Congestion Pricing Should be Attached to Parking Reform

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The daily scene on SoHo's Crosby Street, jammed with illegally parked government employees.

The Observer reported on Wednesday that Walter McCaffrey's Committee to Keep New York City Congestion Tax Free recently solicited UCLA parking policy guru Donald Shoup to do a study of curbside parking policy in New York. Carolyn Konheim, a Brooklyn-based transportation consultant and decades-long congestion pricing advocate, thinks that sounds like a great idea.

As DOT Deputy Commissioner Bruce Schaller pointed out in his 2007 study, Free Parking, Congested Streets, "free or reimbursed parking is an inducement for the majority of motorists who choose to drive to the Manhattan Central Business District rather than use public transportation or other means of travel." Despite this fact, Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 has almost nothing to say on reforming parking policy. Konheim suggests that "we need to price both roads and parking." Perhaps this is something that congestion pricing advocates and opponents might actually be able to agree on.

Here is Konheim's commentary:

The Mayor should extend the offer to Shoup. The California- based consultant concluded years ago that pricing parking can be as effective as pricing roads. The high cost of Manhattan off-street parking proves the point. Bruce Schaller's finding that half the auto entries into the Manhattan Central Business District (CBD) park for free also proves the point.

London has demonstrated that we need to price both roads and parking. Seeing parking as the low hanging fruit, London started curbside pricing first. At an NYU forum on pricing this spring, London's First Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron, congestion pricing ambassador extraordinaire, whispered away from the microphone: "I hate to be critical, but you've got parking all wrong -- you need to control it first. In London, you can't park for more than 20 minutes without a permit or you'll be clamped. If you can park, it costs 40 quid [~$80]."

Garage rates in central London run $65/day, $1,200 a month. London auto commuters have no local street parking option outside the central pricing zone because all 32 boroughs in the city limit non-resident curbside parking to two hours and deliveries and drop-offs to 20 minutes. In boroughs close to the center, a stay of two hours costs about $8. Spaces are designated in all boroughs for residents who pay a range of $180 to $250 a year for permits for one car and one visitor. Businesses can also get parking permits. Violators' tires are enthusiastically clamped by local wardens who collect fines of $300 or more for their boroughs, which use the revenues for improving roads and traffic calming. The borough of Westminster is developing an automated parking enforcement system. The borough in the center of London nets about $70 million a year in parking revenues.

New York is obviously way behind on parking management. In the core of Manhattan, there are ten times more off-street spaces than in London, and half the drivers into the CBD pay nothing for parking. Many New York neighborhoods are plagued with commuter parking, abuse of agency parking privileges and counterfeit parking permits. Meter feeding is the norm on New York retail streets, which in the boroughs typically adds up to a cost of $8 -- but is not regarded as prohibitive as the proposed $8 congestion fee.

Local civic leaders have expressed fears about the impacts on communities near subway stations that serve the pricing zone, which are not assuaged by Mayoral allusions to -- but no apparent action on -- residential parking permits. Any serious action on resident permits would reveal that they must be just one part of a comprehensive parking program that requires broad public appreciation that street space doesn't come free -- a heavy lift for champions of local parking "rights."

Mayor Bloomberg's bold pricing initiative creates an opportunity to start in Manhattan by properly pricing ALL parking within the pricing zone. The fee would deter free parkers (many on the City payroll). And parking permit fees equal to the $4/day that the Mayor proposes to charge residents for trips within the pricing zone could provide the equity he seeks by charging Manhattan drivers for intra-zone trips. Doing so would eliminate the need for the costly proposed charging network of thousands of charging stations.

As London Deputy Mayor Gavron asked: "Why would you want multiple cordons? We have enough trouble with one." A charging cordon across 60th Street and bridges and tunnels, even simpler than London's, would be far less costly and free up far more congestion revenues for better transit -- the real payoff for all New Yorkers.