The High Cost of Free Parking

By Donald Shoup, FAICP

Product Image

APA member
List Price

Off-street parking requirements are devastating American cities. So says Donald Shoup in this no-holds-barred treatise on the way parking should be.

Free parking, Shoup argues, has contributed to auto dependence, rapid urban sprawl, extravagant energy use, and a host of other problems. Planners mandate free parking to alleviate congestion, but end up distorting transportation choices, debasing urban design, damaging the economy, and degrading the environment. Ubiquitous free parking helps explain why our cities sprawl on a scale fit more for cars than for people, and why American motor vehicles now consume one-eighth of the world's total oil production.

But it doesn't have to be this way. Shoup proposes new ways for cities to regulate parking, namely, charge fair market prices for curb parking, use the resulting revenue to pay for services in the neighborhoods that generate it, and remove zoning requirements for off-street parking. Such measures, according to the Yale-trained economist and UCLA planning professor, will make parking easier and driving less necessary.

About the Author

Donald Shoup, FAICPDonald Shoup, FAICP, is a professor of urban planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. He holds a doctorate in economics from Yale and is a Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners. From 1996 to 2001, Shoup directed the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA and, from 1999 to 2003, he chaired the university's Department of Urban Planning.

Product Details

Page Count
Date Published
March 31, 2005
APA Planners Press

Table of Contents

1.Introduction: The twenty-first century parking problem
The car explosion • The commons problem • Skewed travel choices • Cures that kill the twenty-first century parking solution • Endnotes

PART I: Planning for free parking

2. Unnatural selection • The rationale for off-street parking requirements • Huddled masses yearning to park free • Planning without prices • Planning without theory
First Strategy: Copy Other Cities • Planning Advisory Service Surveys • Shopworn Planning Tools • The Golden Rule
Second Strategy: Consult ITA Data • Problems with Parking Generation Rates • Exaggerated Estimates of Parking Demand • Planning on Uncertainty • Problems with Trip Generation Rates • Statistical Insignificance • Significant Digits • Serious Consequences • Derived Demand • Problems with Parking Turnover Rates • Planning for Sprawl • Honest Mistakes • Precision without Accuracy • Five Easy Reforms
Conclusion: The Immaculate Conception of parking demand endnotes
3. The pseudoscience of planning for parking
The three step process • Step 1: Define the Land Use • Step 2: Choose the Basis • Step 3: Specify the Number of Spaces

Circular Logic • Estimating demand without prices • Professional confidence trick • Planners in denial • Parochial policies • Mobility versus proximity • System-wide effects of parking requirements • Parking spaces required for a change of land use • Two policies • An example • Quantity versus quality • Off-street parking limits • Garage door restrictions
Parking location requirements
Parking structure design requirements
Conclusion: an elaborate structure with no foundation

4. An analogy: ancient astronomy
A parallel universe • The muddle is the message

5. A great planning disaster
Bundled parking and the decision to drive • Distorted urban form • Degraded urban design • Higher housing costs • Study 1: Apartments in Oakland • Study 2: Houses in San Francisco • Study 3: Offices in Southern California • Study 4: Apartments in Los Angeles • Study 5: Apartments in Palo Alto • Affordable Parking vs Affordable Housing • Paralysis by parking requirements • Limits on homeownership • Damage to the urban economy • Harm to the central business district • Parking at Disney hall • Too many parking spaces? • Harm to low-income families • Price discrimination • Prices and preferences • Precedent coagulates into tradition • An analogy: bloodletting • Conclusion: first, do no harm

6. The cost of required parking spaces
How much does a parking space cost? • Cost per space added by 15 parking structures • Urban density influences the type of structure • Structure type determines the cost per space • Cost of other parking structures • Monthly cost of a parking space • External costs of a parking space • Induced travel • Environmental impacts • Conclusion: the high cost of required parking spaces

