Home View from Underground Pondering a residential parking permit program, again

Pondering a residential parking permit program, again

by Benjamin Kabak

A quick glimpse at those who would pay for on-street parking and those who would not.

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.

A new study, meanwhile, shows that a small majority of New Yorkers, but a majority nonetheless, would pay. Eric Jaffe at The Atlantic Cities summarizes the paywalled article:

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.

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Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 7:48 am

Captin Transit’s idea is my idea as well. Only have parking by permit in some areas. And in areas where parking is by permit, have the city pay to fix the sidewalks, and have other revenue stay in the area as well, rather than redistributed to non-permit areas.

To sweeten the pot, some of the money would go to pay back those who have fixed their sidewalks in the past 20 years.

And alternate side would be replaced by a series of electronic signs, which would announce street cleaning days as needed.

Finally, though in general I don’t like rules that benefit existing beneficiaries at the expense of new folks, in this case I would fix the permit price at just $10 per month — for those registered and insured in a permit area on the day of enactment. Additional permits would be auctioned off based on supply and demand, and in “shortage” areas no new permits would be offered until existing ones were given up.

Basically, the city wouldn’t tell people who have decided to live the suburban life in transit-oriented areas of NYC they had to change — except or the $10 fee and no insuring the car at the second home. But it would say to new people that they shouldn’t move here expecting to live that life, unless they could pay for off street parking.

Boris October 16, 2013 - 9:07 am

Great ideas. I would only add that off-street parking requirements would need to be reformed in those neighborhoods as well; otherwise the message to newcomers gets muddled (“we charge for street parking but require off-street parking as if it were free”).

Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 9:22 am

That’s part of the point. The parochials oppose new housing, particularly new multifamily housing without lots of parking, because newcomers will compete for “their” street parking.

But the permit system, with the fixed price and guaranteed issue for those who already have cars, gets rid of that opposition. Newcommers would to be issued permits unless there was an open spot every couple of blocks at 4am.

By the way, I would want to preclude park and rid, business owners driving to their stores, or people visiting transit oriented neighborhoods by car. The permit requirement would only be in effect from 9:30 pm to 6:00 am.

Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 9:22 am

I would NOT want to preclude those types of trips.

Marc October 16, 2013 - 8:25 am

Good Morning Mr.Kabak! Thank you for very thought-provoking posts. I am a truly fan of this blog! And as a 23 year old college graduate, your riviting topics has inspired me to go back to school to get my bachelor’s and master’s degrees in civil engineering and urban planning. Once again, thank you very much.

anon_coward October 16, 2013 - 9:27 am

if this means i can park on metered spaces and not have to pay every 2 hours, its fair. problem in queens is that a lot of residential streets have half the block devoted to metered spaces

llqbtt October 16, 2013 - 10:05 am

Under this system, would I be guaranteed the spot in front of my house? I would pay for that.

Matt October 16, 2013 - 10:39 am

One problem with many of these proposals is that they ignore residents who don’t own cars, but occasionally need to use them. Sometimes I need to park a Zipcar in front of the apartment for an hour or so. Maybe I’m moving a bunch of stuff. Other times, I need to park overnight. Maybe I’m leaving early to go somewhere, and rent the car the night before.

I think there should be some sort of accommodation for people in that situation. Some sort of temporary permit, obtainable on demand. People who need short-term space shouldn’t get the short end of the stick while those who use the street for essentially long-term parking get prioritized.

Before you say it, double parking is illegal (and tickets are given for it), and garages are a) crazy expensive and b) inflexible.

Benjamin Kabak October 16, 2013 - 10:52 am

DC’s permit program allows for three-hour street parking without a permit. The ZipCar is a problem easily solved. It shouldn’t be an obstacle to a permit system.

Eric Brasure October 16, 2013 - 4:45 pm

Alternatively, Zipcars do have a “home” neighborhood, and so Zipcar could purchase permits for their cars.

aestrivex October 16, 2013 - 7:44 pm

Of course, Boston does not do this…

MetroDerp October 17, 2013 - 5:04 pm

Car2Go (also in DC) has an arrangement worked out with DDOT wherein the Car2Go vehicles can basically park anywhere, anytime, and not get ticketed. Granted, they’re all SmartCars, but it’s a pretty nifty arrangement that actually makes them way more useful than zipcars for trips where you don’t need to carry a lot to or from.

Plus, I think the District makes some money off of the arrangement, if I recall.

Tower18 October 16, 2013 - 11:08 am

For your “rent a car the night before” scenario, see my comment below about Chicago’s program. You can buy visitor permits for your visitors, and you can obviously use those for your rental car.

