Skip to content

Posts from the Donald Shoup Category

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

How to Repair a Parking Crater in Three Steps

Parkersburg, West Virginia, our second-place finisher in Parking Madness was parking guru Donald Shoup's top choice for worst parking crater.

Parkersburg, West Virginia, the runner-up in Parking Madness 2015, was Donald Shoup’s choice for worst parking crater.

[Before we started up the bracket for this year’s Parking Madness tournament, I got in touch with Donald Shoup, who literally wrote the book on parking reform, and asked him to pick the worst parking crater in the field of 16. Here’s his response, packaged with some advice for cities that have a parking crater problem. — Angie Schmitt]

All the entries deserve a prize, but I have to choose Parkersburg [above] as the worst crater, for several reasons. First, of course, is the city’s name. Second, Parkersburg has parking structures surrounded by surface parking lots. Third, parking lots separate the city from a beautiful river. And fourth, Elliott Lewis clearly explained why Parkersburg’s parking crater is so awful.

Other nominators also wrote superb indictments of their cities, including Marshall Allen for Syracuse, Bill Basford for Waterville, and Nick Sortland for Amarillo.

The upside of these obscene craters is that we have immense areas of vacant land ready for redevelopment right where people want to live and work. If cities remove their minimum parking requirements, these parking craters can become exciting parts of a healthy downtown. The four images below suggest the possible improvements.

This first photo shows an office building in San Jose, surrounded by all its required parking:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.28.43 PM

The building is as big as the city will allow, given the number of parking spaces provided. Suppose San Jose removes its minimum parking requirements, so some empty spaces on the perimeter of the parking lot can be used for housing.

The below image illustrates the first stage of what could happen if cities un-require off-street parking requirements:

Read more…

Streetsblog USA
View Comments

Donald Shoup, an Appreciation

Donald Shoup at the 2011 launch of SFpark, which put his ideas about curbside parking management into practices at a large scale. Photo: Bryan Goebel

On Tuesday, the news came that after 41 years of teaching at UCLA, Donald Shoup, distinguished professor of urban planning, will retire. For all of us who have had our paths in life profoundly influenced by his research, writing, and teaching on parking and transportation, it’s a good time to reflect. I never got to take a class from professor Shoup, but he has had more influence on my life and career than any of the professors whose classes I did attend.

Back in the spring of 1992, I was a student at Stanford in Washington, DC, studying international development. I was beginning to realize that before I tried to go to someone else’s country and tell them how to improve their lives, I needed to learn a real practical skill and see if I could accomplish something at home, in a culture I actually understood. That same spring, an article appeared in the Washington Post — “Subsidies Support a Drive-to-Work Habit” — about the ways in which the federal tax code subsidizes parking while withholding tax benefits if people walk or bike or take transit. It piqued my interest.


Patrick Siegman, a principal at Nelson/Nygaard, is known as “the first Shoupista” for his work implementing Shoup’s ideas.

I knew that a large and remarkably ugly parking structure had recently been built outside my dad’s office on the Stanford campus, and I knew that I could get a permit to park in it for about $6 per month. I wondered how much it cost, and who really paid for it.

When I got back to Stanford in the fall, I went to see my future boss, Julia Fremon, the manager of Stanford’s Office of Transportation Programs.  I asked her how much it cost to build and operate a parking space on campus, and who paid for them. She said, “I’ve been wanting to know that too.” Then she gave me a list of people to interview, and offered me a spot on the University’s Committee on Parking and Transportation. Encouraged by this, I went to Green Library, descended into the stacks, and discovered the writing of professor Shoup.

All that year, I devoured articles and monographs authored or co-authored by Donald Shoup. I still have my original dog-eared copies of all those articles on my office bookshelf, and I still reference them today, when I’m out in the world trying to persuade city planners and council members to think differently about transportation. There were all those great articles, some newly published: “Employer-Paid Parking: the Problem and Proposed Solutions,” by Shoup and Willson; “Parking Subsidies and Travel Choices: Assessing the Evidence,” by Willson and Shoup; and most importantly, “Cashing Out Employer-Paid Parking,” the big Federal Transit Administration report by Shoup.

Professor Shoup managed to make the apparently dry topic of parking economics and regulation not only worth studying, but compelling, fascinating, and at times, hilarious. I vividly remember sitting down in the stacks, reading his research papers on parking and laughing aloud at the insanity of it all.

Read more…

Streetsblog SF
View Comments

Donald Shoup Breaks Down Two Years of Data From Groundbreaking SFpark

Drivers were most sensitive to changes in parking prices in the early afternoon, and were more sensitive during the week than the weekend.

