Social and equity impacts of subsidised parking for all

This previous post probably left little doubt that transport has taken up a fair bit of my spare thinking time. This is only part of the story because it’s not transport, but urban planning and land use that interests me.

Which is why I get so annoyed when the complaints fly every time parking charges are introduced or increased on council owned land.Harry Clarke has a better considered and informed idea about the economics of parking than yours truly, but here are my thoughts.

Council owns the land. The market value of providing parking spots can be worked out, particularly where there are private parking stations in the area. If council owned car spots are provided at less than the market rate, then this is a subsidy provided to drivers.

Some ongoing subsidies are appropriate, such as for people who need car access due to mobility issues or those who need access to the area but rely on low and fixed incomes. In this case I am thinking about not-for-profit organisations who may need parking for staff and other vehicles, but also parking around public and social housing tenants.

These subsidies should be directed to those who need them, not available to all in the blanket approach currently taken.

By way of example, I walked past the Goulbourne St car park (Sydney) yesterday and noticed that parking rates are $8 per hour during peak times. This car park is Council owned but privately managed. On the street next to the car park there is curb side parking spots, and a search of the City of Sydney website indicates that the parking meters will hit you for $6 per hour during the same period, as is the fare throughout the whole CBD. That is $2 dollars an hour per CBD on-street parking spot that could otherwise be used for social programs, cultural programs, infrastructure upgrades, Clover’s exercise in curb-side prettiness or lower rates.

You will be hard pressed finding me advocating for the latter but my point is that Council is preventing itself from making a considered decision on how that money would best be spent, rather than adding to carbon pollution and congestion by encouraging more driving.

Add to this the number of free parking spots in busy areas across the city and you have a lot of dollars gifted to drivers, whether they live in City of Sydney council area or not.

It is worth keeping in mind too that the provision of free and subsidised parking entrenches a sense of entitlement over land that may be better used as for transport as traffic lanes or bus lanes, and discourages the provision of off street parking by Council or private operators.

By way of example, why the f#?* is parking allowed on King St in Newtown? The street is a virtual standstill as cars parallel reverse into parking spots that could otherwise be used as a bus lane. This is the case during non-peak times as well.

The provision of subsidised parking on King St ($3.30 p/hr) has also discouraged the provision of off street parking spaces in this busy commercial zone. Who would build a car park and charge for parking when Council is undercutting you?

The politics of implementing the changes alluded to above are difficult, yet not insurmountable. The entrenched interests here are residents and businesses (including commercial landlords) in the area.

Residents have bought their property on the assumption of available free parking, in inner city areas often do not have parking spaces on their property and many residents have been there a long time. They like their visitors to be able to park without moaning about the cost of attending dinner parties in the inner city. The main issue here though the removal of parking spaces rather than charging, as residents generally receive parking permits from Council and access to these permits could be restricted to people who buy into an area after a certain date, and charges for resident parking lifted gradually over time. Dinner party visitors will become accustomed to paying for parking.

The issue for commercial properties is another transitional one. Businesses needs access to customers and customers will drive to commercial areas that are free or cheap to park in rather than expensive areas. Also, the current subsidy for on street parking has discouraged the provision of off street parking and a transition  on street and off street parking would take many years, as does any other significant land use change left to the market.

The solution here could be for Council to develop parking stations as they remove street parking spots, whilst coordinating with surrounding Councils the move towards higher parking charges (State Government may need to take a lead here). This would be expensive, however higher income from parking spots could be used to borrow against.

Confession: I do not own a car, however do often drive as a member of the GoGet car share service. I am not against cars, I think car use is necessary however I do believe that drivers receive many benefits and subsidies at the expense of the rest of society.

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One response to “Social and equity impacts of subsidised parking for all

  1. Pingback: Congestion charging in Sydney « Translations

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