Tower18 October 16, 2013 - 11:05 am

Chicago has this as well, only in certain neighborhoods, and the cost is dramatically less than what’s being proposed here…I think it’s around $25/year. You also can buy books of 24-hour guest parking slips for your zone for a nominal fee.

The way Chicago does it is that a neighborhood can request that a survey is done, and if that survey determines that more than 45% of the vehicles parked in that area are not owned by residents, an ordinance will be passed to enact parking restrictions for that area. The restriction can apply to various times, depending on the neighborhood: either nights only (like 6pm-midnight, 6pm-6am, etc.) or during the day as well. The area around Wrigley Field has entirely separate regulations, naturally, to keep parking available for residents and keep fans from driving to the stadium.

It works well and everyone just accepts it as the way things are.

Duke October 16, 2013 - 11:11 am

I dunno, resident parking permits to me seem rather obnoxious and entitled – “this is MY street, don’t you dare park YOUR car here!” The point of public parking is that it’s supposed to be open equally to everyone.

I have no problem with the idea of charging for on street parking, but where the owner of the car lives should not matter for whether or when they can park it in any given place. Someone who does not live in the city but frequently visits should also be able to buy a permit, and that permit once purchased should be good anywhere and everywhere within the 5 boroughs.

Requiring residency, no matter what kind of exceptions you allow, will ruin the logistics of a significant chunk of visitors somehow. Saying you can park for up to 3 hours without a permit neglects that many visits last longer than that. Saying the restriction is only in effect overnight neglects that some visits will involve someone staying overnight or past the time that “overnight” begins. Rather than give the visitors a limited free pass, just charge them on the same terms as the residents.

Tower18 October 16, 2013 - 11:48 am

It’s usually done by zones, not necessarily block by block.

If you’re visiting from outside the city, you probably don’t pay taxes in the city, so you don’t really have any “right” to that parking anyway, so you can either use a meter or a garage. Or park in a neighborhood that doesn’t have parking restrictions. Or take transit, obviously.

OR, if you’re visiting SOMEONE, rather than just visiting, like I said, get a visitor permit from your host.

This really isn’t that hard. All the issues everyone is bringing up have already been solved.

Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Right. And a hell of a lot of these “vistors” have in fact moved here, but don’t want to pay our insurance rates. Thus they aren’t carrying their fair share of our massive auto insurance fraud industry and homicidal, uninsured drivers.

Eric Brasure October 16, 2013 - 4:46 pm

Yes, like the guy who lives on my block whose car is, strangely, registered in Connecticut.

Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 8:38 pm

Those with young drivers in the family whose car is legitimately registered in Brooklyn don’t find it strange, just dishonest.

Eric Brasure October 17, 2013 - 10:01 am

That was a sarcastic “strangely”. 🙂

Alon Levy October 17, 2013 - 4:00 pm

What’s the minimum insurance requirement in New York?

MetroDerp October 17, 2013 - 5:07 pm

“Someone who does not live in the city but frequently visits should also be able to buy a permit”

Like, I dunno, something that allows them to enter the most congested areas of Manhattan at peak hours, for an additional fee? That’s a fantastic idea; why doesn’t it exist already?

Quinn Raymond October 16, 2013 - 1:20 pm

I’m supportive of residential parking permits if they’re implemented properly and don’t incentivize more people to get cars.

The Squadron bill would have earmarked any revenue to go to the MTA, which is great in theory. But even if you charged quite a bit annually you’re not talking about a ton of revenue.

Also, can we please ditch the parking minimums for new developments?

sirjed October 16, 2013 - 2:10 pm

I am not in favor of this. City and state taxes are already beyond high even for those who are making a decent (but still modest) income. Vehicle registration fees are nearly $200 in addition to annual $40 emissions inspections. Auto Insurance in NY has the highest rates in the country, near enough. Tolls are insanely high compared to virtually any other city in the United States. True, $10 a month is not so bad compared with other expenses, but it’s still just one more headache on top of many other headaches in our city.

Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 3:31 pm

All that goes to insurance fraud, debts, pensions, and older generations.

So where will we find the revenues to keep the streets and sidewalks paved?

“Auto Insurance in NY has the highest rates in the country, near enough.”

We’d be number one if you just looked at NYC, because Upstate pulls down the statewide average. But requiring those who park on the street to be registered and insured at their permit address would help. The uninsured and insured out of state would either disappear, pay to park off street, or start paying insurance.

dopl October 16, 2013 - 2:53 pm

Earmarking whatever money is raised for local improvements is a good idea, but it shouldn’t be limited to sidewalk repair. Many nieghborhoods that have limited available on-street parking could really do with a good dose of graffiti removal, trash cleanup, and better park maintenance. There are plenty of small expenses that could be covered, at least partially, by any such scheme.