7. Putting the cost of free parking in perspective
Total subsidy for parking • Capital cost of the parking supply • Value of Vehicles and Roads • Are Parking Spaces Worth More Than All Vehicles? • Are Parking Spaces Worth More Than All Roads? • New parking spaces compared with new cars • Free parking compared with the cost of driving to work • Free Parking Reduces the Cost of Automobile • Commuting by 71 Percent • Free Parking Is Worth More Than $4 per Gallon of Gasoline • Free Parking Is Worth 22ó per Mile Driven to Work • Parking subsidies compared with congestion tolls • Simple arithmetic • Conclusion: a great planning disaster

8. An allegory: minimum telephone requirements

9. Public parking in lieu of private parking
Benefits of in-lieu fees • Concerns about in-lieu fees • How do cities set the in-lieu fees? • Case-by-Case Fees • Uniform Fees • Who Decides? • Why pay the fee rather than provide the parking? • The impact fees implicit in parking requirements • Parking Impact Fees for Office Buildings • What Explains High Impact Fees? • Parking Impact Fees for Other Land Uses • A Follow-Up Survey • Conclusion: the high cost of parking requirements

10. Reduce demand rather than increase supply
Transit passes in lieu of required parking spaces • Eco Passes • Cost-Effectiveness of Eco Passes • Benefits of Eco Passes in Lieu of Parking Spaces • Transit Passes Instead of Parking Spaces for Various Land Uses • Parking cash out in lieu of required parking spaces • Does Parking Cash Out Reduce Parking Demand? • Cost-Effectiveness of Parking Cash Out • Car sharing policies appropriate to their locations • Conclusion: offer the option to reduce parking demand

Part II: cruising for curb parking

11. Cruising
Cruising through the twentieth century
Detroit • Washington, D.C • New Haven and Waterbury • London • Paris • Freiburg • Jerusalem and Haifa • Cambridge • New York • San Francisco • Sydney • Cruising without parking • Conclusion: a century of cruising

12. The right price for curb parking Is curb parking a public good?
Time limits • The right price • External costs of curb parking • Demand-responsive prices • Target Occupancy Rate • A Precedent: hot Lanes • Can prices manage curb parking demand? • Two later observations • Conclusion: charge the right price for curb parking

13. Choosing to cruise
To cruise or to pay • Equilibrium search time: an example • The wages of cruising • Rent seeking • Two pricing strategies • Elasticities • A numerical example • Complications • Is cruising rational? • The role of information • Conclusion: an invitation to cruise

14. California cruising
Park-and-visit tests in Westwood village • Cheaper curb parking creates more cruising • Cruising for a year • Two Round Trips to the Moon • Simple Arithmetic • Cruising around the Average Block • Even More Cruising • What Share of the Traffic Was Cruising? • Side effects of cruising • Solo drivers more likely to cruise • Market prices can attract more people • Wages of cruising in Westwood village • Perception versus reality • Turning wasted time into public revenue • Conclusion: the high cost of cruising

Part III. Cashing in on curb parking

15. Buying time at the curb
The first parking meter • The technology of charging for curb parking • New Parking Meters • Pay-and-Display Meters • Pay-by-Space Meters • Personal In-Vehicle Meters • Payment by Mobile Telephone • Payment by Satellite • Not technology but politics • Conclusion: honk if you support paid parking

16. Turning small change into big changes
Parking benefit districts • Right Prices Will Attract More Customers • One Side of the Street at a Time • A logical recipient: business improvement districts • Pasadena: your meter money makes a difference • History • Two Parking Policies • Parking Meters and Revenue Return • Public Parking Garages with Zoning Parking Credits • A Tale of Two Business Districts • San Diego: turning small change into big changes • The Revenue Split • Uptown District • Downtown District • Mid-City District • Big Changes from Small Change • Conclusion: cash registers at the curb

17. Taxing foreigners living abroad
A market in curb parking • Residential parking benefit districts • Selective Public Goods • Client Politics • Political and Administrative Feasibility • The Need for Earmarked Revenue • One Block at a Time • Collecting the Revenue • A Promising Precedent • Dense Neighborhoods • Optimum Size for a Parking Benefit District • Cap-and-Trade Approach • Early Examples • Benefits of parking benefit districts • An Example: Repairing Broken Sidewalks • Preserving Historic Buildings • Reducing Locational Conflicts • Making Neighborhoods Safer • Increasing the Housing Supply • Conclusion: changing the politics of curb parking

