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The High Cost of Free Parking
July 13, 2010 12:36 PM   Subscribe

"Eighty-seven percent of all trips are made by personal vehicle and 99 percent of those trips arrive at a free parking space." But that free parking comes at a high cost according to Donald Shoup's research. He advocates for charging the right price for on-street parking and for removing off-street parking requirements. Shoup's ideas are coming to the streets in San Francisco's new demand-responsive parking system. Loyal Shoupistas work to spread and implement his ideas.
posted by parudox (192 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Woohoo!
posted by millipede at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2010


He also wrote a book, The High Cost of Free Parking. It's kind of long, but I read it while I was procrastinating.
posted by madcaptenor at 12:43 PM on July 13, 2010


Certainly 99 percent arriving at a free parking space is not true in SF. It's a national average. But he's right that requiring off-street parking for many urban (and not-so-urban small town) development projects is a big contributor to sprawl.
posted by beagle at 12:51 PM on July 13, 2010


Currently, meters across the City charge from $1.00 to $3.50 an hour.
...
In pilot areas, meter pricing can range from between 25 cents an hour to a maximum of $6.00 an hour, depending on demand. During special events, such as baseball games, hourly prices may temporarily increase beyond the $6.00 ceiling.
...
SFpark will track via sensor how often each space is used and adjust hourly rates accordingly. Rates at meters may fluctuate by time of day and day of week, but prices will be adjusted by increments of no more than 50 cents an hour, up or down, no more frequently than once a month.

This answers some questions for me. I was imagining running out to the meter and finding my $.25 space was suddenly $6.00/hour. I like the idea, but what I would like even better would be just decreasing parking space until supply and demand for parking spaces met at $6.00/hour.
posted by 2bucksplus at 12:52 PM on July 13, 2010


Speaking as someone who owns a car but drives only very rarely, I'm hugely in favor of systems that properly force drivers to pay for the actual costs of their transportation. Efficient urban density's flat-out impossible when you have to provide endless asphalt for people to park in; as long as an area's got proper walkability and/or public transit access, there's no excuse for free parking. A parking space only benefits one person or family, and only as storage for something that nobody else benefits from - in a city, where space is at a premium, we should maximize and subsidize communal resources like transit and parks, not give away precious square footage to dangerous, polluting, inefficient transportation.

Also his name is great. Shoup! Shoup-da-oop! It's really fun to say.
posted by Tomorrowful at 12:54 PM on July 13, 2010 [15 favorites]


"At its most ironic extremes, Shoup’s research contends that drivers can circle blocks endlessly in search of cheap street parking while burning more gas money than they would save by going directly to private lots."

It would take a whole of circling to equal the cost of one hour of parking in my town.

"As for the seemingly arbitrary 85 percent, Shoup said, “When you explain this to people you ask, do you have a better rule? And they’re just speechless.” "

Hopefully the rest of his arguments are better supported...
posted by madajb at 12:56 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Speaking as someone who does not even know how to drive, I say we gouge drivers (in cities with reliable public transportation) for all they're worth. God knows if they're paying for maintenance, insurance and gas, they're not just going to switch to public transport because for another few bucks.
posted by griphus at 12:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm all for removing off-street parking requirements; if building owners don't think that the parking is necessary, or think that the square footage can be put to better use, good on them. However I'm not sure that if I was a business owner, in all but a few U.S. cities with very good public-transportation infrastructures, that I would run the risk of setting up shop in a location without ample free parking.

You can get away with charging for parking if you have a captive or semi-captive market, or are just in a particularly sweet location, but for the average store it seems fairly risky. I know lots of people who will go out of their way to avoid stores with pay-to-park lots (even if the parking is free with receipt).

If you charge $3 for parking, that's the equivalent (assuming a 20MPG vehicle and gas at $2.71/gal) of 22 miles. So draw a circle 11 miles in radius from your location -- do you have a competitor inside that circle who doesn't charge for parking? If so, you're going to have to try pretty hard to emphasize to customers why they should go to your store. A lot of people put a low (perhaps irrationally low) value on their time; just because your store is closer or moderately more convenient might not cut it.

Just as an example, I used to live about a mile away from a Best Buy. My roommates, who spent a fair bit of money at BB, never went there -- instead, they planned their trips at off-peak times to avoid traffic, and drove to a different one that was at least three or four miles further away. Why? Because the one further away had free parking, and the close-in one didn't, and they were not interested in paying for parking. It's not as though the amount of money was at issue -- $3 or whatever it was at the time for a quick in/out wasn't significant -- but to them it felt like they were being ripped off.

Interestingly though, the main reason that places seem to charge for parking near where I live (NOVA) seems to be as a way of discouraging commuter parking. While I'm sure they like the income as well, stores (e.g. the huge Pentagon City Mall) charge because they know if they didn't, the garage would be 100% full by 9AM with people working in the surrounding area, and there wouldn't be any space left for customers. So they charge a fairly steep hourly rate in order to ensure that someone who really wants to come in and go shopping can find a space. Comparable malls (e.g. Tysons Corner) not located in areas where they would make sense for commuters don't bother. Of course, Pentagon City is on the Metro, so not everyone has to drive to get there, while Tyson's isn't, and I'm sure that land out around Tysons is cheaper, so there are multiple factors figuring into the decision.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:01 PM on July 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


Speaking as someone who does not even know how to drive, I say we gouge drivers (in cities with reliable public transportation) for all they're worth.

That's the spirit! What else do you not do? Maybe we can gouge everyone who does those things, too!
posted by The World Famous at 1:07 PM on July 13, 2010 [49 favorites]


I'm all for removing off-street parking requirements...However I'm not sure...I would run the risk of setting up shop in a location without ample free parking

I think businesses would still be incentivised to provide free parking, but if the mandatory requirements were removed would have the flexibility to decide what level worked best for them. You'd also see businesses getting smarter about location, which would lead to better land use. Build your new shop/restaurant in the suburbs with 300 sq ft of parking per potential customer, or build it next to the close-in church that only uses their big lot on Sundays and will lease you their spaces the rest of the week?
posted by IanMorr at 1:10 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Anything that shifts the real costs of a Happy Motoring culture to the motorists is A-OK in my book.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


requiring off-street parking for many urban (and not-so-urban small town) development projects is a big contributor to sprawl.

I don't get this one. If land is expensive, isn't the developer is going to build his parking vertically, not horizontally.
posted by nomisxid at 1:12 PM on July 13, 2010


The World Famous: "That's the spirit! What else do you not do? Maybe we can gouge everyone who does those things, too!"

In that case, urban planners and people who aren't being facetious are screwed.
posted by griphus at 1:15 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


If land is expensive, isn't the developer is going to build his parking vertically, not horizontally.

In suburbs it's usually cheaper to pay for the land than to build at $40K per space in a parking structure.
posted by parudox at 1:16 PM on July 13, 2010


Parking structures are very, very expensive. Land must be very, very expensive to make a parking structure make sense financially. Places that expensive already have a high enough density that people aren't driving.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:17 PM on July 13, 2010


Also, by eliminating the requirement for onsite parking, you can theoretically encourage infill development.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:18 PM on July 13, 2010


If land is expensive, isn't the developer is going to build his parking vertically, not horizontally.

Probably, but this adds to the cost of developing in urban areas and it also artificially raises the supply (and lowers the cost) of parking.
posted by ripley_ at 1:18 PM on July 13, 2010


This seems similar to the idea of the congestion charge levied in London (and here in Stockholm.)

The problem is that it becomes a new source of cash for the city. In London and in Stockholm the stated goal was to reduce the number of vehicles which pass through the city limits. The fee, on the other hand, was set to gain the maximum amount of revenue - not too high so that you would actually discourage people from paying it. Congestion is as bad as ever and it just costs more.
posted by three blind mice at 1:20 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


That's the spirit! What else do you not do? Maybe we can gouge everyone who does those things, too!

The issue here is that car transportation has enormous externalities in terms of pollution, safety, and - the topic at hand - land use. We should be discouraging inefficient use of public goods, not subsidizing it, and those of us who are already acting correctly have this awesome moral high horse that we like riding around on. And, yes, we do share the one horse and use a demand-level-based system to pay for the oats.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:21 PM on July 13, 2010 [21 favorites]


A parking space only benefits one person or family, and only as storage for something that nobody else benefits from - in a city, where space is at a premium, we should maximize and subsidize communal resources like transit and parks, not give away precious square footage to dangerous, polluting, inefficient transportation.

Remind me to look for you the next time I have to take public transportation with my kids in tow. Like I did last week during rush hour. Twin toddlers in their double-wide stroller, which neither fits down a bus aisle nor anywhere but right in front of the doors of a subway or LIRR car. But it has to be the double-wide, because the long one doesn't fit in a subway car if it's crowded.

Then, when they start crying or screaming because the trip is too long, or they're being crowded by strangers, I'll simply ask them to scream in your direction rather than apologize profusely to everyone who gives me dirty looks for having the gall to take my kids on public transportation to a medical specialist in Manhattan. Only one of my kids needed to go, but hey, you can't leave a two-year old home unsupervised.

Perhaps you'll take pity on me and ask people to move out of the way so we can board the train -- because passengers seemed to develop hearing problems en masse when I dared to ask.

By all means, please tell me again how selfish I am being by taking a route in and out of the city that doesn't literally inconvenience dozens of other folks on the subway. Where my kids don't have to have their stroller kicked by commuters with nasty attitudes, or listen to assholes loudly curse at their wives / partners on a cell phone. Where I can drive them in peace without the trip turning into a stress-filled nightmare.

Is there anything else you'd like to express a "fuck you people, I've got mine" attitude about, or have we covered it?
posted by zarq at 1:22 PM on July 13, 2010 [18 favorites]


I say we gouge drivers (in cities with reliable public transportation) for all they're worth.

That's the spirit! What else do you not do? Maybe we can gouge everyone who does those things, too!

I don't drive a fucking car into, for instance, NYC where I live, and expect everything to cater to how incredibly fucking idiotic I am.
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:23 PM on July 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


I wish cities would do the exact same thing with property tax on vacant units. Raise the rates for vacant property. Keep raising them until the vacancy rates approach some healthy fixed target.. say, 10%. The more it costs landlords to sit and do nothing with property, the quicker they'll drop rents to reasonable numbers, or sell to people that will actually use the space. We can call it the Shit or Get Off the Pot Act of 2010.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 1:26 PM on July 13, 2010 [38 favorites]


This is ridiculous. I'm in favor of getting rid of the parking space requirements, but everything else is regressive bullshit. I just have this image of a smug guy sipping his latte with his eyes closed, "If we charged $6/hour it might just make people think."

With federal minimum wage at $7.24/hr, you're charging potentially 83% of their income to shop for an hour. Even at a more reasonable rate, say $15/hr., that's still 40% of their hourly rate just to park.

The best way to get people to alter their behavior en masse is to provide incentives, not doling out indulgence. Provide reliable reliable, widespread public transportation for a lower cost than owning a vehicle. It is not that hard, but outside of a few cities it is rarely done right due to the perverse incentives to constantly lower costs.
posted by geoff. at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


The real problem is that so much noise is generated about congestion pricing when it applies, geographically, to statistically 0% of the country.

Europe already has strong regional transit (primarily rail) and is much denser. Yes, there are serious issues about congestion in NYC and SF, and finding solutions is important. But 70% of the professional and media resources devoted to arguing for it will not solve traffic problems in the other 90% of urban America.

Zoning and regional transit planning can make a substantial difference (hello PDX!). Congestion pricing is simply regressive taxation everywhere else.
posted by 99_ at 1:27 PM on July 13, 2010


By all means, please tell me again how selfish I am being by taking a route in and out of the city that doesn't literally inconvenience dozens of other folks on the subway. Where my kids don't have to have their stroller kicked by commuters with nasty attitudes, or listen to assholes loudly curse at their wives / partners on a cell phone. Where I can drive them in peace without the trip turning into a stress-filled nightmare.

Your utter contempt of the people in the big city leads me to suggest you drive them elsewhere, far away from all of us "assholes." Maybe farther out onto Long Island?
posted by Threeway Handshake at 1:28 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I say we gouge drivers (in cities with reliable public transportation) for all they're worth

So, I guess I'm safe living in Atlanta, then.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2010


And, yes, we do share the one horse and use a demand-level-based system to pay for the oats.

If I drive into Manhattan from Queens across a toll bridge, then that toll I pay helps maintain the roads throughout this city. Assuming you live in New York and don't drive, you benefit from that but don't contribute to it. Why? Because nearly everything sold at a local restaurant or business as well as most of your mail and goods were driven into the city on those same roads.
posted by zarq at 1:29 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq, your problem is with the city -- or, rather, the MTA -- who have mismanaged public transportation in NYC to the mess it is today. Also, have you completely discounted livery service which, if you're not using a car except in emergencies like you describe, would be cheaper for you?
posted by griphus at 1:30 PM on July 13, 2010


In that case, urban planners and people who aren't being facetious are screwed.

Just to clear one thing up, actual urban planners in the United States don't really have a final say in anything.
posted by gordie at 1:31 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your utter contempt of the people in the big city leads me to suggest you drive them elsewhere, far away from all of us "assholes." Maybe farther out onto Long Island?

I'm not sure you need to put the word "assholes" in quotes when your previous comment was "I don't drive a fucking car into, for instance, NYC where I live, and expect everything to cater to how incredibly fucking idiotic I am."
posted by The World Famous at 1:32 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


zarq, were you forced to have children and to live in NYC?
posted by MrMoonPie at 1:32 PM on July 13, 2010


zarq, were you forced to have children and to live in NYC?

