The High Cost of Free Parking: The Twenty-first Century Parking Problem

Author Donald Shoup

This book chapter by Shoup (2011) argues that “free parking” is a deception as the cost of this is spread throughout the economy. By examining the current approach to planning for parking, the chapter demonstrates how treating curb parking as a “commons” is problematic and suggests new potential solutions to the parking problem.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This book chapter by Shoup (2011) offers a critique of free parking and argues that the concept is a deception as the cost of this is spread throughout the economy. People who do not even own a car fund this “free” parking. For example, residents pay for it through high housing prices, and businesses through increased rent. Shoppers end up paying for parking through high purchase prices. Thus, everyone pays for parking except for when resuming the role as a motorist.

The chapter illustrates how free curb parking presents a classic “commons” problem as it skews travel choices and acts as an incentive to drive everywhere we go. It argues that the minimum parking requirements for every land use are poorly estimated and limited, and that by replicating these policies and standards the issues transpire from city to city. It also highlights that the consequences of cruising for free curb parking includes congested traffic, wasted time, squandered fuel, and increased air pollution.

The chapter also proposes some solutions to this modern parking problem. It suggests that a “well-functioning market with prices that vary by the time of day and day of the week can balance a variable demand for curb parking with the fixed supply of curb spaces” (p. 14). This could potentially encourage drivers to find an available space near their destination rather than cruising for free curb parking. Despite some political and technological barriers to market-priced curb parking, it could indeed save time, reduce congestion, conserve energy, improve air quality, and produce public revenue.