Over the years, I’ve often returned to the idea of parking permits for New York City. From reducing congestion to generating revenue that can be invested into numerous projects, the benefits are obvious, and the rationale for not charging is not immediately evident. Considering how much people are willing to pay for private space in New York, why should the city simply hand over public space for free so that idle cars have a place to sleep?
A good number of cities have figured out how to solve the parking problem through a residential permit system. Washington, DC, charges a modest fee and requires DC plates which allows them to capture registration fees and local insurance dollars. Philadelphia and Boston, where transit is worse and parking is even tighter than in New York, have instituted permit systems as well. In exchange for a better chance to find a nearby on-street space, residents have to pay. It’s not a bad deal.
In an upcoming issue of Transport Policy, transport researchers Zhan Guo of New York University and Simon McDonnell of the City University of New York report that roughly 53 percent of New Yorkers are willing to pay something for residential street spaces — and this something averaged about $400 a year:” The greater-than-50% approval rate and the high price tag both indicate that pricing curb parking for residents is feasible, at least in our sample.”
Guo and McDonnell asked households outside the Manhattan core how much they were willing to pay for a residential street permit. Keep in mind that New York is the only major U.S. city that doesn’t issue them, so the respondents were coming from a baseline parking cost of zero. Many of the 244 people who responded said they weren’t willing to pay, but more than half said they were, and the mean contribution of this willing group was roughly $34 a month.
Over the course of a year that comes to $408 — almost four times more than the top U.S. permit rate, in San Francisco.
Jaffe runs down some of the granular findings: People who struggle finding spots a block or two from home are willing to pay double what those who have ample street parking would pay, and from a corresponding map, it appears that people who live in denser areas closer to Manhattan are more willing to pay than those in, say, Canarsie or Cambria Heights where parking is less scarce. Meanwhile, what the survey did not do was tie parking permit fees into improvements — road, transit or otherwise — which would likely impact respondents’ answers.
Now, parking permits aren’t something New York City seems to be considering. An attempt at bringing them to the Brooklyn neighborhoods surrounding the Barclays Center failed, and now that area suffers through idling limos during concerts and games. I do like Cap’n Transit’s 2012 idea to use parking permit revenue to fix sidewalks as that fiscal obligation currently rests, for some reason, with the city’s property owners and not DOT. Plus, as I walk around Brownstone Brooklyn, it’s obvious which transplants haven’t re-registered their cars in New York, and a permit system could solve that problem.
But even as opposition is always loudest from those with the most to lose, I wonder if entrenched opinions have changed enough to make a go of it. With the right messaging and the right trade-offs, the city could turn precious public space into a potential net gain with drivers enjoying easier access to parking spaces and the city finding some resources to fix up the streets and sidewalks. If anything, there’s no reason to simply give the land away.