Yes, if we can change this "make it so only the rich can have cars" thread into a "kick the breeders out of New York" thread, we will have really accomplished something.
posted by The World Famous at 1:34 PM on July 13, 2010 [21 favorites]


The World Famous: "
Yes, if we can change this "make it so only the rich can have cars"
"

What is the downside to only letting a certain segment of the population in cities with quasi-well-funded and well-running transporation and fully-functional cab and livery services and cheap temporary car rental (e.g. Zipcar) be able to afford to own private transport?
posted by griphus at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


However I'm not sure that if I was a business owner, in all but a few U.S. cities with very good public-transportation infrastructures, that I would run the risk of setting up shop in a location without ample free parking.


The places I've seen this sort of thing proposed are cities, especially the semi-dense inner ring parts of cities where it could go either way. Obviously in the most in-demand parts of the city, parking demand is going to be way higher than supply, which is why you see so many pay lots there. And, obviously, if you're out in Nowheresville and there's more space than anybody knows what to do with, people just straight up aren't going to pay for parking, and they're going to drive to businesses that offer free parking. Eliminating free parking, on its own, isn't going to change very much there.

But in the in-between areas, that's where this works. I live in Brooklyn. A close friend of mine, also a Brooklynite, has a car. Because he has a car, he gets into this mentality where he thinks he ought to drive everywhere. Mainly because, hey, parking is free, so why not? This turns out to be stupid and inefficient about 80% of the time, because he spends more time looking for said free parking than it took to drive there. It might be easier for him to put two and two together and leave the car behind without the lure of free parking. And if not, hey, at least the city would make a little more money off his stupidity.
posted by Sara C. at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


With federal minimum wage at $7.24/hr, you're charging potentially 83% of their income to shop for an hour. Even at a more reasonable rate, say $15/hr., that's still 40% of their hourly rate just to park.

That's fair enough, geoff. But part of the fun of having people pay for the value of parking is that bus transportation becomes more attractive (with less traffic). And in the urban planner's utopia, there's plenty of buses and trains about.

Now, it's a fair question as to whether that actually happens in any given city considering congestion pricing.
posted by ibmcginty at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2010


Efficient urban density's flat-out impossible when you have to provide endless asphalt for people to park in; as long as an area's got proper walkability and/or public transit access, there's no excuse for free parking.

I wonder what percentage of the car-owning population actually lives in those kind of areas though. When gas prices rose to record levels in 2007, it caused people to buy more fuel-efficient cars but not drive significantly less, which I think is mainly due to the fact that most areas outside of very densely populated urban centers do not have viable alternative transportation options. I think in a lot of places a car is more of a basic need than a luxury, so raising parking costs won't do much to cut down usage.

We should be discouraging inefficient use of public goods, not subsidizing it, and those of us who are already acting correctly have this awesome moral high horse that we like riding around on.

I agree that car use should be reduced, but that doesn't necessarily mean that any method to reduce usage would be a good idea. You could make the argument that making cigarettes prohibitively expensive through taxes would be a good idea, but it might also have unintended consequences. There are a variety of stakeholders involved (drivers, non-drivers, businesses, governments) all with different needs and it's not immediately obvious what kinds of impacts these sorts of policies would have on everyone in any given situation.
posted by burnmp3s at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Your utter contempt of the people in the big city leads me to suggest you drive them elsewhere, far away from all of us "assholes." Maybe farther out onto Long Island?

Ha! Wow, have you got it wrong.

I've lived in Queens and Brooklyn for most of my life (except for a brief time spent as a kid and teenager in TX,) and work in Manhattan 5-6 days a week. I went to high school in Manhattan for a couple of years, then finished in Queens. I'm in my 30's and didn't even learn to drive until 2007, when my wife became pregnant. Moreover, someone in my family (on my mother's side) has lived in NYC since 1820. My great, great grandfather used to own a dairy farm in the Harlem area.

I don't have contempt for people who live in the City. I'm one of 'em. Born and raised.

The contempt I'm expressing isn't for my neighbors. It's for your attitude, which sucks.
posted by zarq at 1:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


Threeway Handshake: "I don't drive a fucking car into, for instance, NYC where I live, and expect everything to cater to how incredibly fucking idiotic I am."

Not on this particular topic, anyway.

I live in Denver, and public transportation's always been a hassle here. RTD is getting better -- voters approved new light-rail hubs, and there's more "phone-zones" (I forget the branded name) where you can call RTD and say, "I need to get from x to y at this time", and they'll hash out a way to get you to the nearest bus stops with a tiny Green bus for ~$3-5. It's a bit like a taxi, but doesn't go door-to-door.

I very desperately want to take public transportation regularly. Getting from my house to work on it, though, would add on 90 minutes per way to my commute. Driving that number down to a reasonable (!) 30 minutes involves me driving to a park and ride that's about 60% of the way to my job, though.
posted by boo_radley at 1:37 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Just an observation: There have been more than a few threads on this subject over the years, and I've noticed a trend. The American Mefites who are the most emphatically and vocally anti-car almost always fall into one of two categories:

1) They live within the operating range of the New York City, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco train systems.
2) They live in a smaller city, but do not have dependent children.

I'm not sure I've ever seen an exception to this, but I'm sure someone will point one out to me.
posted by deadmessenger at 1:37 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


Zarq, I would love to see people who need cars use them. Loads of babies, heavy furniture, etc. are not fun to carry on the subway. This isn't about banning cars- it's about making the users pay for their true costs. Look around you- how many people in cars are just single drivers? Most people in NYC who use cars are using them because the city has made it easy and relatively cheap.
posted by melissam at 1:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm in favor of getting rid of the parking space requirements, but everything else is regressive bullshit.

The thing you have to keep in mind is that in places like San Francisco (and Manhattan) car ownership is already astonishingly expensive and a giant pain in the ass. People making minimum wage in SF aren't driving around looking for street parking; they are standing at a bus stop waiting vainly for MUNI to show up.
posted by ambrosia at 1:40 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


The High Cost of Free Parking is a really interesting book. Shoup suggests that much of the cost of car transportation is hidden away in income, property, and sales taxes. Moving those costs to forms of taxation that are more directly tied to motor vehicle ownership would make public transportation competitive. And part of that cost is also linked to the cost of goods because retailers must invest in and pay taxes on parking space that offers little economic benefit.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:40 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


MY CHILDREN ARE SPECIAL AND IF I HAVE TO DESTROY THE WORLD TO CODDLE MY PRECIOUS LITTLE SNOWFLAKES THAT'S JUST THE PRICE YOU'LL HAVE TO PAY

It's a little known fact that nobody in cities had children until the invention of the internal combustion engine.
posted by entropicamericana at 1:41 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


their double-wide stroller, which neither fits down a bus aisle nor anywhere but right in front of the doors of a subway or LIRR car

I believe the law requires you to fold strollers when you board public transit, no?

Also, I'd imagine that bringing twin toddlers into the city for the day is stressful any way you slice it, however you get there. If your kids are too little to handle big outings like that, maybe you should stay in Long Island?
posted by Sara C. at 1:41 PM on July 13, 2010


1) They live within the operating range of the New York City, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco train systems.
2) They live in a smaller city, but do not have dependent children.


3) They are not wheelchair bound, and do not have mobility or respiratory problems.
posted by kaseijin at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


If your kids are too little to handle big outings like that, maybe you should stay in Long Island?

Did you miss the part about having to take one of his twin children to a medical specialist?
posted by ambrosia at 1:43 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


zarq: I don't think anyone here is proposing that cars should be illegal. In fact, one of the (hoped-for) advantages of high parking costs is that people who really need to park can do so quickly and easily.

Sara C.: Also, I'd imagine that bringing twin toddlers into the city for the day is stressful any way you slice it, however you get there. If your kids are too little to handle big outings like that, maybe you should stay in Long Island?

It's pretty important to note that zarq isn't just taking his kids around for the hell of it - he's taking one of his kids to a medical specialist in Manhattan.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:44 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


But that free parking comes at a high cost according to Donald Shoup's research... Shoup's ideas are coming to the streets in San Francisco's new demand-responsive parking system.

As a (sometimes) San Francisco driver, I support this, especially in the high-demand neighborhoods where they're trying it out right now. But every time they raise bridge tolls, parking rates, auto registration fees, etc., what I really wish is that they would just improve MUNI service!

As others have hinted above, convenient public transit is really the flip side to all of the arguments about recognizing the externalities of car culture. Generally speaking, driving and parking in SF is already a hassle; honestly adding a few bucks an hour for the parking spot is the least of it. I only drive if there's no way I can get to my destination on MUNI in less than about 45 minutes - the problem is that, with 2 recent rounds of service cuts, that's a lot of places. They should at least commit to using the revenue from all of these measures to improve the public transit such that people can feasibly get around the city in less than an hour and a half, round trip. That's what will really cut down on driving.
posted by rkent at 1:45 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq, your problem is with the city -- or, rather, the MTA -- who have mismanaged public transportation in NYC to the mess it is today.

Perhaps.

Also, have you completely discounted livery service which, if you're not using a car except in emergencies like you describe, would be cheaper for you?

It's not cheaper. No way. It costs me at least $40 one way to go into the city via livery cab, not including tips and tolls. All told, the trip would be around $100 to $110? Plus I have to strap the kids' car seats in, so I usually incur at least a little waiting time. Not to mention that it's none too easy to do so when you're trying to keep track of two very active and mobile toddlers.
posted by zarq at 1:46 PM on July 13, 2010


What is the downside to only letting a certain segment of the population in cities with quasi-well-funded and well-running transporation and fully-functional cab and livery services and cheap temporary car rental (e.g. Zipcar) be able to afford to own private transport?

I see you've got a few assumptions fattening up that sentence. I would even argue that you actually need even more assumptions that you put in it. For example, what does "quasi-well-funded" mean? And what, exactly, does "fully-functional" entail with respect to cab and livery services?

I have lived in cities where it really didn't make sense to have a car - even for people with small children, etc. I'm not saying that such a city is impossible. But to change a current U.S. city into one that can realistically work that way, even for low-income people who have to live well outside the city that they work and shop in if they want to send their kids to acceptable public schools, is a larger endeavor than just making it cripplingly expensive to bring a car into town. Maybe NYC is an exception. But if people were economically rational, I'm not sure anyone would live in NYC anyway. (And I really like NYC. But honestly, too many poor people driving to the grocery store is not NYC's problem.)
posted by The World Famous at 1:46 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


The World Famous: "Yes, if we can change this "make it so only the rich can have cars" (...)"

This is sort of tangential to your crabby derail, but let me say this: I own a car not out of some "FUCK YES CARS LOOKIT THIS KIA" attitude, but because of its utility. If I could get that same (or approximate same) utility out of busses and light-rail, I would. All of the mobility I need, without the liability of owning and maintaining the car. Public transportation would in fact, increase my general wealth and happiness (speaking very broadly, of course). I'd still be comfortably middle-class, but I could spend my monies on, say, piano lessons and orchestra tickets rather than tires, insurance and oil changes.

I'm not sure if there was a real point driving your comment (I'm guessing no), and I'm not sure if you'll be happy to see that it gave me sort of a moment of crystallization for my otherwise loosely categorized thoughts on the matter, but there we go. You've helped me in my thinking with your snark.
posted by boo_radley at 1:46 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I used to live about a mile away from a Best Buy. My roommates, who spent a fair bit of money at BB, never went there -- instead, they planned their trips at off-peak times to avoid traffic, and drove to a different one that was at least three or four miles further away. Why? Because the one further away had free parking, and the close-in one didn't, and they were not interested in paying for parking."

This is the problem. If it's only a mile away, why is parking even a concern? Were they handicapped and therefore unable to just fucking WALK there? Or were they buying huge flatscreens every time they went?
posted by Eideteker at 1:48 PM on July 13, 2010 [10 favorites]


I'm not sure if there was a real point driving your comment (I'm guessing no)

It was a response to a previous comment, which I quoted. My "snark" was a response to MrMoonPie's suggestion that people with children should not live in metropolitan areas.
posted by The World Famous at 1:50 PM on July 13, 2010


Did you miss the part about having to take one of his twin children to a medical specialist?

Yes, I did. Sorry. Wow, now I really feel like shit.

Though I maintain that, in a stressful situation like that, getting around is going to be stressful, any way you slice it. Sympathies, but we're not going to knock down the whole city so this one dude can get to the doctor more easily.
posted by Sara C. at 1:50 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Quasi-well-funded" is the condition the NYC public transportation system is in now. It is difficult to explain, but the meat of it is that it still works, but has some problems with regard to timing, pricing and destination availability (although they do not permanently close down train stops.) You will, eventually, get where you need to go and, usually, without making too many transfers.

"Fully-functional" means you call the service, they show up at your door, they take you to the door where you need to go and you're good. As opposed to cab services which pick other people up en route and drop you off at a central destination or a general destination in that neighborhood, etc.

But if people were economically rational, I'm not sure anyone would live in NYC anyway.

I've lived here for years on under $20K a year. I don't know anywhere else I could make that claim.
posted by griphus at 1:51 PM on July 13, 2010


As someone who has been without a car for going on ~4 years now, I'm all in favor of charging motorists to drive their cars in a way that more accurately reflects the real-world cost of driving. Because right now, automobiles are subsidized freeloaders on the system.

For me, giving up the car was an economic choice; Couldn't afford to repair/replace the one I drove into the ground. Best thing that ever happened to my health, sanity, and wallet. No gas, no insurance, maintainance isn't 1/10 the price, no broken windows, no circling the block over and over looking for parking, no churning out pollutants from my tailpipe, no ass turning to jelly as I'm ferried about town without moving a muscle.

