Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Probably-Awesome Parking Plan in SF

From the Chronicle:
At the first test location - the 52-space, city-owned metered parking lot on California Street just west of the tony Fillmore Street retail-and-restaurant corridor - the city covered the meter heads with red bags with instructions directing motorists to a pair of pay stations. The program will move into other neighborhoods in coming months.


Under the plan, parking prices would be adjusted according to demand. The ideal would be to have 85 percent of the parking spaces occupied. That way, parking spaces always would be available, meaning people would circle the block less in their polluting vehicles. The federal government, looking for ways to reduce congestion, awarded San Francisco an $18 million grant to help fund the $23 million pilot project. In all, 10 neighborhoods will be used in the study.
Interestingly, the article is primarily about the concerns bicyclists have about losing the existing parking meters, which they chain their bikes to, and possible ways to keep them in place. My experience with Piedmont Ave. in Oakland, though, is that you can just leave the poles in the street and nobody seems to mind. They're not any uglier with their heads taken off. If you stopped calling them "parking meter poles" and started calling them "bike poles", I think soon enough everybody would forget where they came from in the first place.


Tommaso Sciortino said...

Any moment now some hippy is going to complain that pricing parking spots so high is unfair to the poor. The logic being that divying up good and services based on how much money you have is obviously wrong. I would like to preemptively disagree with that.

Bret said...

I'm not really sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, allowing people to bid on a limited resource seems like a good idea: the parking will go to those who are most likely to use it being 'productive'. It's a bit like property tax in that regard.

On the other hand, the Government isn't supposed to administer public infrastructure to be profitable or efficient; it's supposed to administer these things to be fair and effective, which I'm not quite sure this is.

Consider: if homeless people parked junkers in spots, then sold them to the highest bidder, there would be mob justice. Why should government action be perceived differently?

Paul said...

I would say that part of administering parking effectively is making sure that it's available.

The current situation, meanwhile, is fair in an everybody-is-equally-screwed kind of way, but it's not like I feel really enfranchised by a system where I have to drive around hoping that I might stumble on an open space.

And, of course, there's a strong argument to be made that shifting the incentives to favor modes of transportation with fewer negative externalities just is administering public infrastructure more effectively.

Tommaso Sciortino said...

I'm not following your homeless junker metaphor here, Bret. The repellent part of your scenario is that the homeless would basically be seizing and personally benefiting from public goods. But that's not what's happening here. The government owns the land those parking spaces are on. It paid to have the concrete poured and pays for the maintenance.

More specifically I think the issue is that parking spots are limited resource and so *some* system is going to be used to allocate them. The current system is that parking spots go to the people willing to burn gas and time driving around looking for them. That doesn't seem very fair to me and doesn't seem very efficient either.

Also, I'll have to admit that I'm a bit befuddled by your indecisiveness. In general, our society keeps track of how much work you've done (i.e. how much you've earned) with money. Allocating parking spots with money would be *exactly* fair in general unless you're willing to argue that the government should be in the business of looking past money to decide that certain people deserve things on some other basis and that others should be taxed to get it to them. In this case the *tax* would be the lost revenue in parking spots that would be given up in order to subsidize your plan for a "fair" allocation of parking spots.

Personally I have no problem with redistribution for fairness (or efficiency) if you can make a really strong case that it's politically feasible and morally sound. I'm surprised that you would contemplate doing so given my understanding of your politics.

Bret said...

Tom :) You should create a post entitled, "Bret is an inconsistent hypocrite" where we can discuss that topic.

As far as the parking thing goes,

Paul makes a very good point that the administration of parking is not just about where you leave your car.

Tom, I realized I'm sort of wrong about this thing, reading your post.

The essential nature of the present system is a regressive fee: everybody has to expend some gas and some time looking for a space. This hurts the poor more than the rich, as would a system of bidding. So actually, the proposed system is just as fair as the existing one, in the abstract.

I still wonder about the effectiveness of the system, however. What does someone do if they're priced out of a spot they rely on to do their work? In a sense, this points to an economy that relies too much on luck!

Tommaso Sciortino said...

Bret, I would never accuse you of being a hypocrite. I just sometimes suspect that you're more pragmatic and nuanced than you give yourself credit for. When I ask questions like "if you say X why do you support Y" what I'm really saying is "obviously there's more to your philosophy than we've discussed thus far: let's discuss it."

In that spirit let me further elaborate on *my* philosophy by answering the question you posed "What does someone do if they're priced out of a spot they rely on to do their work?" The answer is - clearly - ask for a raise. Any replacement they could hire would face the same parking fees. If the company can't afford it then obviously they can't afford to stay in business. That may be sad, but companies going out of business is who capitalism works.

The other option - selling public goods at below market price to subsidize drivers seems unfair to me *unless* you have a specific argument about why the general population should be subsidizing them. It may be the case that you have such an argument - and if I may - let me redirect the conversation there.

From my point of view I think this parking fee change does seem to disproportionally hit the poor but if we want to benefit them we should use some purely redistributional system like the Earned Income tax credit rather than distorting the real economy (in a way that encourages wasting gas no less!)