Chuck Marohn interviews Donald Shoup, Distinguished Research Professor in Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles. His book, The High Cost of Free Parking, and his extensive research into the effects of parking on cities have made him a prominent voice on these topics. 

(Top photo from YouTube)


Chuck Marohn (CM): Hey everybody, this is Chuck Marohn. [My guest] is a professor of Urban Planning at UCLA, the author of the book The High Cost of Free Parking. I've got on the podcast today special guest Donald Shoup. Professor Shoup, welcome to the podcast.

Professor Donald Shoup (DS): Well, thanks for the invitation.

CM: I'd like to ask you to give us some of the ways that free parking has a high cost.

DS:  Well, everybody wants to park free, including me and probably you.

But the problem is that when we park free the cost doesn't go away, you know. The cost is still there, of a parking structure or a parking lot, and if the driver doesn't pay for it, somebody else pays for it. That somebody ends up being everybody, even people who are too poor to own a car.

So, I'm not against free parking.

What I do criticize are parking subsidies. A parking subsidy is a fossil fuel subsidy. It's a subsidy for people who use gasoline to get to the parking space. And even the parking spaces are, if they're made out of asphalt, they're made out of fossil fuels.

I don't tell people that I oppose free parking, but I certainly do think that parking subsidies have a high cost. The one person who did try to estimate the difference between the cost of just off-street parking and what the drivers pay found that the subsidy for off-street parking is between 1 and 4 percent of the gross national income. So that's about what we pay for Medicare. So I think that it’s a huge amount of money that we spend for the parking subsidies that probably go to the wrong people. 

And the further problem is that, if parking is subsidized more people will drive rather than walk or bike or ride public transit or carpool. So it's not just that there’s a lot of money spent on it, but that it causes us to travel in the wrong way or even too much. So I think the world would be a lot better off if you paid for your parking and I paid for mine.

CM: Why is it so important to get the price right? You know, you advocate for metering parking and charging for parking, why is that such an important response to get the amount of parking right?

DS:  Surveys show that 99 percent of all automobile trips end up at a free parking space. It doesn't seem like that to most of us, especially if you work at a university where people pay for parking or in some parts of downtowns. But throughout the United States, most people expect to park free at the end of a trip. And that means that we're trying to manage the transportation without the use of prices.

We're trying to manage the whole parking supply without using prices. And there's no other part of the economy that we do that with. You couldn't imagine managing the gasoline supply without charging for gasoline, or the food supply or the housing supplier, or anything else.

We have expensive housing for people and free parking for cars. So I think we have our priorities the wrong way around....