I hope others get pushed over the line and are forced to give up their cars by circumstances. Best thing that ever happened to me that I would not have signed up for if given a choice. And raising the price of private automobile ownership is a push in the right direction.

You wanna own & drive a private automobile, go ahead. But if the cost of doing so went up to reflect the real world costs that are currently subsidized by the public, then people would be making choices based on reality.

And remember, When you drive alone, you drive with Bin Laden.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 1:51 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


It's not cheaper. No way. It costs me at least $40 one way to go into the city via livery cab, not including tips and tolls. All told, the trip would be around $100 to $110?

Do you know how much it costs someone who lives in the city and doesn't have a car to leave the city?

A lot.
posted by Sara C. at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This isn't about banning cars- it's about making the users pay for their true costs.

Which true costs are those?
The unsupported (at least in the articles posted) "total annual subsidy of free off-street parking exceeds $300 billion per year."?

The cost of running a parking department? In my city, at least, the parking department makes a profit[1].

The cost of providing a parking lot for patrons of your private business? I suppose you could make the argument that developers are not able to maximize development because of parking requirements, but then, they aren't allowed to build 27 story K-marts either.

[1] The ethics of that, well, that's another question.
posted by madajb at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2010


I've lived here for years on under $20K a year. I don't know anywhere else I could make that claim.

Meh. I've lived in multiple U.S. cities on under $20k a year. There are at least 10 cities within a day's drive of NYC where you could make that claim.
posted by The World Famous at 1:54 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus. And I thought that I dealt with enough bullshit from self-righteous assholes, what with all the Californians moving to Texas. Remind me to never visit NYC.

Bike vs. Car (and related) threads always seem to bring out the worst in MeFi. I certainly hope that some of these people who are so frothy-mouthed with car hate are vegans, refuse to buy plastics, adopters of third-world children, etc, etc... Otherwise, maybe you should be mindful of your own glass houses. Virtually everybody in this country (especially in cities and suburbs) has a lifestyle that is basically unsustainable.

Let's pause for a moment and consider that the vast majority of our cities are just not structured for the wholesale removal of public, on-site parking. I'm as keen as anybody else on the idea of cities having reliable mass-transit. I've been to Europe and seen it work first hand. It's great. I'm also enough of a realist to know that we're just plain not set up to accomplish anything like that overnight. Let's not even mention the handicapped and elderly, or our abysmal minimum wage and wealth distribution.

There are other ways to incentivize people to use mass-transit, and we should explore them before busting out the pitchforks and ramping up the car hate. Higher gas tax, for one.
posted by kaseijin at 1:55 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is the problem. If it's only a mile away, why is parking even a concern? Were they handicapped and therefore unable to just fucking WALK there?

There are many places in the country, especially places that can support 2 Best Buys within a few miles of each other, where walking is either completely unfeasible or actually dangerous.
posted by madajb at 1:58 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


1) They live within the operating range of the New York City, Boston, Chicago, or San Francisco train systems.

Or Philadelphia, or Washington. But yeah, it's a lot easier to be smug about cars when you have a viable alternative.
posted by madcaptenor at 1:59 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is the problem. If it's only a mile away, why is parking even a concern? Were they handicapped and therefore unable to just fucking WALK there?

As a person who lived in suburban Los Angeles without a vehicle, it's not easy. In NYC I can walk anywhere because there are streets. In LA, I had to cross through multiple parking lots, embankments, and all other sorts of non-walking-friendly (or, hell, never-walking-intended) areas to get from point A to point B on foot. Which is why I will agree that there are plenty of places where it is necessary to have a vehicle.
posted by griphus at 2:01 PM on July 13, 2010


Ah, to find a free parking spot in Boston! It's often difficult to find. What -- with neighborhood parking stickers (with few visitor spots) and rates that can exceed $25.00 after an hour-and-half/two-hour parking time in a private lot/building very common in the Back Bay, Downtown, Financial District, etc.
posted by ericb at 2:02 PM on July 13, 2010


Let's pause for a moment and consider that the vast majority of our cities are just not structured for the wholesale removal of public, on-site parking.

Nobody here is suggesting that all parking should be taken away, forever.

The suggestion is that, in new development within urban areas (again, especially the "inner suburb" areas just outside the densest parts of major cities), free parking not be a mandatory part of the development.

Which means that, hey, building an IKEA or a Target or a Whole Foods or whatever? Sure, allow for free parking as desired for your type of business and customer volume. Building a 6 unit apartment building three blocks from public transit? No worries, you don't have to come up with a parking scheme!
posted by Sara C. at 2:02 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


In LA, I had to cross through multiple parking lots, embankments, and all other sorts of non-walking-friendly (or, hell, never-walking-intended) areas to get from point A to point B on foot.

This is what the policy in question attempts to address.
posted by Sara C. at 2:03 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I believe the law requires you to fold strollers when you board public transit, no?

If it does, I wasn't aware. I can only imagine what a nightmare that would have been.

Also, I'd imagine that bringing twin toddlers into the city for the day is stressful any way you slice it, however you get there.

It's easier and far, far less stressful to drive. It's less complex, and there are fewer people and situations you have to interact with.

But driving wasn't an option for me that day. I didn't have access to the car. So I took the subway. And honestly, while it was stressful it really wasn't that big a deal. I coped. Life happens. You make the most of it.

But it seems amazingly condescending to say that people are selfish for driving instead of taking public transportation and therefore should be punished. There are subway stations that are not accessible to people in wheelchairs, too.

If your kids are too little to handle big outings like that, maybe you should stay in Long Island?

1. I don't live on Long Island.
2. One of the more interesting things you learn when you have kids is that you don't get to choose whether or not they go to a doctor, and sometimes you're subject to a physician's availability.
posted by zarq at 2:04 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Shoup suggests that much of the cost of car transportation is hidden away in income, property, and sales taxes. Moving those costs to forms of taxation that are more directly tied to motor vehicle ownership would make public transportation competitive

The thing is though, and this is why a lot of folks are leery about the idea, it's not going to be a "move" it's going to be an "add".
If my other taxes go down, but I have to pay a road toll, that's one thing, but in reality, it's just going to be a toll on top of existing taxes.
So, my costs go up with no perceptible benefit to me.
posted by madajb at 2:05 PM on July 13, 2010


I am also concerned about the regressive consequences of raising the price of street parking. But what about this idea: raise it even more! I'm not being facetious. I mean raising the price to exorbitant levels, and funnelling that money into safe, comfortable, speedy and, most importantly, free mass transit options. Then the regressiveness flips over and turns into a progressive "luxury tax" on people who still want to, and can afford to, park their single-passenger Hummers and such downtown. Could this work?
posted by Pants McCracky at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2010


The World Famous: "My "snark" was a response to MrMoonPie's suggestion that people with children should not live in metropolitan areas."

"OK".
posted by boo_radley at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2010


I don't live on Long Island.

You mentioned having to get the stoller onto the LIRR. I made an assumption.
posted by Sara C. at 2:06 PM on July 13, 2010


Sympathies, but we're not going to knock down the whole city so this one dude can get to the doctor more easily.

Was I asking anyone to do so?

I am simply pointing out that there are valid reasons why people might need to drive into the city that are arguably not selfish. Sometimes, it might even be more inconvenient to other residents to force someone to take public transportation.
posted by zarq at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2010


So, my costs go up with no perceptible benefit to me.

This is the price you pay for wanting to live as a part of human society, and not off the grid somewhere in Montana where you don't have to share anything with anybody.
posted by Sara C. at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


So, my costs go up with no perceptible benefit to me.

This is a bigger fucking problem than anything else brought up in the thread (although I assume this was a hypothetical 'me' you're referring to.) Not every tax hike is meant to be a perceptible benefit to the individual who pays it, and the idea that every hike should be perceptible to every individual is a toxic idea.
posted by griphus at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2010 [9 favorites]


I don't think anyone is advocating for disincentiving cars without making other changes. Sprawl is killing us. It's making us fat, it's eating up productive farmland, it is isolating to the elderly, handicapped, and other non-drivers (kids). We need to make a lot of changes to the way we live in this country, and one of them is weaning ourselves away from the car. If you can't see that, you're either willfully blind or incredibly obtuse.

I drive everyday. I hate it. I hate spending my money on car payments, gas, insurance, repair. I hate that my tax dollars are spent on perpetuating a destructive lifestyle. I hate seeing land being turned into miles and miles of ugly tract homes and bland big box stores. I want out. But nobody is going to make this necessary change without being pushed. So I support these measures.
posted by entropicamericana at 2:08 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I'd imagine that bringing twin toddlers into the city for the day is stressful any way you slice it, however you get there. If your kids are too little to handle big outings like that, maybe you should stay in Long Island?

Come now, that very post explicitly says that they were visiting a medical specialist in Manhattan, and that only one child needed to go, but one cannot leave a two-year old home unsupervised.

The real counter-argument to what zarq is saying is this: Zarq's case is an unusual one - and unusual cases like this are why it is proposed to raise the price of parking to $6 - rather than eliminate the parking entirely. There could even be special exceptions for parents of seriously ill children, if routine visits are required.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:09 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Maybe I can help clear up what is meant by the high cost of free parking (as I understand it).

In the case of municipally-required off-street parking, we all pay for the construction, maintenance, and opportunity cost of that parking through rents, lost salary, and higher retail prices. The requirements are designed to satisfy the demand for free parking, and so they unsurprisingly result in free parking. The result is no marginal cost of parking for us, which encourages us to drive more than we would if paying the actual cost - yet we still end up paying the costs of that parking. Moreover, those who don't drive (or drive less) are effectively subsidizing those who do.

The high cost of underpriced curb parking (i.e. where free parking spots are difficult to find) comes in the form of congestion, air pollution, lost time, and lost business due to low turnover.
posted by parudox at 2:10 PM on July 13, 2010


You mentioned having to get the stoller onto the LIRR. I made an assumption.

OK. Fair enough. FWIW, I'm in Eastern Queens, some distance from a subway. So it's take a bus to LIRR (10 mins,) or take a bus to the subway (40-50 mins). The LIRR is closer, faster and usually less crowded. Plus, there's an elevator to the platform. I didn't take the bus. I walked / pushed them the mile-plus to the station. Good exercise, and saved a hassle.

Most of the kids' doctors are in Queens and Nassau county. But this one is in NYC.
posted by zarq at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2010


There could even be special exceptions for parents of seriously ill children, if routine visits are required.

I daresay no matter how expensive we may want to make routing driving, "Free parking at hospitals" is a good use of our limited land that we should subsidize.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2010 [12 favorites]


The high cost of underpriced curb parking (i.e. where free parking spots are difficult to find) comes in the form of congestion, air pollution, lost time, and lost business due to low turnover.

Also lost tax/fee revenue which must be offset elsewhere.
posted by ripley_ at 2:13 PM on July 13, 2010


The real counter-argument to what zarq is saying is this: Zarq's case is an unusual one - and unusual cases like this are why it is proposed to raise the price of parking to $6 - rather than eliminate the parking entirely. There could even be special exceptions for parents of seriously ill children, if routine visits are required.

I'd totally be in favor of that.
posted by zarq at 2:14 PM on July 13, 2010


Zarq's case is an unusual one

Really? In a city of several million people, it's unusual for someone to have two small children, one of whom needs to go to the doctor?
posted by The World Famous at 2:14 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"There are many places in the country, especially places that can support 2 Best Buys within a few miles of each other, where walking is either completely unfeasible or actually dangerous."

Yes, and as a person who insists in walking through these types of areas regardless, I can safely say that this is also part of the problem. Along with people who won't walk.
posted by Eideteker at 2:15 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


My "snark" was a response to MrMoonPie's suggestion that people with children should not live in metropolitan areas.
I never suggested such a thing. I have a child, and I live in a metropolitan area. Since that was the choice I (and you) made, I (and you) don't have any business complaining about the high cost of driving.
posted by MrMoonPie at 2:15 PM on July 13, 2010


I am simply pointing out that there are valid reasons why people might need to drive into the city that are arguably not selfish.

If you had driven, it would have been every bit as inconvenient and stressful. You would have spent an hour looking for parking. You would have spent a gajillionty dollars feeding the meter. You still would have had two toddlers underfoot in a big city. Which is my point - sometimes inconvenient and stressful things happen, and changing minor details about the chain of events is ultimately not going to affect the level of stress/inconvenience.

In a situation like that, we pick something to focus on such that, if only that thing had gone our way, everything would have been fine. What we pick to focus on depends on our general outlook on life. As a bike commuter, I'm likely to gripe about how if only drivers followed traffic laws, or if only pedestrians weren't such self-centered jerks. We bitch. It's human. Life goes on, as annoying as ever.
posted by Sara C. at 2:16 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


zarq, you're the person who introduced the word "selfish" into this. It's upsetting to be labelled selfish, but I think that is an interpretation you are picking up, not a term that was used in the articles.

The notion is that car drivers receive hidden subsidies. As an individual driver, it's not selfish for you to take advantage with your kids on that trip. But as a matter of policy, we can reasonably debate whether that subsidy is a good thing. Selfishness doesn't really come into it. Especially if we define ourselves as "people who need to get around" rather than "drivers", "cyclists", "pedestrians", "transit users".
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:17 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Incidentally, it's not just that us anti-car fanatics (or whatever you want to call us) want to take away suburbanites' cars and strand them in already-built, transit-less sprawl - at least some of us also think that rising energy costs and oil shortages are going to make driving much more expensive very soon (Lloyd's of London just issued a warning to businesses to prepare for peak oil), and we'd like to get started ASAP retrofitting our car-centric culture into one that isn't as petroleum dependent, so that we can be only really badly screwed instead of completely fucked when oil hits $20 a gallon.
posted by Tomorrowful at 2:18 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


A parking space only benefits one person or family, and only as storage for something that nobody else benefits from - in a city, where space is at a premium...