Donald Shoup may be known as a guru of smart parking policy, but even he has found a few surprises in the data collected so far from SFpark.

“The biggest surprise I got was that prices went up and down, but overall, they stayed the same. The average price actually declined by 1 percent,” said Shoup, professor of urban planning at UCLA and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, the bible of modern parking policy. “That surprised everybody. People thought it was just a way to jack up prices, but the city specifically said, ‘We are going to set prices according to this principle.'”

SFpark, which uses “smart meters” and ground sensors to measure parking occupancy and adjust prices accordingly, is providing valuable lessons for San Francisco and cities around the world that want to reduce the amount of time drivers spend cruising the streets for a parking space.

The growing body of data collected from the program is shedding more light on the complexities of parking demand. But overall, Shoup says, it’s providing hard evidence that raising and lowering meter prices is an effective way to keep enough parking spots available for drivers who need them — and to help ensure too many spots don’t sit empty.

Donald Shoup at the launch event for SFpark in 2011. Photo: Bryan Goebel

Keeping, say, one parking spot open on every block “will make the transportation work best — it’ll reduce cruising, speed up buses, reduce air pollution,” said Shoup. “It’s easy to explain [a goal] like that — we’re aiming at what you want to see.”

In a recent report [PDF] published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, Shoup and UCLA doctoral student Gregory Pierce explain that since SFpark managers began adjusting meter prices in August of 2011, the “elasticity” of parking demand — the degree to which price changes affect parking occupancy — has varied across different locations and times of day (due to different trip purposes, they surmise), and that drivers changed their behavior most profoundly after the second price adjustment, possibly due to a spike in awareness of the program. As prices have been refined, elasticity has declined.

Prices appeared to have the lowest impacts in highly residential neighborhoods like the Mission and the Marina, while retail districts like Fisherman’s Wharf and the Fillmore saw the most drastic adjustments to new prices, according to the report.

Read more…

Streetsblog LA
View Comments

Interview With Donald Shoup: Los Angeles Making Strides With ExpressPark

Last week Streetsblog LA talked with UCLA Professor and parking guru Donald Shoup about ExpressPark, the new parking pricing system coming to downtown Los Angeles.

Damien Newton: Los Angeles is changing the way it does parking in its downtown. They’re calling it the ExpressPark system. Let’s start with the basics — what is the program and what are your thoughts?

Donald Shoup: For the first time they’re stating how they’re going to set parking prices. Instead of basing it on council decisions or emotions or people’s feelings, they stated a principal. Parking at a meter will be at the lowest price they can charge and still have one or two open spaces on every block.

If they get that price right, then those spaces will be well used because almost all the spaces will be full. Yet there will be spaces readily available because one or two spaces will be open.

Can it get any better than that as a goal for the parking system?

The key is, can you set the right price without looking at the results even though the results are what’s going to count when setting the price.

DN: This marks a shift in policy for the city that seemed to base parking decisions based on what brings in the most revenue.

DS: It hadn’t been about that even, until quite recently.

You may remember a few years ago they doubled the price of parking everywhere in the city with a minimum price of a dollar an hour. Since most meters were at a quarter an hour, that meant quadrupling the price at most meters. That was the first time meter prices had been changed in eighteen years.

There’s been a lot of neglect of parking meters. Inertia seemed to be the main factor in determining parking prices.

They’re changing that by saying, “Here’s the rule. If half the spaces on a block are empty, we’re going to lower prices. If all the spaces are full we’re going to raise prices.” Since the price change two years ago, I’ve seen entire blocks where there isn’t one car parked. The price is too high.

I think a lot of prices would go down if they extend express park to the whole city. They’re starting in downtown, but I suspect that some prices will go down.

DN: One of the tenets of “The High Cost of Free Parking” is that money collected from meters should be returned to the communities where it was collected. L.A.’s plan returns all metered funds to the general fund. Is that a mistake by the city? Does it give you any misgivings about the plan altogether?

DS: That’s what they’re planning in L.A., they’re not planning on funneling any of the money back to the neighborhood?

That’s a mistake. When you funnel back to the neighborhood you get local buy-in and you get wonderful results.

Pasadena returns all of the metered money back into the neighborhood for decades and they turned the local neighborhood that used to be a commercial skid row into one of the most popular shopping destinations in Southern California. The meters brought in an extra million dollars a year in public services in just that little shopping district. They replaced all the sidewalks, streetlights and street furniture. They cleaned up the allays. They put electric wires underground. This was all paid for by meters.