18. Let prices do the planning
Space, time, money, and parking • The optimal parking space • Greed versus sloth • Parking duration and vehicle occupancy • The invisible hand • Classic monocentric models • Efficiency • Practicality • Enforcement • Banning curb parking • Where would Jesus park? • Removing off-street parking requirements • Conclusion: prices can do the planning

19. The ideal source of local public revenue
Henry George's proposal • Curb parking revenue is public land rent • Parking requirements act like a tax on buildings • Parking Requirements as Impact Fees • Parking Requirements Compared with Property Taxes • What would Adam Smith say about charging for parking? • Revenue potential of curb parking
1. Revenue per Curb Space
2. Revenue as a Share of Total Land Rent
3. Revenue per Front Foot
Division of curb parking revenue • Similarity to special assessments • Property values • An analogy: congestion pricing • A Proposal: Place-Based Claimants for the Toll Revenue • Fiscalizing the Freeways • Appropriate public claimants • Parking increment finance • Equity • Paying without Parking • Paying for Parking • Lifeline Pricing • Revenue Sharing • Takings and Givings • Biased Analysis • A Precedent: Pay-as-You-Go Income Taxes • Opportunity cost of curb parking • Economic development • Monopoly, free parking, and Henry George • Conclusion: the revenue is under our cars

20. Unbundled parking
Parking costs unbundled from housing costs • An Example • Condominiums • Like Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking • What is the Right Number of Unbundled Parking Spaces? • What Is the Right Size for Unbundled Parking Spaces? • Two Markets for Unbundled Parking • Tiebout Sorting • Parking caps or parking prices? • Effects of unbundling on vmt and vehicle emissions • Effects of unbundling on parking technology • Objections to unbundling • Spillover • Uncertainty • Liability • Transaction costs • Fairness • Conclusion: the high cost of bundled parking

21. Time for a paradigm shift
Parking requirements as a paradigm • Retrofitting America • An illustration: advising the mayor • A new style of planning

Part IV: conclusion

22. Changing the future
Curb parking as a commons problem • Enormous parking subsidies • Unintended consequences • Ignorance • Error • Immediacy of interest • Basic values • Self-fulfilling prophecies • Enclosing the commons • Public property, not private property • Commons, anticommons, and the liberal commons • Community property, not communal property • Public property, but without open access • Other commons problems • Two futures • Free parking • Parking benefit districts • Three reforms

Appendix a: the practice of parking requirements
Appendix b: nationwide transportation surveys
Appendix c: the language of parking
Appendix d: the calculus of driving, parking, and walking
Appendix e: the price of land and the cost of parking
Appendix f: cars, parking, people, and cities
Appendix g: converting traffic congestion into cash
Appendix h: the vehicles of nations


"This book should be required reading for anyone who cares about this nation's cities. Shoup helps us to understand how we can use the billions we are spending to store motor vehicles in ways that can solve our parking problems and build healthy communities."

—Michael S. Dukakis
Former Governor of Massachusetts and Distinguished Professor of Political Science, Northeastern University

"A landmark in the annals of urban planning. This important book deserves a prominent spot on any planner's bookshelf. It's brilliant."

—Robert Cervero
Professor of City and Regional Planning, University of California, Berkeley

"Imagine an entire book on the length and breadth of parking by an author as facile as James Michener with the insight of Jane Jacobs and the passion of Lewis Mumford and you have Donald Shoup on the subject of parking. This book is destined to become a planning classic."

—Martin Wachs, FAICP
Director of the Institute of Transportation Studies and Professor of City and Regional Planning and Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of California, Berkeley

"This meticulously researched book is a must-read for all policymakers, community groups, planners, and citizens. Shoup tackles head on the 100-year addiction to car travel and does so with enough humor and wit to hold out the hope that a cure could lie ahead."

—Anne Vernez Moudon
Professor of Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Urban Design and Planning, University of Washington

"Urban planners and economists should be embarrassed about how little thought we have given to off-street parking requirements. Shoup shows how parking standards have fundamentally shaped our built environment, usually for the worse."

—Jose A. Gomez-Ibanez
Derek C. Bok Professor of Urban Planning and Public Policy, Harvard University