And some are willing to pay for it!

Boston Globe | June 11, 2009:
"An unidentified buyer yesterday paid $300,000 for a private parking space in the Back Bay, making it the most expensive parking space in Boston, according to Listing Information Network, which tracks the city's real estate market."
BTW -- it's outdoors and uncovered in the back alley.
posted by ericb at 2:18 PM on July 13, 2010


This is the price you pay for wanting to live as a part of human society, and not off the grid somewhere in Montana where you don't have to share anything with anybody.

So, the choices are "pay for parking" or "be neighbors with the unabomber"?
Seems like there ought to be more room for discussion that that.
posted by madajb at 2:23 PM on July 13, 2010


I (and you) don't have any business complaining about the high cost of driving.

Sorry if I came across as a bit harsh. I'm not complaining about the high cost of driving. I wish public transportation in my city worked better in terms of geographic coverage and hours or operation. I'm more likely to complain about the high cost of public transportation than the high cost of driving. I love driving, but I would take public transportation if it were a realistic option for me.

I live in a part of town that has no usable public transportation for my job. I chose to live there because it's the closest place to my office with good public schools. If there were good public schools in the urban area where I work, I would not hesitate to live right in the city. Likewise, if there were an area with good public schools that also had public transporation that I could realistically use to get to and from work, I would not hesitate to live there, either. I would much rather drive a fun car on the weekends for fun than sit in traffic with a slushbox all week.

But good public schools seem to be the one variable that people forget about when discussing how to get people to live closer to work and to drive less. My city could be the most walkable, public transportation friendly city in the universe and I would still drive to work if that was the way to get my kids to be in good public schools.
posted by The World Famous at 2:23 PM on July 13, 2010


everyone who gives me dirty looks for having the gall to take my kids on public transportation
...
passengers seemed to develop hearing problems en masse when I dared to ask.
...
their stroller kicked by commuters with nasty attitudes,
...
assholes loudly curse at their wives / partners on a cell phone
...
The contempt I'm expressing isn't for my neighbors.


uh...why on earth not?
posted by jacalata at 2:24 PM on July 13, 2010


Way to fund a national rail grid: charge people a nickel post a comment and start a thread about car tolls.
posted by 99_ at 2:29 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


I certainly hope that some of these people who are so frothy-mouthed with car hate are vegans, refuse to buy plastics, adopters of third-world children, etc, etc... Otherwise, maybe you should be mindful of your own glass houses.

This line of reasoning always bugs me. "You have no right to criticize X unless you are completely and totally beyond reproach." Well then! Since we're all guilty of damaging the environment in some way, I guess we should all just go about our business and not bother trying to articulate any possible alternatives or solutions.

I realize this is a complex issue. In the city I live in, 50% of available city land is devoted to the car in the form of roads and parking. Meanwhile, bus fares are climbing but service isn't improving, there are virtually no bike paths downtown, and trains? Ha, right. Yet whenever you bring up these problems, city hall always responds with "But this is a car town. The people have chosen to drive cars. We're just making it easier for them." Which is a cop-out, really, because a) they're not "making it easier for cars"; they're just not providing any alternatives, and b) car owners themselves want to see some alternatives.

I went to a neighborhood meeting filled with car owners where residents complained of the traffic islands caused by the elimination of some stop lights and stop signs, getting it to the point where their kids were afraid to cross the street to play with their friends. These car owners practically begged city council for increased bus service and other transportation alternatives. They even asked for more speed bumps!

This isn't "car hate" in the least. Increasing the viability of alternative forms of transportation is good for everyone, car owners included.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 2:29 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


With federal minimum wage at $7.24/hr, you're charging potentially 83% of their income to shop for an hour. Even at a more reasonable rate, say $15/hr., that's still 40% of their hourly rate just to park.

Look at it from the other end of the spectrum: it currently costs the person making minimum wage the exact same amount as it costs the asswipe latte-drinker in the Beemer to park overnight. A car is already a luxury in the city; this way, it doesn't make parking any more fair or egalitarian, but what it does do is provide nicer sidewalks, trash cans on the corners, etc. for Joe pedestrians.

You know, I bet there's a certain percentage of New Yorkers, a certain extremely wealthy segment, that must have their cars in the city, that would pay assloads if you could make street parking really exclusive.

This guy was talking about target vacany numbers of 10-15%. Which is to say, at any given moment, 10-15% of all available parking spots will be available. I say push it up to 95%. At that rate, only the exceptionally wealthy would park on the streets. But the kicker is, you know they're out there! You know they'll pay it, just to show everyone how much money they have! Look at me in my $450,000 car paying $500 an hour so I can park right in front of the club and keep an eye on everyone looking at my car!

This would totally work.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 2:31 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is an interesting discussion to be having, especially for larger metropolitan areas. Geographically though, it would be difficult to neigh impossible to implement in the majority of the US smaller cities and towns. I don't drive ALOT, but having a vehicle is pretty important in my area if you want to accomplish near anything significant.


What I wish would happen in conjunction with increased mass transit availability and quality (in the larger areas) is support in these smaller communities on a State wide level for infrastructure to be implemented to allow for access to the larger population areas hooked up to the metro mass transit. In Minnesota (for example), there is ongoing talks about reinstating the rail service between Duluth (where I live) and the twin cities. If that rail service linked up to the relatively new light rail service, which could take you to the airport, Amtrack downtown/s, major points of interest I would very rarely drive my car the 130 miles to the Twinkies ever again, and that would be one less car on the road in a congested environment.
posted by edgeways at 2:32 PM on July 13, 2010


The notion is that car drivers receive hidden subsidies.

Passenger rail, both inter-city and urban also receive subsidies and, is generally more expensive than driving:

Automobiles continue to maintain a huge cost advantage over passenger rail. Counting both subsidies and personal costs, Americans spend less than 25 cents a passenger mile on autos, nearly 60 cents a passenger mile on Amtrak, and more than 90 cents a passenger mile on urban transit.

From this, interesting article, advocating driverless cars as a better solution to the mobility problem. The article doesn't address where they would park, but does suggest, without backing it up, that driverless cars could lead to more car sharing.
posted by IanMorr at 2:32 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Americans spend less than 25 cents a passenger mile on autos, nearly 60 cents a passenger mile on Amtrak, and more than 90 cents a passenger mile on urban transit

You need a better source than an unsourced op-ed by somebody from the Cato Institute if you want people to take those numbers at all seriously.
posted by enn at 2:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]


IanMorr: "nearly 60 cents a passenger mile on Amtrak"

Look, I know the thread's been weird and fighty, but there's no reason to drop Amtrak into things. (I worked for Amtrak. Culturally, they couldn't manage a bucket.)
posted by boo_radley at 2:36 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Passenger rail, both inter-city and urban also receive subsidies and, is generally more expensive than driving

Do you have a cite for that? I would love to see it. And how do you define "more expensive"- are you including the costs of oil dependency? Because I doubt very much you are.

Every mode of transportation is subsidized. It's appropriate to subsidize mass transit, from a policy perspective. Mass transit benefits even people who never use it themselves, in the form of less congestion, better air quality, and so forth.
posted by ambrosia at 2:37 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


We have $6 parking in Chicago but I always thought it was just graft. Who knew!

SINGLE, NO KIDS, DISABLED, YANKEE HATER

posted by jtron at 2:40 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Talking of actual numbers: a lot of people will tolerate a 15-minute car trip that takes 30 minutes by bus, but not one that regularly takes an unpredictable 30-90 minutes by bus due to the slower speed of buses, connection times, and the unreliability of arrival and departure times (and this is in the Bay Area). One highly-trafficked trip I had to habitually make takes about 1.5 hours door-to-door by car, 2.5 to 3 hours on paper by public transit, and 3.5 to 4 hours by public transit under actual travel conditions.
posted by hat at 2:44 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


So, the choices are "pay for parking" or "be neighbors with the unabomber"?

Yeah, pretty much.

Just like the choices are "pay taxes so that somebody else's kid can go to school" or "be neighbors with the unabomber", "wait patiently for the light to turn green" or "be neighbors with the unabomber", etc. Urban* life requires us to make certain sacrifices, both social and financial, for the good of the community.

*Suburban and rural as well, of course, though in different ways.
posted by Sara C. at 2:46 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


So, the choices are "pay for parking" or "be neighbors with the unabomber"?
Seems like there ought to be more room for discussion that that.


Paying for parking isn't exactly the urban living equivalent to being neighbours with the unabomber, and its absurd to suggest that it is, so I hope when the time comes you'll make the pleasant choice. Here in Toronto there is no free parking anywhere but your own driveway, if you're lucky enough to own one. I know I greatly prefer my current neighbours to the unabomber in spite of it.
posted by renderthis at 2:49 PM on July 13, 2010


What's actually the worst about off-street parking requirements is that they're often applied to center cities, i.e. walkable places which are served by transit. So developers have to build their several stories of parking -- and then charge you an extra $40-50K for your condo. It artificially elevates the price of urban living, making it less competitive with the suburbs.

Last year in Toronto, in a piece of land too narrow to accommodate a regular parking structure, a developer asked to be allowed to build a car-free condo. Planning staff were vehemently opposed:

"To assume a residential development of the project's scale might be totally car-free runs counter to expert study and experience," the staff report stated. "Although there are many households in the downtown (area) without cars, it would be highly unlikely to find 315 of them permanently concentrated in one building."

Politicians overruled staff and gave the project a green light last fall. It's already sold 95% of its units. Did I mention that the condo is on a subway line?

It sickens me to see condo towers going up right next to Union Station in downtown Toronto, with hundreds of required parking spaces. Let people make their own choices about the damn $50K parking spot!
posted by parudox at 2:51 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Urban* life requires us to make certain sacrifices, both social and financial, for the good of the community.

And if I disagree about which "sacrifices" we should make, I am apparently anti-community.
Good to know.
posted by madajb at 2:53 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Here's where I plug one of my favorite documentaries ever...Taken For A Ride.
posted by Xoebe at 2:53 PM on July 13, 2010


What I don't get is why they don't put solar panels over parking lots. All that space is entirely wasted, and they they're usually lit up crazy-bright at night. It's an insane waste of energy.
posted by delmoi at 2:53 PM on July 13, 2010


geoff: With federal minimum wage at $7.24/hr, you're charging potentially 83% of their income to shop for an hour.
My car has just been declared terminally ill so I've been looking into auto finances. It seems that my old car has cost me about $5 per hour of driving time. That's about 70% of what a minimum wage earner grosses per hour.

It could be that a person earning minimum wage can't comfortably afford to be part of the happy motoring lifestyle at all, regardless of the cost of parking. That's not a fact I applaud or celebrate, but I think it's true and it may be unavoidable.
posted by Western Infidels at 2:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


I bike commute every day, and my last trip to SF (from the distant burbs) to the de Young was by public transport. That said, this idea sucks.
Generally, public transportation sucks. The time it costs is huge. A trip to SF costs us a ton, and takes hours longer than if we did it by car. I try to be a good citizen and take BART and busses, but life sure is easier by car.
When I go to Berkeley on Wednesday I'll take BART, but I know it will end up costing me at least 2 extra hours.
posted by cccorlew at 2:57 PM on July 13, 2010


If you had driven, it would have been every bit as inconvenient and stressful. You would have spent an hour looking for parking. You would have spent a gajillionty dollars feeding the meter. You still would have had two toddlers underfoot in a big city. Which is my point - sometimes inconvenient and stressful things happen, and changing minor details about the chain of events is ultimately not going to affect the level of stress/inconvenience.

In a situation like that, we pick something to focus on such that, if only that thing had gone our way, everything would have been fine. What we pick to focus on depends on our general outlook on life.


I've done both the car and mass transit with the kids. My own experience with the former has been a lot less stressful. Now I freely admit that what I find inconvenient and stressful is entirely subjective. But I would be willing to bet that if you asked a bunch of parents in my situation which experience they'd rather have, they'd choose the car.

When you maintain the environment around your kids, they can they be easier to manage. It can also free you from having to focus on ways other people might be interacting with or around them. Yes, while driving you have to deal with the traffic and parking and other things in your external environment which are also not within your control. But within your vehicle, your kids are in a sort of bubble and there are advantages to that.

The mass transit route isn't a deal breaker for me. As I (and you) said, life happens. But given a choice I'd rather drive.

As a bike commuter, I'm likely to gripe about how if only drivers followed traffic laws, or if only pedestrians weren't such self-centered jerks. We bitch. It's human. Life goes on, as annoying as ever.

Very true.
posted by zarq at 3:04 PM on July 13, 2010


And if I disagree about which "sacrifices" we should make, I am apparently anti-community.
Good to know.


I think it's generally agreed that subsidizing other people's choices, even if they're not your choices, is a part of the social contract.
posted by Sara C. at 3:05 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


IanMorr: Automobiles continue to maintain a huge cost advantage over passenger rail. Counting both subsidies and personal costs, Americans spend less than 25 cents a passenger mile on autos...
Tell me how to get down to $0.25 per mile in a private car. Please. Pretty please with sugar on top. No car I've researched (new or used) has an estimated ownership cost much below $0.40 per mile, and it's easy to find models at $0.70 or more.

My 12-year-old, commendably-fuel-efficient, purchased-used rust-bucket has racked up a total personal cost of $0.32 per mile, not counting the occasional paid parking spot, and I live in a town where insurance, gas, and parking are all relatively cheap.

