The High Cost of Free Parking

October 17th, 2010 by Richard Lord

Donald Shoup, Professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, Fellow of the American Institute of Certified Planners, and visiting scholar at Cambridge University, has studied car parking as a link between transportation and land use.

His influential book, The High Cost of Free Parking is leading a growing number of cities to charge a fair market price for street parking, and dedicate the resulting revenue to finance public services in the metered districts, and reduce or remove off-street parking requirements.

Free parking at North Beach car park in St Peter Port, Guernsey (click image to expand - ©RLLord)

A recent Los Angeles Times article states that Professor Shoup believes that free parking is at the root of many urban ills including congestion, sprawl, wasteful energy use and air pollution.

Professor Shoup states that city governments contribute to these problems by requiring too many parking spaces for each development.  This increases the cost for everything else including housing.  He said “we have expensive housing and free parking.”

Professor Shoup finds that cheap street parking increases congestion by encouraging people to drive rather than walk, bicycle or take public buses.

Many US west coast cities are listening to Professor Shoup’s reasoning and beginning to charge more for street car parking.

For businesses that provide free parking to their employees he recommends that the business offers alternatively the cash value of the parking space in exchange for the employee not using the space.  In one study Professor Shoup found that with this scheme employees increased their use of public transport by 50 percent and car sharing by 64 percent.

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