Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The high cost of cheap on-street parking

Last week I promised you another explanation for the crazy law that was passed by the New York State Legislature, essentially outlawing small curbside bus companies. (For a maddeningly Orwellian take on the legislation, go read this blog post by Tri-State's Nadine Lemmon where she spins it as "a victory for community leaders and sustainable transportation advocates.") I've given one explanation: established companies like Greyhound and Peter Pan raising the barriers to keep competitors out of the market. The other explanation is that too many powerful people want cheap curbside parking.

Of the nine complaints about curbside buses, seven related to illegal activities (idling, blocking the sidewalk, blocking the road, littering, physically attacking your competitors, excessive noise, and parking in city bus stops) that were not being prosecuted. The other two relate to parking:

6. Parked buses "could tie up deliveries, and other businesses in the area will be affected as well" (Tribeca Trib).
9. "People's homes and businesses are being blocked by buses, commercial areas, residential areas," says Senator Squadron (Metro).

If you've been following trends in the worlds of progressive and libertarian transportation policy, you've heard about UCLA urban planner Donald Shoup and his strong case that parking - on-street and off-street - is underpriced. Cheap parking leads to drivers circling for spaces, which compounds street congestion. It also leads to office workers, salesclerks and neighbors hogging valuable commercial spaces, so that they are unavailable for shoppers. And it encourages people to drive - at least, those who can get a space.

Imagine if curbside parking were charged at market rates. Shoup recommends that the rate be set at a level that allows for about 15% of the spaces on each block to be unoccupied at any given time. Rates in Midtown Manhattan would be sky-high, of course, and in Chinatown they'd be pretty high too. If they were still high enough for a bus company to make a profit picking up passengers, they could do that. If not, then they wouldn't pick up there.

If Greyhound didn't like Megabus paying for curb space outside the Port Authority, they could outbid Megabus, and maybe free up a gate in the terminal for another bus company. If a shopper or a delivery truck driver wanted to park in that space, they could outbid the bus company. But I'm guessing that the shopkeepers, office workers and status-seekers who currently take up a lot of the curb space in Midtown and Chinatown would find a garage space or take the train.

Would this price out some of the residents, shoppers and businesses that can't afford to pay so much for curb space? Maybe, but how is the current first-come, first-served system any better, with its circling and space-hogging?

Would market pricing also bump out smaller curbside bus operators? Probably some, but the DOT could institute some kind of incubator program where an up-and-coming bus company could get a discount on curb rates in exchange for submitting to more frequent inspections or something. Others could probably find a convenient corner where they could afford the parking rates, or even rent their own terminal.

Market-rate parking is a notoriously difficult political challenge, and one approach has been to sidestep the resistance by outsourcing the meters to a private company. After Chicago's 2008 deal was panned as a short-term sell-out, many people have been leery of such projects. But if done right, it could rationalize the curbside busing system without the need for a new cumbersome layer of bureaucracy. Imagine if Dan Squadron, Margaret Chin, CHEKPEDS and Tri-State had used that opportunity to push for rational curb pricing instead of giving us this turkey of a law.


Stephen Smith said...

Have you ever read Dan Klein's work on curb rights? I haven't, but I imagine it's something like this.

busplanner said...

Cap'n - I agree that most of the bill is overkill (and doesn't make sense in the operation of a transit service.)

NYC DOT already has the authority to assign bus stop locations to interstate buses (as do all municipalities). The bill should simply have provided a clear penalty for bus companies that do not apply for bus stop locations and a clear review process if the city refused to approve a bus stop in the geographic area (as defined in the bill) requested by the bus company.

The rest is enforcement. For example, if buses double park at the bus stop, then ticketing is in order.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks, Busplanner. Yes, pretty much all the other complaints rest on enforcement, and I haven't heard a word of complaint about the NYPD's lack of enforcement from Dan Squadron, Christine Berthet or anyone at Tri-State.

Stephen, yes I have read the short version of Curb Rights, which is available for free online. It's a bit different because it's designed with local buses in mind. Under that system the bus providers wouldn't be bidding against delivery trucks, shoppers and residents, rather in a separate system for buses only.

neroden@gmail said...

Perhaps the reason for lack of complaint about NYPD's behavior is that complaints about NYPD's behavior have been consistently ignored under the Bloomberg maladministration.

Perhaps the next mayor will be willing to fire the criminal Ray Kelly and try to get the police to do their job rather than harrassing innocent people to meet quotas -- but it's clear Bloomberg has zero interest.