How do subsidies figure in? I mean, I'm ultimately paying for those, too, after all, so if you're talking averages, you'd think the average benefits minus the average costs would come to zero. Or less, once you figure there's some overhead to pay people to implement the system.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:14 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


What I don't get is why they don't put solar panels over parking lots. All that space is entirely wasted, and they they're usually lit up crazy-bright at night. It's an insane waste of energy.

What's kind of cool is that people are actually starting to do this. UCSD has a bunch of solar panels on one of their garages. I mean, yeah, I'd like it if this were more widespread, but it's a start.
posted by millions of peaches at 3:14 PM on July 13, 2010


I think it's generally agreed that subsidizing other people's choices, even if they're not your choices, is a part of the social contract.

Uh, I thought this thread was about people being upset that they had to subsidize the cost of other people choosing to drive a car into the city. Is that part of the social contract too, then?

Which I think was point of the comment you responded to; that someone who disagrees with a specific "sacrifice" is not necessarily anti-community. They may just have a different opinion on the efficacy of that specific sacrifice.
posted by jsonic at 3:19 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


Passenger rail, both inter-city and urban also receive subsidies and, is generally more expensive than driving

Here's what the MTA (NY) reported in March regarding the LIRR, when they were attempting to ask the state government to increase their funding. I suspect that their numbers not only reflect inherent bureaucratic inefficiency, but are biased upwards simply because they were trying to beg for money. But no one is really doing independent audits, so this is the "best" info we have.
The branches with the fewest customers are the most costly to run and - on a percentage basis - require the greatest subsidies.
For example, the Greenport Branch carried the fewest customers in 2009, a total of 69,986, generating $726,304 in revenue, while it cost the LIRR $6 million to operate. While the average fare is $10.38, the actual LIRR cost of providing a ride is $85.91 per customer, for a subsidy per ride of about $75.53. Fare box revenue - money collected from ticket sales - covers only 12% of the actual cost of running trains between Ronkonkoma and Greenport.
By comparison, the Babylon Branch is the LIRR’s busiest and generated more revenue in 2009 - $134 million - than any other line. Last year, it carried 19,682,188 passengers at an average ticket price of $6.81, but the actual cost of each ride on Babylon was $13.25. The subsidy per ride was about $6.44. Fare box revenue still only covered 51% of the actual cost of running trains between Penn Station and Babylon. Systemwide, the actual cost of a LIRR ride is $14.68. Yet, the average customer pays an average price of $6.46, only 44% of the total cost.
Further info from the Room 8 blog. They looked at the 2007 National Transit Database data. I assume that comes from MTA reports?
The data shows that the total cost New York City Transit pays to operate a subway car for an hour is lower than any comparable system other than Chicago, which apparently wasn’t paying enough of its pension, retiree health care, and track maintenance cost in recent years, resulting in a massive fiscal collapse and a near meltdown in service. Long Island Railroad and MetroNorth costs to operate each rail car for an hour were much higher than the subway -- and other similar commuter rail systems. NYCT buses do not have a similar advantage per revenue vehicle hour, and are in fact relatively expensive due to relatively high costs per employee work hour. NYCT bus costs are among the lowest per trip, however, as its buses are fuller. The subway covered 67% of its operating costs in 2007, down from prior years but better than virtually any other public system, MetroNorth (59.3%), the LIRR (46.3%), or PATH (41.4%). NYCT buses covered 36.9% of their operating costs, better than most but about the same as Westchester’s Bee Line (36.2%) and Long Island Bus (34.9%), something I hadn’t expected.

posted by zarq at 3:19 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, according to Gas Cubby, I'm paying $0.13 a mile on my wife's Civic and the same on my Camry and that's not including car payments, insurance, or maintenance. I call bullshit.
posted by entropicamericana at 3:24 PM on July 13, 2010


The branches with the fewest customers are the most costly to run and - on a percentage basis - require the greatest subsidies.

This tends to be a universal vicious circle when it comes to mass transportation. It's less appealing for car owners to take a bus, so fewer people use it, so revenues reduce, so greater subsidies are needed. If it continues, bus stops are taken off routes or routes can get shut down, making the service even less appealing to potential commuters. Part of the problem, I believe, is in city planning, in that the sort of "well everyone's driving cars so let's give the people what we think they want" mentality tends to prevail. A better example of doing it right is Curitiba, Brazil. It's a great example of a major urban center that saw a pretty rapid population boom, and dealt with it creatively and effectively, for the most part.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:29 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


"I certainly hope that some of these people who are so frothy-mouthed with car hate are vegans, refuse to buy plastics, adopters of third-world children, etc, etc... Otherwise, maybe you should be mindful of your own glass houses."

This line of reasoning always bugs me. "You have no right to criticize X unless you are completely and totally beyond reproach." Well then! Since we're all guilty of damaging the environment in some way, I guess we should all just go about our business and not bother trying to articulate any possible alternatives or solutions.


It's not about having no right to criticize. I feel that there should be open discussion about these sorts of issues.

Rather, it is about the utterly self-righteous, condescending, sanctimonious tone that certain very opinionated individuals invariably bring to these threads. That's as unproductive as it is tiresome.
posted by kaseijin at 3:34 PM on July 13, 2010


Western Infidels: It seems that my old car has cost me about $5 per hour of driving time.
At the risk of casting doubt on any and all figures I have ever posted on the internet, I must confess that I made a silly mistake figuring the $5/hour thing. That's not right.

It's been more like $9 per hour of driving time. Transportation is expensive.
posted by Western Infidels at 3:34 PM on July 13, 2010


And yes. If you are going to approach a discussion from atop that sort of holier-than-thou pedestal, then you'd better be confident that you are indeed as holy as you purport to be, or you'd better be prepared to get called on your sanctimony.

Note, please, that this does not include everybody who has an anti-car opinion.
posted by kaseijin at 3:37 PM on July 13, 2010


My 12-year-old, commendably-fuel-efficient, purchased-used rust-bucket has racked up a total personal cost of $0.32 per mile

Is that just to move you? The average auto carries 1.63 people.
posted by IanMorr at 3:40 PM on July 13, 2010


If you are going to approach a discussion from atop that sort of holier-than-thou pedestal, then you'd better be confident that you are indeed as holy as you purport to be, or you'd better be prepared to get called on your sanctimony.

Note, please, that this does not include everybody who has an anti-car opinion.


The thing about this is, I think you're reading a tone into people's comments that isn't really there. People are frustrated with car traffic. There are a variety of causes from car traffic. Even car drivers get frustrated with car traffic. I'm also not seeing an "anti-car opinion" in this thread. I've seen people advocate for reducing the hours spent driving, or where, or that parking should be paid for.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 3:42 PM on July 13, 2010


What I don't get is why they don't put solar panels over parking lots.

Contra Costa Community Colleges (SF Bay Area) have installed panels over their lots and are saving a lot in enegry costs.
posted by cccorlew at 3:47 PM on July 13, 2010


I wish cities would do the exact same thing with property tax on vacant units. Raise the rates for vacant property. Keep raising them until the vacancy rates approach some healthy fixed target.. say, 10%. The more it costs landlords to sit and do nothing with property, the quicker they'll drop rents to reasonable numbers, or sell to people that will actually use the space. We can call it the Shit or Get Off the Pot Act of 2010.

This is such a spectacularly good idea that it actually hurts my brain. And, seeing as I participate in a cbco housing task force, I'm actually going to start fighting for this in my hometown.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 4:00 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


advocating driverless cars as a better solution to the mobility problem.

Funny how frequently Cato and Reason oppose practical, proven, existing policies and technologies (like mass transit and high speed rail) and in the same breath propose technologies that either don't work or don't even exist yet, like "Personal Rapid Transit" and now "driverless cars."

Taking the driver out of the car wouldn't do anything to eliminate congestion or traffic delays, and how are you going to stop some hacker from taking a page from "The Italian Job" and start re-directing all those driverless cars off course?

Give me some good old mass transit, with some nice bike lanes and pedestrian-friendly planning any day. Driverless cars? Pfffft.
posted by ambrosia at 4:33 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm getting my MCP in transportation, so this stuff is sort of my bread and butter. I was going to avoid this thread, because I actually don't like arguing at all, but I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame, and here I am.

A few points I have.

1) A policy that discourages driving does not make driving impossible. This is really important and as I read through the comments, I think a lot of people are missing it. The thing about driving is that there are costs involved that are not out-of-pocket and thus people vastly underestimate them: A car takes up a lot more room in a city than does a pedestrian, a bicycle, or a seat on a bus. Cities that are built to accommodate every person having his or her own car are sprawling and not on a walkable, human scale--indeed, they are alienating and unlivable for anyone who cannot have a car. (And not everyone can afford a car and not everyone is able or eligible to drive a car: That is part of my problem with cities that are built around the automobile). However, a policy that makes driving more expensive (here we take expense to include time and inconvenience, not just money) will encourage people to consider their options--Is the store 1/2 a mile away and does it have 5 free parking spaces and then a pay lot next door? Well, why not walk? Why not bike? Is it 3 miles away? Why not take that bus you see all the time? Some people will choose to get to the store another way, or not go, or go to another store. But if you really need or want to drive to that store and park there, you will still be able to do so. Maybe enough people were deterred from driving that you can get one of those five free spaces. Or, if not, if you can afford to own and upkeep a car, and you made the decision to drive it to the store, you can afford to pay an hour's rent for your giant vehicle to occupy a public space. The world does not owe you a free parking space any more so than it owes you a free space for you to pitch a tent and camp for a few hours. To believe it does is one of the greatest fallacies of our time.

2) It is important to remember that policies that encourage driving (like free parking) discourage public transit use, because when driving is more convenient and cheap than taking transit, people do it. Few people on transit = underfunded, unreliable transit (usually buses) with headways of 30 minutes or more. Buses on roads that are heavy with auto traffic are slow. The only people who ride them are people who can't afford cars. As I noted above, it is bad for the physical form and social structure of cities as a whole for everything to be built on the scale of the automobile. It is also, as you all are aware, bad for the environment.

3) There is absolutely room in the world for the automobile. There is even room for the automobile in cities. New York City would be a weird, scary place with no cars on any road whatsoever. I witnessed an approximation of this once, and it was September 12, 2001. There is a difference between "OMIGOD NO ONE SHOULD DRIVE IN CITIES IT'S SO STUPID STOP IT" and "cities should enact policies that generally encourage people to take transit and forgo driving and parking." Even if you drive, you should support these policies. Why? Because they make traffic lighter. These policies weed. They weed people who were on the edge, people who could take transit but just felt like driving instead, because the costs were about the same. Stories like "I live far from transit and it's really inconvenient and I have to take my sick toddler to the doctor" are not relevant to these policies, because people who need to drive--people for whom the disutility of taking transit is always going to outweigh the disutility of driving--can and should still drive.

Further, in small cities and in more rural areas, of course it makes sense to drive and of course it makes sense to have free parking. The cost of land use should reflect the value of the land. Parking in Manhattan is expensive because land in Manhattan is expensive. There is high demand for it, because there's not much of it compared to how many people want to use it. In a small city or rural area with lots of open space, this isn't the case. It would be foolish to charge for parking at your Walmart in rural Idaho. Nobody's saying to do that.

4) There really doesn't need to be this strife between non-drivers and drivers. I believe I saw a reference to sipping a latte? This need not be a polarizing, political issue. There's room for everyone in good transportation policy. It's just important for drivers to remember that their driving behavior, for better or worse, has hidden costs to it, and it's unfair not to acknowledge them. The world, I reiterate, does not owe you a free parking space. Nor does it owe me a free Trailpass or Metrocard.

(A few friends and I won the nationwide Transportation Finance Video Contest this year--yes, the nerdiest thing in the world does exist. It would constitute self-linking to post our video here, but if anyone wants to see it, memail me. The theme was that the general public does not know anything about transportation finance--I stand by that assertion. )
posted by millipede at 4:35 PM on July 13, 2010 [46 favorites]


Taking the driver out of the car wouldn't do anything to eliminate congestion or traffic delays

As much as I think driverless cars are a dumb idea, taking the driver out of the car would definitely do a ton to eliminate congestion and traffic delays, assuming that the driving would be automated and that it would communicate at the very least with the other cars around it and set its speed, lane changes, etc., according to halfway decent programming.

and how are you going to stop some hacker from taking a page from "The Italian Job" and start re-directing all those driverless cars off course?

Given that the hackers in both the original "The Italian Job" and the more recent re-make hacked existing traffic light systems, I guess you would stop those imaginary hackers in the same way that we currently stop them from hacking current traffic light systems.

But yeah, driverless cars pffft, I'm with you there. "Good old mass transit?" When it's good, it's great. But mass transit is like an old Fender tube amp's volume knob: There's really no middle ground between great and terrible.
posted by The World Famous at 4:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Fair enough, The World Famous. Mostly I was thinking that a driveless car would occupy the same amount of lane space on the road as a car piloted by a human. And yes, when mass transit isn't great, it's craptacular. But it's still better than vaporware like driverless cars.

Mostly though I'd like to prioritize making mass transit work better (more convenient, more frequent, more reliable) as it benefits people who take it and people who for whatever reason still need to use a car.
posted by ambrosia at 4:46 PM on July 13, 2010


The world does not owe you a free parking space any more so than it owes you a free space for you to pitch a tent and camp for a few hours.

Well said, millipede.
posted by Go Banana at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2010


Funny how frequently Cato and Reason oppose practical, proven, existing policies and technologies (like mass transit and high speed rail) and in the same breath propose technologies that either don't work or don't even exist yet, like "Personal Rapid Transit" and now "driverless cars."

