhelming surplus of parking space) and leave at 7am...if I worked days, it would be not merely charged, but prohibitively expensive.


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