But that’s a political issue. I think that getting the price right is also very important.

Read more…

View Comments

Moving Beyond the Automobile: The Right Price for Parking

You might be shocked at how much traffic consists of drivers who have already arrived at their destination but find themselves cruising the streets, searching for an open parking spot. In some city neighborhoods, cruising makes up as much as 40 percent of all traffic. All this unnecessary traffic slows down buses, endangers cyclists and pedestrians, delays other motorists, and produces harmful emissions. The key to eliminating it is to get the price of parking right.

So what’s the right price for curbside parking? According to UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, “the right price is the lowest price you can charge and still have one or two spaces available on each block.” Depending on the demand for parking at a given location, the right price could be higher or lower than the static prices you see at traditional meters. You need a dynamic system that adjusts the price based on demand.

The city of San Francisco has been putting Shoup’s ideas into practice on an unprecedented scale with its SFpark program, which will fully launch later this week. In addition to strategically adjusting curbside meter rates, SFpark sets prices in city garages to make them an attractive alternative to on-street spots, and distributes real-time information about parking availability to help drivers find open spaces. It is the most ambitious project in the United States to cut traffic and improve quality of life by getting the price of parking right.


Shoup: Tax Code Makes Employer-Paid Parking Tough to Resist

In the fourth chapter of what’s become an enthralling series, UCLA professor Donald Shoup breaks down the incentives at work in the Cato Institute’s decision to provide free parking for employees at its Washington, D.C. headquarters. While Cato senior fellow Randal O’Toole claims the choice has nothing to do with market distortions caused by government policy, a look at the tax code suggests otherwise. Joining us mid-series? Read installments one, two, and three.


Parking cash out, which lets people choose between receiving free commuter parking or the cash equivalent from their employer, has been shown to reduce vehicle trips to work.


Thanks for your message of October 10. The focus of our disagreement seems to have shifted to employer-paid parking. I have criticized employer-paid parking because it increases solo driving to work and thus increases traffic congestion, energy consumption, and air pollution. In contrast, you say, “I don’t see why we, as policy analysts, should be concerned that Cato, or any employer, offers free parking to its employees.”

In defense of this position, you say that Cato voluntarily offers free parking although, as a tax-exempt institution, it is “relatively immune to tax incentives,” and that its decision to offer free parking is its own choice, without any government interference or subsidy. It seems you are saying that whatever Cato does about parking is right if Cato voluntarily chooses to do it. My first response to that line of reasoning is to wonder whether most libertarians place a higher value on liberty than on well-functioning markets. If an institution voluntarily introduces a price distortion, like free parking, should policy analysts not be concerned?

As interesting as that question is, however, it is not germane to our discussion, because you are wrong about Cato’s tax incentives. You should check with Cato’s HR department about taxes, because Cato has the same tax incentives to offer free parking as does any taxable employer.

What are the tax incentives to offer free parking? The Internal Revenue Code encourages all employers to convert taxable wages into nontaxable parking subsidies. With the average 19 percent federal marginal income tax rate and the average 6.5 percent state marginal income tax rate, a commuter faces a 25.5 percent combined marginal income tax rate. Social Security and Medicare add an additional payroll tax rate of 7.65 percent, so a typical commuter’s marginal tax rate on earned income is about 33 percent. The employer (even tax-exempt Cato!) also pays 7.65 percent in payroll taxes. Therefore, the total marginal tax rate on earned income is about 40 percent. Converting $100/month of taxable salary into a tax-exempt parking subsidy of $100/month thus saves the commuter $33 and saves the employer $7.65.

This tax subsidy is a strong incentive for Cato and every other employer to offer free parking at work and thus to subsidize driving to work. It also helps to explain why 95 percent of all automobile commuters in the United States park free at work.

Read more…


Shoup: NPR Puts a Price on Parking. Why Not Cato?

Streetsblog is pleased to present the third episode in UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup’s ongoing inquiry into whether the Cato Institute’s free market principles extend to the realm of parking policy. Read Shoup’s previous replies to Cato senior fellow Randal O’Toole here and here.

Dear Randal,

In your September 1 post on Cato@Liberty, you mentioned that the Cato Institute offers free parking to its employees.

Which policy does public radio adhere to

When it comes to parking, which policy does public radio prefer, and which one is favored by the libertarian think tank?

I checked and found that not all employers in Cato’s neighborhood offer free parking. For example, consider National Public Radio, which is on Massachusetts Avenue three blocks from Cato. NPR charges all its employees the market rate for parking in the building. NPR has 125 parking spaces and it uses fair market prices to ration these scarce spaces among its 400 employees.