It's a well-honed tactic: whenever there's a suggestion to spend money on tested forms of transportation, the auto and construction industries hires sprawl advocates to talk about the Flying Car Future. Sad truth is that spewing BS on future transport, where there's barely any there there to be factchecked, has proved to be a good way to persuade gullible and credulous people with existing gut prejudices against trains and buses. Shills and shysters have polluted the debate.
posted by holgate at 4:52 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think it's generally agreed that subsidizing other people's choices, even if they're not your choices, is a part of the social contract.

I don't believe I have said otherwise.

The "social contract", as you put it, is not either/or.
Simply because I do not believe raising taxes or fees on parking/driving is a good idea does not mean I am somehow anti-society.

You are reading far too much into my objections.
posted by madajb at 5:02 PM on July 13, 2010


If these smart meters that adjust their price according to use, could also tell your iphone where the nearest available space was, or the space nearest your destination, I think people would happily pay, pay a premium even, because then the meters are providing a service, not a punishment, relative to free lots - you get to go directly to the best rockstar parking available, and you get the piece of mind of knowing that there isn't a better space, so it's safe to take this one.

As Kadin2048 points out, people avoid pay lots because they feel they're being ripped off - their time and money is buying nothing that isn't already free elsewhere.
Turn that around - make parking meters a valuable service.

I go a long way to avoid pay parking, but I'd be rushing to give my money to those meters!
posted by -harlequin- at 5:05 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


millipede, it's ok to put a relevant self-link in a comment...I'd love to see your video if you have a moment to post it.
posted by lalex at 5:15 PM on July 13, 2010


Tell me how to get down to $0.25 per mile in a private car. Please. Pretty please with sugar on top. No car I've researched (new or used) has an estimated ownership cost much below $0.40 per mile, and it's easy to find models at $0.70 or more.

Given that I've just purchased a car (babies, apparently, require their own seats. Damn government mandates), my cost per mile so far is, according to my back of the napkin math, $1,322.

However, if I keep it for the same length of time as the old one, and drive approximately the same mileage (unlikely, since I don't commute anymore) the cost per mile drops to 31 cents.

This is, of course, barring a major increase in oil prices and/or a catastrophic maintenance issue.
I know it's based on assumptions, but had I gotten a cheaper car, 25 cents doesn't seem out of the realm of possibility.
posted by madajb at 5:17 PM on July 13, 2010


Is Faze stuck in traffic? He should have been here hours ago.
posted by nicwolff at 5:26 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


millipede, it's ok to put a relevant self-link in a comment...I'd love to see your video if you have a moment to post it.

Okay, here is the video! (You can hear me talking to Vaso and to Nerissa, and I did the animations).


(if it turns out this isn't actually allowed, please delete and I'm very sorry!)
posted by millipede at 5:35 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


There are companies (such as this one) with smart meter technology available. The problem is convincing municipal governments to buy in.
posted by Go Banana at 5:54 PM on July 13, 2010


Self-righteousness is a big fail as a strategy for re-urbanization.

To reverse the suburbanization trend, one needs policies that make city living competitive with the suburbs -- you know, actually appeal to people as market actors, not culture-seeking hipsters or self-sacrificers.

The most stupid thing, of course, is education policies which give middle class parents the choice among suburbs, private school tuition, or schools overwhelmed with the problems of the urban underclass, but that's for another thread.

But hard on that in the stupidity stakes are anti-car policies. In the zeal to get families down to zero cars, which is simply inconceivable for the vast majority of non-impoverished parents, you make sure a heck of lot of people stick with their two cars in the suburbs rather than one car in the garage of their condo building. Creatively pro-car policies and business developments -- like a sufficient stock of Zip cars you don't have to worry about availability -- would be a great victory.
posted by MattD at 6:05 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]


Best self-link ever.
posted by Aizkolari at 6:10 PM on July 13, 2010


Most if not all the arguments made in this thread talk about car use in terms of some utilitarian calculation ("driving is OK when you do X... but not when you do Y"). But this totally overlooks a very important reason why people drive, namely because it's fun. Regardless of all the taxes, the "traffic calming" measures, roundabouts and other nuisances the planners come up with, people like to drive. The search for ways to reduce this pleasure or to make people feel bad about it, no matter how well-intentioned, well, it's a little totalitarian.
posted by eeeeeez at 6:22 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This seems similar to the idea of the congestion charge levied in London (and here in Stockholm.).... Congestion is as bad as ever and it just costs more.

Not true.

"The Stockholm Congestion Charging System... has reduced traffic in the Swedish capital by 18 percent, and the proportion of green, tax-exempt vehicles has risen to 9 percent. Access to the city has improved significantly with a reduction in travel times on inner city streets and approach roads."

Disclaimer: I work for IBM. Not in this country, not on this topic - basically I know no more about it than the average person on the street would, but I do work for IBM nonetheless.
posted by smoke at 6:39 PM on July 13, 2010


people like to drive

Do they? In dense urban areas, like what we're discussing? Have you ever sat in traffic for an hour in the Lincoln Tunnel? Have you ever sat in traffic for an hour on 34th Street? Did you look around and see people having a great time?

People tend to take scenic, car-commercial-esque joy-drives on open roads in less populated areas. Hey, I'm a transportation planner, and even I love to drive really fast while singing loudly late, late, late at night on the Florida Turnpike between Boca and Ft. Lauderdale. Yes, driving can be great fun. But I simply cannot imagine anyone's idea of fun driving being the kind of driving that can be done in the middle of cities. Hence, your argument is a straw man and I am going to put clothes on it and turn it into a scarecrow. Caw.
posted by millipede at 6:51 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


To reverse the suburbanization trend, one needs policies that make city living competitive with the suburbs

"Nobody goes there any more, it's too crowded."

as market actors, not culture-seeking hipsters or self-sacrificers.

Are 'market actors' people who pretend to sell vegetables? Do they hang out with the straw men you're introducing us to?
posted by holgate at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2010


But I simply cannot imagine anyone's idea of fun driving being the kind of driving that can be done in the middle of cities.

I found commuting in Southern California kind of relaxing in a zen sort of way.
It was certainly more relaxing that taking public transit would have been.

However, I only did it for a couple of years, and I don't do it anymore.
posted by madajb at 7:08 PM on July 13, 2010


Someone suggested unthread that hospitals should have free parking. I disagree. That would raise the expenses of a facility that should be spending its money on health care. And in most countries, those expenses are our taxes. In medium and high density areas in my city, medical centre parking is not free. This is called a user fee. My hospital has a parking garage, it is not free. It cost millions to build so some people could put their cars away. Free car storage does not appear in our health system specifications.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


But this totally overlooks a very important reason why people drive, namely because it's fun.

What's fun is zipping and weaving in and out of all cars gridlocked during rush hour on my bike*. I'm not sure those drivers enjoy their commute as much as I do mine.

I sold my car for a lot of reasons but the main one was that driving in a city fucking sucks.
posted by bradbane at 7:21 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


* Lane splitting is legal in California.
posted by bradbane at 7:22 PM on July 13, 2010


Someone suggested unthread that hospitals should have free parking. I disagree. That would raise the expenses of a facility that should be spending its money on health care. And in most countries, those expenses are our taxes. In medium and high density areas in my city, medical centre parking is not free. This is called a user fee. My hospital has a parking garage, it is not free. It cost millions to build so some people could put their cars away. Free car storage does not appear in our health system specifications.

I think there might be a strong bias here due to the fact that many/most of the people who've been commenting in this thread - myself included - live in the US, where health care is a godawful mess that is not necessarily paid for through taxes. Most of us experience health care as a huge mess that is (and I do not exaggerate when I say this) so stressful as to induce other health problems, which leads to us being perhaps especially eager to try to alleviate that stress and difficulty however we can - in this case, by suggesting that it should be easy to park at a hospital, as a patient or to visit a patient. If medical expenses didn't regularly result in bankruptcies in my country, I'd probably be more willing to suggest that people pay to park; as it is, I'm quite eager to give a hand to stressed, possibly-going-broke hospital patients and their families.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:35 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


To reverse the suburbanization trend, one needs policies that make city living competitive with the suburbs -- you know, actually appeal to people as market actors, not culture-seeking hipsters or self-sacrificers.

So someone interested in culture, who lives in the city for that reason, isn't being a market actor? Fascinating. As for the reversal of the suburbanization trend, nothing in this thread is really about reversing suburbanization; we're simply talking about adopting policies that place cost burdens on the people who benefit from them, instead of externalizing them. To look at it another way, we're talking about policies that give urban density a fair market value, instead of subsidizing car-centric construction that reduces the utility of a city.

But hard on that in the stupidity stakes are anti-car policies. In the zeal to get families down to zero cars, which is simply inconceivable for the vast majority of non-impoverished parents, you make sure a heck of lot of people stick with their two cars in the suburbs rather than one car in the garage of their condo building. Creatively pro-car policies and business developments -- like a sufficient stock of Zip cars you don't have to worry about availability -- would be a great victory.

Who exactly is zealous about getting families down to zero cars? Well, okay, I guess I am. But not in this thread. The bulk of this discussion - and the initial post - has been about reducing unnecessary car usage and encouraging viable alternatives like public transit; a number of us have repeatedly pointed at the advantages for car drivers if there are fewer cars on the road, like easier parking and reduced congestion.
posted by Tomorrowful at 7:49 PM on July 13, 2010


Someone suggested unthread that hospitals should have free parking. I disagree. That would raise the expenses of a facility that should be spending its money on health care. And in most countries, those expenses are our taxes. In medium and high density areas in my city, medical centre parking is not free. This is called a user fee. My hospital has a parking garage, it is not free. It cost millions to build so some people could put their cars away. Free car storage does not appear in our health system specifications.

One of our local hospitals will validate parking stubs so patients don't have to pay, under the following conditions:

1) You are pregnant, and are coming in for a scan or treatment of some sort. Or if you are pregnant and have been checked into the hospital for any reason, then a family member (such as a husband, wife or partner) can have their pass validated when they come to visit.
2) You have just given birth. (The nurses stamped my parking pass every single time I visited my wife in the maternity ward. If I tried to leave the floor for any reason, they reminded me like clockwork. I was massively sleep deprived, and it was hugely appreciated.)
3) If you are visiting a hospice patient, or if your relative or friend has passed away while a patient.
4) If you are a parent and your child is in the pediatric ER or has been checked into the hospital.
5) If you have come for a certification / training class, such as CPR (or breastfeeding.)
6) Blood donation.
7) With restrictions, if you are visiting a cancer patient.
8) With restrictions, if you are visiting the NICU.
9) With restrictions, if you are picking up a patient who is being discharged.

There are probably other criteria that I'm not aware of.

Of course, validation is a small gesture. But it's a nice one.
posted by zarq at 7:58 PM on July 13, 2010


If I drive into Manhattan from Queens across a toll bridge, then that toll I pay helps maintain the roads throughout this city. Assuming you live in New York and don't drive, you benefit from that but don't contribute to it. Why? Because nearly everything sold at a local restaurant or business as well as most of your mail and goods were driven into the city on those same roads.

You're forgetting the part where I pay my share of those tolls by patronizing those businesses. Just because I got free super-duper shipping on my order doesn't mean I didn't end up paying some portion of the toll so that the delivery truck can double-park at the end of the block—I did. If road tolls were expanded to cover actual miles driven (so that the people who use more pay more, rather than having even non-driving taxpayers subsidize your driving), I would still end up having those costs passed on to me.

You can't say I'm not paying for road upkeep just because I don't walk around with an E-ZPass transponder strapped to my forehead.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 8:00 PM on July 13, 2010


Just because I got free super-duper shipping on my order doesn't mean I didn't end up paying some portion of the toll so that the delivery truck can double-park at the end of the block—I did.

That's true, and didn't occur to me.

The price of the goods you buy is no doubt raised by costs incurred by the shipping company, and one of those costs has to be the toll they had to pay to bring them into the city.

The difference here is that you're sharing the cost of that one toll with everyone else who buys the stuff shipped in on that truck. So the effect of your contribution is no doubt similarly diluted. Your contribution shouldn't be dismissed. But perhaps it should be considered in that perspective.
posted by zarq at 8:05 PM on July 13, 2010


Free parking is not a problem San Francisco needs to worry about.
posted by zeoslap at 9:20 PM on July 13, 2010


Eighty-seven percent of all trips are made by personal vehicle and 99 percent of those trips arrive at a free parking space."

Huh. About five percent of my trips are made in my personal vehicle and maaaybe half of those involve free parking.

To reverse the suburbanization trend, one needs policies that make city living competitive with the suburbs -- you know, actually appeal to people as market actors, not culture-seeking hipsters or self-sacrificers.

If we're going to just fling around stereotypes, I've got plenty to say about the suburbanites. My co-workers who drive into the city and then bitch about their commute and the cost of parking and the price of gas for their SUV while they sneer at city dwelling for bizarrely superficial and uninformed reasons, whew.
posted by desuetude at 9:28 PM on July 13, 2010


you're sharing the cost of that one toll with everyone else who buys the stuff shipped in on that truck

Right, and I'm sharing the cost of maintenance and gas and the driver's salary, too.

My point was that the purchasers of items brought in over toll bridges end up paying their share of those tolls. Nobody is subsidizing the roads on their behalf.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:39 PM on July 13, 2010


(Not drivers, anyway.)
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:39 PM on July 13, 2010


A toll typically offsets the cost of the bridge it is placed on, nothing more. The total cost of road infrastructure is absolutely massive and the vast majority of that is subsidized by the taxpayer, regardless of how frequently they use it.
posted by mek at 10:51 PM on July 13, 2010


A toll typically offsets the cost of the bridge it is placed on, nothing more. The total cost of road infrastructure is absolutely massive and the vast majority of that is subsidized by the taxpayer, regardless of how frequently they use it.

