Should We Eliminate All Free Parking?

THE COMMUTE: The hipsters are at it again. Ben Kabak of Second Avenue Sagas wonders publicly if everyone in the city should always have to pay for on-street parking. New York City now views free parking as a problem and is seeking to privatize it. And some sound giddy about the idea.

Basically the argument goes like this:

  1. The city should not be giving away public space for free.
  2. No one in NYC should own a car because cars are evil. They cause congestion and pollution.
  3. Mass transit can take you anywhere you want to go conveniently. If it doesn’t go there you can get on your bicycle or walk there. In a rare case you may need a taxi.
  4. If you dare buy a car, which are only owned by the wealthy, you should pay heavily to use it. Forget for a minute, that automobile owners already have to buy or lease their vehicle, pay high prices for gas, as well as pay gas taxes, registration and inspection fees, high tolls primarily used to subsidize mass transit, a city auto use tax, high insurance, maintenance, parking meters costing up to $3 an hour and increasing every six months, high garage fees and parking fines (sometimes for parking legally), in addition to other city taxes used to maintain roads – none of that is enough. Car owners do not pay their fare share and should pay more. They should not be able to park for free anywhere. Residential permits should be required any place there is no metered space or parking garage. Of course, the city could charge anything it wanted for such a permit, perhaps $15 a year or perhaps $100 and raise it anytime it saw the need.
  5. Drivers should pay a congestion pricing fee and the number of parking lanes should be reduced further (which would also increase congestion and pollution) to make driving even more difficult.

This myopic view of the city fails to recognize that it is not only rich people who own cars. It is the working middle class who cannot get to work conveniently and quickly by mass transit. They do not understand that a 10-minute auto trip from Sheepshead Bay to Bay Ridge or Canarsie can take 60 to 90 minutes by mass transit and they make no proposals to change that.

Further, it is the middle class who would be most affected by a proposal requiring residential parking permits throughout the city, because those are the people who cannot afford to pay for a garage or buy a house with a garage. They are the ones who rely on free city parking to store their vehicle, not the rich. Residential parking permits merely represents another city tax to our already overtaxed middle class.

No one talks about how these permits would work. Where would non-residents or visitors park? Wouldn’t they be circling the block even more to look for a scarce parking meter or would they be required to purchase a daily permit for perhaps $10 to park in a non-metered space?  If permits are required only in certain neighborhoods, how would you visit your doctor when you never know how long you will be stuck in the waiting room and therefore cannot use a meter? Would you have to buy permits for each neighborhood you visit? What if you wanted to see a movie when the meter limits you to only one hour and there is no parking lot? How would you visit friends and relatives if you have your own garage and do not require a permit to park your car at home? Would you still be required to purchase one anyway when you need to park your car away from home?

The answer to these questions, most likely, is if you don’t like it, get rid of your car because we don’t have one so you don’t need one either. Maybe this is true if you live in a hipster neighborhood where you have quick access to a subway and it doesn’t take one hour just to reach the Long Island Railroad, but it is not true for the rest of us.

Of course, parking permits would not apply to those who use or misuse and abuse handicapped parking permits, the police and fire departments, elected officials and their staffs, certain government employees including judges, and anyone who is politically connected and can obtain a police placard.  (These state anyone using one is on “official police business.”)  Hats off to State Senator Tony Avella who recently destroyed his parking permit because he does not believe he should be entitled to one.

Has anyone calculated the loss in revenue by those using placards who are exempt from paying parking meters, revenue that has to be made up by higher rates paid by the rest of us? I once saw a meter maid bypass a car with an expired meter because a placard merely stated that the car was being used by someone who volunteered in the police administered “Youth Dares” program. Meanwhile a friend of mine was recently ticketed for an expired meter when there was actually two minutes remaining. How fair is that?

Every few years whenever placard abuse is publicized, a pledge is made by the mayor to reduce the number of parking placards in circulation, but between these promises and subsequent reductions, when no one is watching, the number grows.

Another fallacy made by the hipsters is that revenue from residential parking permits or congestion pricing would somehow fund mass transit improvements and they would be immediately noticeable allowing people to give up their cars. Forget that it takes 20 years for one subway to be constructed, or that most of the revenue would probably just go into the general fund to plug the deficit.

Any proposal to make life a little easier for the automobile driver, such as a proposal to allow you to park at a broken fire hydrant that serves no purpose other than to collect revenue, attracts the ire of the anti-automobile crowd.

We do not need further encouragement for a mass exodus of the middle class leaving us only a city of the very rich and very poor. I also fail to understand how sharing parking revenues with an outside corporation will help the city financially, other than rewarding friends of the mayor. Why couldn’t the city install new technology itself or ensure that parking meters are more reliable?

What do you think? Are the hipsters correct? Will an end to free parking go toward funding and improving mass transit, thereby reducing the number of cars on the road and reducing congestion and pollution to make this city more livable? Is it wrong to make driving or parking easier?

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).


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