The different parking practices at NPR and Cato reveal quite different policy preferences. NPR prefers the free market while Cato prefers free parking.

Cato’s free parking severely distorts transportation prices.  The market price of commuter parking in the commercial garage closest to Cato is $255 a month, so Cato’s free parking subsidizes the cost of driving to work by $255 a month. Because employer-paid parking is a tax-exempt fringe benefit, Cato pays the free parkers a tax-exempt subsidy of $3,060 a year ($255 x 12).

If the round-trip commute distance to Cato is 32 miles (the national average), and if commuters drive to work 22 days a month, Cato’s free parking reduces the cost of driving to work by 36¢ a mile ($255/22 days/32 miles). According to the American Automobile Association, the average operating cost of driving a car is about 18¢ a mile. Because the per-mile subsidy for parking is twice the per-mile cost of driving, Cato’s free parking reduces the out-of-pocket cost of driving to work by two-thirds. Free parking therefore grossly distorts market prices in favor of commuting by car.

In your campaign for market policies in transportation, I hope you will try to persuade the Cato Institute to charge market prices for parking, or at least to offer commuters the option to cash out their parking subsidies. Perhaps you might also write a post on Cato@Liberty about Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s bill (H.R. 3271) that would encourage many employers to offer parking cash out. I suspect that might even make the news on All Things Considered.

Donald Shoup
Department of Urban Planning
University of California, Los Angeles


Shoup: Cato HQ the Perfect Lab for Reforming Commuter Parking Subsidies

Last week we published a reply from UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup to Cato Institute senior fellow Randal O’Toole, in which Shoup clarified his positions on parking policy and explained several ways in which government regulations favor the provision of free parking. In response, O’Toole ran this post on the Cato@Liberty blog. Streetsblog is pleased to publish Shoup’s follow-up, which suggests Cato estimate the price distortions that give incentives for the libertarian think tank’s employees to commute by car. By doing so, Cato headquarters could serve as a laboratory for leveling the commute subsidy playing field, an idea embedded in Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer’s Green Routes to Work Act.

Dear Randal,

UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking

UCLA planning professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking

Thanks for your Cato@Liberty post clarifying several points where we agree about parking policies.

You wrote that the Cato Institute offers free parking to its employees. The market price of commuter parking in the commercial garage closest to the Cato Institute is $255 a month (in Colonial Parking at 901 New York Avenue). At this market price, can you calculate the total market value of all the free parking Cato provides to its automobile commuters?

After examining the data, you may find the market value of the Cato Institute’s free parking is surprisingly high. My rough guess is at least $10,000 a month. That is one example of what I mean by the high cost of free parking.

But maybe I am wrong. I hope the Cato Institute will tell you the number of commuters who park free so that you can answer this simple question. What is the fair market value of all the free parking for commuters who drive to the Cato Institute?

My point is not to criticize the Cato Institute for its free parking, because 95 percent of all automobile commuters park free at work in the United States. My point is that you could do a great service to free-market transportation policy by using the Cato Institute as a case study to analyze how employer-paid parking distorts commuter transportation choices.


According to Randal O'Toole, the Cato Institute does provide free parking for employees at its Washington, DC headquarters. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Valued at market prices, free parking at the Cato Institute reduces the cost of driving to work by $255 a month. If commuters drive the national average round-trip distance of 32 miles a day for 22 days a month, free parking thus reduces the cost of driving to work by 36¢ per mile ($255/22 days/32 miles). According to the AAA, the average operating cost of a car is about 18¢ per mile. Because the parking subsidy at work is twice the operating cost of driving to work, free parking at Cato reduces the out-of-pocket costs of driving to work by two-thirds. Free parking is therefore a huge price distortion in favor of commuting by car.

The Internal Revenue Code creates an incentive for this price distortion because free parking at work is exempt from both income and payroll taxes. Parking cash out can eliminate this price distortion. Parking cash out is a market-oriented policy whereby employers who offer free parking at work also offer commuters the option to choose its cash value in lieu a parking space. Parking cash out does not mandate parking charges because commuters who choose to drive can still park free. Parking cash out simply gives the same subsidy to every commuter, regardless of travel mode choice, while free parking gives a subsidy to drivers and nothing to other commuters. Parking cash out expands choice, which I assume is a core value of the Cato Institute.