I realize that you're from Canada and as such can't be expected to know this, but it's common knowledge (or should be) to pretty much any native New Yorker who follows MTA fare / Bridge and Tunnel toll increases that all tolled East River crossings (the RFK bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) and all tolled Hudson River crossings (GW Bridge, Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel) here pay for far more than bridge upkeep. They're used to maintain the roads, help with upkeep of the non-tolled bridges (Queensborough / Manhattan Bridges) and to help subsidize the MTA's mass transit systems.

It doesn't always work out the way it's supposed to, though. There have been complaints in recent years that toll revenue traditionally allocated to the non-tolled bridges has been siphoned away by the MTA to cover the subways, and as a result they're in less than exemplary condition.

This is one of the reasons why there's a huge uproar every time a mayor (like Bloomberg) tries to put forth a plan that would establish a toll on the non-tolled crossings. In addition to the principle of the thing, New Yorkers know that the tolls aren't needed for those bridges and balk at the suggestion.
posted by zarq at 11:27 PM on July 13, 2010


It's the same for those crossings run by the Port Authority, like the GWB.
posted by zarq at 11:29 PM on July 13, 2010


My point was that the purchasers of items brought in over toll bridges end up paying their share of those tolls. Nobody is subsidizing the roads on their behalf.

I disagree. My point was that the purchasers of those items are paying a tiny fraction of the cost that the people who actually pay the tolls do. So yes, the roads are in fact being subsidized most substantially by the drivers, and also to a very small extent by the people who buy stuff in NYC but don't pay tolls on those roads.
posted by zarq at 11:33 PM on July 13, 2010


My point was that the purchasers of items brought in over toll bridges end up paying their share of those tolls.

To clarify further... they are collectively paying their share of the tolls, yes. If say, 1000 people buy the goods carried by a single truck, covering that truck's single round trip in and out of the city over the Throgs Neck Bridge, then yes, they'd pay their share. Which would be $11 / 1000, assuming it's a two axle vehicle.

Approximately 111,000 vehicles cross the Throgs Neck every day. That volume, a high percentage of which is passenger cars, keep those tolls low by generating large amounts of income.
posted by zarq at 11:42 PM on July 13, 2010


My point was that the purchasers of those items are paying a tiny fraction of the cost that the people who actually pay the tolls do.

And they put a tiny fraction of wear and tear on the roads thereby as compared to people who regularly drive across those bridges. It's hardly revolutionary to call for people who use more of something to pay more.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 12:17 AM on July 14, 2010


NYC is kind of a special case in terms of toll revenue though. Nearly everywhere else in the US, roads are largely tax-funded. Federally, even.
posted by breath at 12:26 AM on July 14, 2010


I disagree. My point was that the purchasers of those items are paying a tiny fraction of the cost that the people who actually pay the tolls do. So yes, the roads are in fact being subsidized most substantially by the drivers, and also to a very small extent by the people who buy stuff in NYC but don't pay tolls on those roads.

I almost always agree with you zarq, but this is a really hard thing to measure. For example, are you also counting the lost property tax on the area that the road sits? Surely, that's "covered" by all local taxpayers?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:43 AM on July 14, 2010


This SFPark thing sounds awesome; hope it manages to run the full 18 months. And I hope an update gets posted at that point.

"This seems similar to the idea of the congestion charge levied in London (and here in Stockholm.)

"The problem is that it becomes a new source of cash for the city. In London and in Stockholm the stated goal was to reduce the number of vehicles which pass through the city limits. The fee, on the other hand, was set to gain the maximum amount of revenue - not too high so that you would actually discourage people from paying it. Congestion is as bad as ever and it just costs more."


The good thing here is there is a measurable metric and hard goal. The price keeps going up until they reach the goal parking vacancy rate.

"I wish cities would do the exact same thing with property tax on vacant units. Raise the rates for vacant property. Keep raising them until the vacancy rates approach some healthy fixed target.. say, 10%. The more it costs landlords to sit and do nothing with property, the quicker they'll drop rents to reasonable numbers, or sell to people that will actually use the space. We can call it the Shit or Get Off the Pot Act of 2010."

Be an auditing nightmare and could even encourage landlords to rent substandard dwellings.

"The cost of running a parking department? In my city, at least, the parking department makes a profit[1]."[1] The ethics of that, well, that's another question."

Parking enforcement may make a profit but they aren't actually charged the cost of providing street parking (paving, snow removal, sweeping, etc.); at least nowhere I'm familiar with.
posted by Mitheral at 1:16 AM on July 14, 2010


They're used to maintain the roads, help with upkeep of the non-tolled bridges (Queensborough / Manhattan Bridges) and to help subsidize the MTA's mass transit systems.

Alright, you probably know better here. But there is no way those tolls cover anything more than a small fraction of the total state budget for roads, let alone the huge pile of externalities that stem from widespread use of the automobile (pollution, increased real estate costs, GM bailouts, wars for oil, etcetera). These costs can seem invisible or unrelated, but they are very real. The Federal Highway Administration alone consumes more than half of the entire Department of Transportation budget, and things get even uglier as you go down to the state level. Similarly, stimulus spending on roads dwarfed public transit.

It's not hard to see how discouraging driving (be it by tolls, parking prices, whatever) and encouraging transit (by improving service, lowering costs, etc) benefits everyone, by reducing traffic when we do have to drive (to say, the doctor) and simultaneously making it more convenient and cheaper to get around via public transit. That "OMG I CANT AFFORD PARKING" reaction is incredibly short-sighted, the same kind of faux-populism that fears gas taxes and "socialized medicine".
posted by mek at 1:41 AM on July 14, 2010 [2 favorites]


Zarq--

Sorry you had a bad day taking public transit for your child's doctor appointment.

You seem confused as to the ideas behind the book, as well as the costs behind the individual automobile. I would really recommend reading it as its an easy read and fascinating it as well.

Its available for purchase

Or from the NYPL
posted by GregorWill at 2:24 AM on July 14, 2010


Tell me how to get down to $0.25 per mile in a private car. Please. Pretty please with sugar on top. No car I've researched (new or used) has an estimated ownership cost much below $0.40 per mile, and it's easy to find models at $0.70 or more.

My 12-year-old, commendably-fuel-efficient, purchased-used rust-bucket has racked up a total personal cost of $0.32 per mile, not counting the occasional paid parking spot, and I live in a town where insurance, gas, and parking are all relatively cheap.


What you need is a small motorbike. Cheap to buy, cheap to tax, cheap to insure, 100+ miles per gallon. And most places I've been, motorbikes park for free.


Taking the driver out of the car wouldn't do anything to eliminate congestion or traffic delays

The benefit of discussing technologies that don't exist is we can attribute any benefits we like to them!

If people didn't own the cars but rather summoned (and paid for, taxi-style) them on demand that would change the economics of driving; if it was a computerised system with preplanned routes, car sharing could be automated to reduce the number of vehicles on the road; and things like parking wouldn't be a problem because at your destination you just get out and leave the car to take car of itself.

Of course, because one can attribute any properties to technologies that havn't been invented yet, arguments that rely on them are kind of bullshit.


Someone suggested unthread that hospitals should have free parking. I disagree. That would raise the expenses of a facility that should be spending its money on health care. And in most countries, those expenses are our taxes. [...] It cost millions to build so some people could put their cars away. Free car storage does not appear in our health system specifications.

In my country (the UK, so NHS) hosiptals were encouraged to balance their budgets, 'do more with less' etc and one move some of them took was charging very high fees for car parking - $12 an hour, say - and using the profits to balance their budgets.

This proved unpopular with hospital users (which is to say, tax payers), who complained to politicians, who told hospitals to reign the charges in. Charges for car parking are still common, but at more like $5 an hour. At my local hospital there are also discounts for people on low incomes, people receiving chemotherapy or dialysis, and parents of children staying over night. Volunteers were also allowed to park for free (they would also pay for bus tickets). Furthermore, charges are capped at around $500 a year regardless of the reason for your hospital visits.

One could say that, given that tax payers and politicians gave instructions for the reduction of these parking charges, that parking costs are part of the health system specifications.


My point was that the purchasers of items brought in over toll bridges end up paying their share of those tolls. Nobody is subsidizing the roads on their behalf.

I believe the thinking is: Let's say a toll bridge has 10,000 users a day paying $5 each, and maintaining the bridge costs $25,000 a day regardless of how many vehicles cross it (it'll still rust and get weathered even if no-one drives on it), plus $2.50 per vehicle crossing it (wear and tear on the road surface etc). So with 10,000 users, a $5 toll exactly covers maintainance costs.

Your package comes on a van carrying 100 packages, so you pay $0.05 for the toll.

Now let's say everyone switched to public transit - now only 100 delivery vans cross the bridge a day. But the bridge still costs $25,000+100*$2.50 - dividing that maintainance cost equally among the 100 vans, each van pays $252.50 - and your share of the toll is now $2.52.

In other words, the tolls paid by other road users make getting your parcel to you cheaper. If that isn't subsidy, what is?

It's my opinion, though, that because of factors like this, talking about things in terms of 'fairness' and 'subsidy' doesn't lead to some of the conclusions people think it does - especially in terms of what could be implemented in the real world. It's not always an option to demolish a bridge so we don't have to pay for its upkeep any more. And in my example above, some drivers might be subsidising the delivery of your parcel but they're obviously willing to pay the bridge toll; if they're happy subsidising your delivery because they like what they get for their money, I don't see what the problem is.
posted by Mike1024 at 3:16 AM on July 14, 2010


Mike, the toll bridge discussion is interesting, but the economy of scale / good asset utilization kind of "subsidy" you're talking about, and the free parking subsidy this thread is nominally about are quite different.
posted by anthill at 5:46 AM on July 14, 2010


It's hardly revolutionary to call for people who use more of something to pay more

Of course it isn't.

However, folks who more frequently pay full price cover the lion's share over those who don't. That keeps costs low for everyone.

Mike1024 did an admirable job of explaining what I was awkwardly trying to convey. (Thank you, Mike.)

So yes, I was wrong initially: you *do* help pay for upkeep of roads and bridges through your contributions to the economy.

You, mek and others do make decent points. There are federal transportation subsidies paid for by taxes. The MTA is notoriously corrupt and inefficient. Toll revenues are only a small of the larger picture.
posted by zarq at 5:59 AM on July 14, 2010


hi millipede - I simply cannot imagine anyone's idea of fun driving being the kind of driving that can be done in the middle of cities. Hence, your argument is a straw man and I am going to put clothes on it and turn it into a scarecrow. Caw.

Well, I like driving in my city. I don't deny that driving has its annoyances. But I maintain that the fundamental reason why people continue to drive even though other options are available is because of the pleasure it brings (or at least the memory of that pleasure).

Driving is in many ways an addiction, where an addiction is defined as something pleasurable which you continue to do long after the fun is gone.

For this reason, any measure which aims to cut down on car use in a city has to have a moral component, similar to the way access to liquor or tobacco are controlled. Simply continuing to increase the cost or the hassle of car ownership/use has not and likely will not lead to a significant reduction in the use of cars. It has to be a moral choice, and to be meaningful, that choice should acknowledge the pleasure as well as the harm.
posted by eeeeeez at 6:01 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


zarq, were you forced to have children and to live in NYC?posted by MrMoonPie at 4:32 PM on July 13

Nope.

What's your point?
posted by zarq at 6:08 AM on July 14, 2010



This is the problem. If it's only a mile away, why is parking even a concern? Were they handicapped and therefore unable to just fucking WALK there?


I'm late to the game but...regarding the friends who would wait to go to the Best Buy a mile away on the days free parking was available (instead of "just fucking WALK there"): both Best Buys (and similar retail places) where I am are located on suburbahell shopping plazas where one would have to walk along side a busy road without sidewalks for nearly the entire journey, and then cross 3-4 lanes of traffic with no crosswalk.
posted by availablelight at 6:43 AM on July 14, 2010


eeeeeez, I think you're in the minority. You're addicted to driving? Fine, and I'm very sorry to hear that. But nobody is looking to increase the cost of driving--it's a question of putting the cost of driving onto drivers rather than onto everybody else. The social costs of driving are astronomical and are, in many places, unequally borne by those who do not drive. That is what the problem is. It is absolutely a question of economics--I don't consider driving a moral failing. People who do it are acting rationally--since they do not bear the costs of driving, driving is cheaper for them. Costs, again, I am using in a widely defined way. Cost is not about cash.

This thread is going to give me an aneurysm. I'm not coming after you with a pitchfork and demanding that you give up your car and ride a bus. Drivers are fine. They should just be paying for what they get.
posted by millipede at 7:13 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]


both Best Buys (and similar retail places) where I am are located on suburbahell shopping plazas where one would have to walk along side a busy road without sidewalks for nearly the entire journey, and then cross 3-4 lanes of traffic with no crosswalk.

An example of what rampant auto-ownership culture does to a place. An example of the social cost of driving.

In suburban South Florida, where my parents live, there is a CVS about a 1/4 mile from their house. We had relatives over once, and we needed something from the CVS. People began to discuss who would drive there and who had to move their car to allow someone else to pull out of the driveway and drive there, and I said "hey, I will just walk," and everyone looked at me as though I had grown six new heads and a penis out of my nose. The collective assessment was that walking to CVS was completely insane and that there was no reason to do this and that I was just trying to create controversy. In the suburbs, people believe that walking to the store is a controversial act. Oh my god. It was 1/4 of a mile away. I walked.
posted by millipede at 7:17 AM on July 14, 2010 [5 favorites]


Simply continuing to increase the cost or the hassle of car ownership/use has not and likely will not lead to a significant reduction in the use of cars.