Read more…


Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free

We're reprinting this reply [PDF] from UCLA professor Donald Shoup, author of the High Cost of Free Parking, to Randal O'Toole, the libertarian Cato Institute senior fellow who refuses to acknowledge the role of massive government intervention in the market for parking, and the effect this has had on America's car dependence. It's an excellent guide to the misdirection, mistakes, logical fallacies, and falsehoods that form the foundation of O'Toole's arguments.

Dear Randal,

I would like to comment on your August 16 post on the Cato@Liberty blog about “Free Markets for Free Parking.”

shoup_otoole.jpgShoup (left) and O'Toole (right). One of these gentlemen has written the definitive volume on parking policy. The other says he has yet to read it.
You were responding to Tyler Cowen’s article in the New York Times, “Free Parking Comes at a Price,” in which Tyler explained some of the ideas in my book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

In commenting on Tyler’s article, you made several mistakes in describing my ideas and proposals. I will explain these mistakes, and if you agree with the explanations I hope you will post corrections on Cato@Liberty.

Before I examine your misunderstanding of what I have written, I will first summarize the three basic parking reforms I recommend in The High Cost of Free Parking: (1) remove off-street parking requirements, (2) charge market prices for on-street parking to achieve about an 85-percent occupancy rate for curb spaces, and (3) return the resulting revenue to pay for public improvements in the metered neighborhoods.

I will quote ten extracts from your post, and comment on each of them.


"Shoup’s work is biased by his residency in Los Angeles, the nation’s densest urban area. One way L.A. copes with that density is by requiring builders of offices, shopping malls, and multi-family residences to provide parking. Shoup assumes that every municipality in the country has such parking requirements, even though many do not."

Does the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in every city?
Even Houston, which does not have zoning, has minimum parking requirements, and they resemble the parking requirements in almost every other city in the United States. Houston requires 1.25 parking spaces for each efficiency apartment in an apartment house, for example, and 1.333 parking spaces for each one-bedroom apartment. Here is the link to the minimum parking requirements in Houston’s municipal code.

Does the Antiplanner, who is “dedicated to the sunset of government planning,” really believe that government planners know exactly how many parking spaces to require for every economic activity at every site in every city, no matter how much the required parking spaces may cost and no matter how little drivers may be willing to pay to use them? Does the Antiplanner really support Houston’s minimum parking requirement of 1.333 spaces for each one-bedroom apartment because he believes that Houston’s government planners can accurately predict the “need” for parking at every apartment to one-thousandth of a parking space?


Donald Shoup on San Francisco’s Groundbreaking Parking Meter Study

Donald_Shoup.jpgUCLA professor and parking policy superstar Donald Shoup.
If you're interested in the power of parking policy to reduce congestion and make streets more livable, the most exciting place to be right now is San Francisco. For the past year and a half, the city has pursued an innovative slate of policies designed to manage parking supply wisely and deftly, thanks in part to a federal grant from the Urban Partnership program -- the same pot of money that New York City could have accessed if Albany had passed congestion pricing last year.

This Tuesday, the San Francisco MTA released a long-awaited parking meter study, which calls for increasing meter hours in commercial districts where parking occupancy rises above 85 percent and businesses are open late on weekdays and Sundays. Afterward, Streetsblog called UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking and arguably the world's foremost parking expert, and asked for his thoughts on the study.

Professor Shoup had read the document and called it "pathbreaking," lauding the MTA for being thorough and data-driven, and for embracing occupancy targets to manage parking supply.

Shoup also reiterated the importance of Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) as a tool for selling parking reform to the public. In CBDs, a portion of the new meter revenue collected in commercial districts is returned to that district for sidewalk repair, street trees, enhanced street cleaning, etc., so that businesses can see firsthand how parking revenue improves their streets.

Professor Shoup also pointed to Redwood City, Ventura, and Old Pasadena for best practice examples of occupancy-based parking policy changes that have revitalized neighborhoods and facilitated business. Here is an edited transcript of our interview. [For a longer version, head over to Streetsblog San Francisco.]

Matthew Roth: What are your impressions of the MTA's new parking meter study?

Donald Shoup: It's pathbreaking. There's never been anything like it anywhere before. I think they've done the right thing to say, 'we're aiming for an occupancy rate.'  You want the spaces to be well used, but readily available. Well used means almost full, but readily available means not quite full. You have to be very careful to make sure you get that right. They're willing to adjust it if they get it wrong. I think the right price for parking is sort of like the Supreme Court's definition for pornography: I know it when I see it. There's no way to say the price is right except by looking at the result and San Francisco is committed to change the price wherever they get it wrong.