That's really not been the experience of cities in Europe, many of which have decided to rein in the excesses of car-oriented city planning. Strasbourg, for example, decided to transform the city with tram lines (after a long absence), to favor the pedestrian, and to make it easy to bike in the city. If you change the situation on the ground, people change how they travel.

It's certainly tempting to explain people's transportation choices as due to irrational factors, but the fact of the matter in most of North America is that driving has been made a far easier choice than other modes. That's due to such things as urban highways, required off-street parking, and a sprawling urban form that's only basically navigable by car. I doubt the occasional enjoyment of one's drive is really a major force here.
posted by parudox at 7:19 AM on July 14, 2010


And in my example above, some drivers might be subsidising the delivery of your parcel but they're obviously willing to pay the bridge toll; if they're happy subsidising your delivery because they like what they get for their money, I don't see what the problem is.

Agreed -- that doesn't seem like a problem at all. The trick with toll bridges/roads is making sure that the tolls are kept at a level that's related to the upkeep of the infrastructure that the toll is charging for access to, rather than simply being used as a regressive tax against a captive market. When tolls are just used as a general revenue source, they can quickly become distortive. However, if tolls are maintained at just the level required to cover the net costs of the bridge/highway/whatever, then they're a good way to encourage responsible road use and keep non-drivers for getting stuck with the bill. (At least not directly; non-drivers still pay the tolls indirectly via imported goods and such, as they should.)

In your example, if everyone moved to public transit and traffic volume over the bridge dropped, then the toll ought to increase, because the fixed costs of the bridge haven't really gone down. You'll quickly find a new equilibrium point where the people using the bridge pay for it -- unless there really aren't enough people using the bridge to justify its existence, in which case maybe a different use should be thought of for the structure. (In the hypothetical scenario, perhaps a better use would be a conversion to a rail bridge. Interestingly, the lower level of the GWB as originally designed was going to be used for freight rail traffic, not additional car lanes.)

The biggest problem with road tolls is that they're subject to a lot of political gerrymandering that frequently result in them bearing little resemblance to the costs of maintaining the underlying infrastructure. Rather than being set to costs, they're set at what the public perceives to be the profit-maximizing level. I'm not sure that there is a guaranteed solution to this, but some form of non-profit, non-governmental Authority whose only mission is maintenance and investment in the infrastructure under toll seems logical.

IMO, free parking seems like a niggling detail compared to the massive public subsidies for roads. We're getting to the point where we could implement a toll-based system without antiquated things like tollbooths that stop traffic; there's really no reason why roads (at least limited-access roads, bridges, and tunnels) need to be maintained out of general tax funds. By pinning the cost of building and maintaining that infrastructure on its users more directly, we can encourage responsible, efficient transportation choices while still letting people who want to drive (or ship things by truck) do so -- and pay for it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:29 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The social costs of driving are astronomical and are, in many places, unequally borne by those who do not drive. That is what the problem is.

Assume, for the sake of argument, that the government is subsidising roads using revenue from income tax.

I could support a restructuring so that those subsidies were funded entirely from taxes on vehicles - such as a vehicle registration fee, a tax on gas, higher parking space charges, and so on - But I could only support such a restructuring if the income tax revenue previously spent on roads was returned to the people.

After all, if there was an increase in registration, gas, and parking taxes, but other taxes all stayed the same, non-car-owners would be no better off.

My fear advocating any restructuring of taxes to be more fair is that we'd get the tax increases without the tax decreases, and the additional tax revenue would be wasted on foreign wars and bank bail-outs. So things wouldn't end up any fairer. But that, of course, is a whole other discussion!
posted by Mike1024 at 8:15 AM on July 14, 2010


Mike1024, I wasn't talking about financial costs.
posted by millipede at 9:02 AM on July 14, 2010


In other words, the tolls paid by other road users make getting your parcel to you cheaper. If that isn't subsidy, what is?

As was pointed out, this results not from a subsidy, but from an economy of scale. And it's not like those bridges are solely funded by tolls.

There's a fairly trivial way to charge per mile driven: just make everyone provide an odometer reading when they renew their car's registration. Prorate the charges and divide them up into monthly payments.
posted by one more dead town's last parade at 9:32 AM on July 14, 2010


Mike1024, I wasn't talking about financial costs.

When we start dealing in non-financial costs, though, how would we even recognise what equal or fair was?

I mean, I travel by bicycle 5 days a week, so I've got a few gripes; I have to wait a long time to cross busy roads, for example, and I can't travel promptly to places with poor public transport. Sometimes I have to order things online instead of getting to retailers in hard-to-reach locations.

But I can't think of a way to translate my inconvenience into changes to parking costs, without making a bunch of apples-to-oranges comparisons. I mean, should my long wait for the crossing translate into a $0.10 parking charge, a $1 parking charge, or a $10 parking charge? I literally couldn't tell you what level would lead to us equally bearing the social costs of driving.

Do you think it's possible to do that?
posted by Mike1024 at 9:45 AM on July 14, 2010


I'm an extremist, I guess. I firmly believe that private vehicles should be flat-out-illegal in city cores. Emergency vehicles, transit vehicles, delivery and tradesmen's vehicles in the course of their performing their duties (preferably during restricted hours say 9-4), and licensed livery. That's it. Before you freak out, I'll define city core as an area probably no bigger than square mile or so. As an interface to the greater world where private vehicles are useful to get from core to core or from low density areas to core, parking garages with tram service. Like Disney world. Trams, not busses, would get you around the core.

Think about your city core as if it were Disney World, or Universal Studios. All pedestrians, all the time, except for transit, emergency vehicles, and delivery/tradesmen. Plenty of smooth pavement, but also plenty of places to sit, rest, converse, and so on.

It boggles my mind what something like this would accomplish when I think about it.

Our downtown (Kitchener, ON) is doing some pretty good work on this. They've reduced the size of the main drag King St. to two very narrow lanes with movable bollards next to sidewalks that are each as wide as both lanes put together; they can assign parking as needed, or widen the via for special events like parades. The city hall block has movable bollards extending across the street as well and so the street can be trivially closed, opening the square up into a lovely piazza.

This happened because Kitchener several years ago polled its citizens about how King St. should be handled: to favour traffic, transit, commercial use, or pedestrians. The overwhelming result: pedestrians. And the result is amazing to behold. Walking down the completed sections of King St. during the day one sees ... people. People standing, people sitting, people walking, people eating lunch, people chatting. It's really nice!

Contrast this with Waterloo, ON, it's "sister" city, the Uptown to Kitchener's Downtown. King St. in Waterloo is four lanes of asphalt plus parking on both sides plus terribly narrow sidewalks with barely enough room for three to pass abreast. The cyclists have to choose between riding on the sidewalk or being sideswiped by traffic. No one does anything on the sidewalks except wait for buses or walk hurriedly from one shop to another. The complete opposite from Kitchener.

All it takes is a City Council with balls, and the backing of the people. This is our city, and we live here. We're not going to cater to the needs of people who live somewhere else and bring their cars with them. We will walk, we will bus, we will cycle; we will leave our cars at home if we can. And without the cars, we take possession of the streets as pedestrians once again.

I fear, however, it's going to take a few decades, and gas prices about 3x what they are now, for these sort of changes to become pervasive. Still: knowing it is not only realistic but possible is just as important as having the idea in the first place.
posted by seanmpuckett at 10:29 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Mike1024, it's not a straight exchange. There is no reason it has to be. All costs don't have to be monetized for people to enact sensible policies that discourage auto use.

I'm out of this debate--don't have the energy to keep checking this thread.
posted by millipede at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2010


All it takes is a City Council with balls, and the backing of the people.

I would submit that with the backing of the people, no balls whatsoever are required.
posted by deadmessenger at 10:35 AM on July 14, 2010


The notion is that car drivers receive hidden subsidies.

They do. The entire cost of the fuel supply system, for example.

The cost to maintain the roads -- and, in a big city, the alleyways that some use to get to parking.

The cost of traffic enforcement.

The cost to keep oil flowing to keep the fuel system supplied.

The direct costs? Shit, that's *nothing* compared to the giveaway.

Here's a proposition for your Cato Institute Reading Ass. I will stop *all* public subsidy of transit if you will stop *all* public subsidy of car transport.

That includes the military needed to secure petrolueum for cars, BTW.

That includes the cleanup of the Gulf from oil spills, BTW.

ALL of it. If you insist that public transportation completely pay its own way without public help, then I insist that cars be treated exactly the same.

I realize that you're from Canada and as such can't be expected to know this, but it's common knowledge (or should be) to pretty much any native New Yorker who follows MTA fare / Bridge and Tunnel toll increases that all tolled East River crossings (the RFK bridge, the Queens Midtown Tunnel and the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel) and all tolled Hudson River crossings (GW Bridge, Holland Tunnel and Lincoln Tunnel) here pay for far more than bridge upkeep.

Well, good. Because those bridges are allowing drivers to get to Manhattan, which means that Manhattan now pays the externalities for those cars. It is only right and proper that the driver do so. Indeed, they should toll all the bridges, and then *raise the tolls*.

Driving is only cheap because you get to hide most of the costs. You should pay for the pollution you generate, you should pay for the congestion you cause, you should pay for the traffic lights and systems needed to control the traffic you've generated, you should pay for the enforcement of those system, you should paid to maintain all of them.

If you think a bridge toll, a trivial gas tax, and a fraction of the license plate fee are paying even 10% of the external costs of you driving into Manhattan, you're insane.

Meanwhile, in Public Transit, every cost is counted against the system -- it is required to maintain its own capital budget, its own operational budget, and then people have the gall to demand it pay all of those costs itself, with no public subsidy whatsoever -- indeed, they should just tear that shit down and build PARKING!

No. We should rip out half the roads and build public transit. The "logic" is exactly the same. Road don't pay their way. They should be eliminated.

Meanwhile, those of us who live in a society understand that not everything can be a profit center, nor should be. Roads and Transit systems are cost minus -- but economic multipliers. They make other things more efficient and profitable.
posted by eriko at 11:12 AM on July 14, 2010 [15 favorites]


Most if not all the arguments made in this thread talk about car use in terms of some utilitarian calculation ("driving is OK when you do X... but not when you do Y"). But this totally overlooks a very important reason why people drive, namely because it's fun. Regardless of all the taxes, the "traffic calming" measures, roundabouts and other nuisances the planners come up with, people like to drive.

For pleasure. Not so much when they're commuting. I moved recently so I wouldn't have to commute 20 minutes each way.

The search for ways to reduce this pleasure or to make people feel bad about it, no matter how well-intentioned, well, it's a little totalitarian.

What? It's called planning. I know that's become equated with totalitarianism and Nazism in the US, but they are not related.

Sorry if it makes you feel bad.
posted by krinklyfig at 11:33 AM on July 14, 2010


seanmpuckett -- "All it takes is a City Council with balls, and the backing of the people."

Semi-related: when people demand better streets, city governments listen -- even in Dallas.

P.S. If you want King Street in Uptown to become a complete street, please fill out the City of Waterloo's survey.
posted by smably at 12:08 PM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


It boggles my mind what something like this would accomplish when I think about it.

How big a city are we talking about here?
They did this in my city a couple of decades ago.

All of the businesses promptly fled to the outer ring, leaving the core to the junkies and the government.

We are still dealing with the fallout, viz a viz, empty buildings, derelict lots and lack of "energy".

Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it, as they say.

Naturally, your city may have a different outcome, but to view a carless core as a panacea is...optimistic, at best.
posted by madajb at 12:26 PM on July 14, 2010


@madajb

And your city is...?

What the book reccomends is not so radical as you may imagine. Some of its reccomendations have been taken to heart by The City of Culver City and Pasadena leading to the revitalization of each city's core.
posted by GregorWill at 12:37 PM on July 14, 2010


I'd add that the city of Curitiba, that I talked about here and is nearly 2 million people, doesn't seem to be suffering at all with a virtually carless core.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 1:14 PM on July 14, 2010


When we start dealing in non-financial costs, though, how would we even recognise what equal or fair was?

Is it actually useful to have a discussion that DOESN'T include non-financial costs?
posted by jacalata at 3:52 PM on July 14, 2010


Is it actually useful to have a discussion that DOESN'T include non-financial costs?

Well, many externalities that aren't currently direct financial costs can be converted into financial costs, at least for the purposes of discussion, from the cost of fixing the problem.

For example, if you think CO2 emissions are a non-financial cost, you could say there's 9 kg of CO2 in a gallon of petrol, and CO2 capture and sequestration costs about $50/ton, so the cost of CO2 emissions are $0.50 per gallon.

With simple costs, it's easy to say "the taxpayer subsidises the cost of gas by $0.50 per gallon by paying for CO2 cleanup, to make this fair there should be a $0.50 tax on a gallon gas to pay for cleaning up the CO2". I think most people could agree that such a tax would be fair.

On the other hand, some costs are much harder to weigh accurately.

For example, how would you place a value on a reduction in the number of walking-distance corner stores, in preference for 'big box' stores with wider product selections?

And in particular, with this thread being about parking and charging for it, and with people talking about what is fair and how drivers should shoulder the social costs of their driving, I think we've got to have a way that makes sense for making these apples-to-oranges comparisons between social costs and parking charges.
posted by Mike1024 at 2:03 AM on July 15, 2010


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