Chris C October 16, 2013 - 4:15 pm

Here is a perspective from England.

Here we call them ‘controlled parking zones’ and operate at different times and on different days of the week depending on location and demand on parking spaces – as well a residents decision. The zones are decided upon by the local council. Where I live in London all of the borough is covered but where my father lives in the North East of England it is just areas where there are parking pressures.

The zone where I live operates from 9.30 – 17.30 Monday to Friday. Other zones include Saturday, have longer hours or are ‘controlled’ for only an hour. Some zones limit visitor parking to 2 hours, others to 4 (other than for a day pass)

The main idea is to stop parking by commuters at the nearby train and tube station and supermarket shoppers.

Only residents of a zone can apply for a permit (a sticker that goes on the inside of the windscreen) and they need to provide proof of address as well as the registration documents for the vehicle. The permit is valid for one vehicle only and the registration number is included on the permit. There is an annual fee but permits for 3 months are also available.

Visitors can either buy a limited timed permit for a few hours from a pay and display machine (they take cash but you can also ‘pay by text’) but day passes can also be bought by anyone who needs to park in that zone – so when I had a visitor staying for a week I bought 5 day passes for him. The local library sells them (problem is the library has limited hours!)

There are wardens that patrol during the zone hours who check that cars are displaying valid stickers and if not can give them a ticket (penalty charge notice). They also photograph the car with the ticket on and its location as proof that the ticket was issued and the vehicle is where they said it was. The can’t issue penalties for a vehicle that is dangerously parked or does not have a vehicle excise duty disc but they do record the registration number and pass it onto the relevant authorities !

Permits for one zone are not valid in another.

The zone does not guarantee you can park your vehicle outside of your property only that you can park in the zone – this is where most people get upset even though the rules say it does not mean you can park outside of your house.

If you have your own off street parking space you obviously don’t need a parking permit.

There is a separate permit for businesses.

After taking into account expenses for operating the scheme any surplus has to be used on local transport related schemes – so repairing pavements, safety improvements or for subsidising the cost of ‘free’ travel for the elderly. Funds can’t be used for any other purposes – no matter how virtuous.

My local council has produced this booklet about the CPZ in the borough.


And the costs (in £) here


Larry Littlefield October 16, 2013 - 8:42 pm

“The main idea is to stop parking by commuters at the nearby train and tube station and supermarket shoppers. ”

That wouldn’t be the main idea here. During the day, your car is already in a spot or it is elsewhere while you are using it. So who cares if someone else parks in your neighborhood when you are gone?

The problem is people who use other means to go to work, such as transit, but find that when they return home during the weekend or after driving in the evening there is no place left to put the car. Particularly when half the spaces are off limit the next day due to street sweeping.

Tower18 October 17, 2013 - 12:42 pm

The idea with that is to discourage using dense residential areas as Park and Rides, which I agree with. I live near the Fort Hamilton Parkway F train stop, and the area fills up with interlopers in the morning who drive back to god knows where in the evening. Sure maybe there are spots available for them, but there’s an argument to be made (sounds like you don’t agree) that we shouldn’t encourage this behavior.

But I agree that post-5pm or 6pm is the more important timeframe.

paulb October 16, 2013 - 9:56 pm

Is this really likely to happen? Screwing with someone’s free parking spot in NYC is like threatening–or appearing to threaten–handgun ownership elsewhere.

Spendmore Wastemore October 16, 2013 - 10:18 pm

Resident parking means, in practice, that you can’t have guests from 96.7% of America unless you or they are rich.

For distances of up to 100mi or so, easily covered by car, they will have nowhere to put the car on arrival. Having them fend for themselves fighting for a theoretical open space in a resident parking district means they’ll get a $100+ ticket +/or towed.

If you’re not rich you probably don’t live near Mid-town or Penn, so you aren’t easy to find for the few outside NYC interested in trying forms of public transit without wings. If they are not rich, they probably don’t live near an Acela stop and don’t care to drop $100+ on the train, more $ on the taxi to their station and again $ for another one to you *every time they visit you*.

I have a friend in metro Boston who broke up with a girl over this issue. She lived in a resident parking area and he lived about 12 miles away. He couldn’t drive there without racking up tickets (about $25 per day iirc). She didn’t have a car and wouldn’t navigate the pulic transit to his house (no sane person would, it would take hours). He married someone who also lived in the city but drove from to his house while they were dating.
The other girl was still single last I heard.

Alon Levy October 16, 2013 - 10:26 pm

The current parking regime means that people from 96.7% of America (or at least the much less than 96.7% that would access New York by car rather than by plane) can’t visit you without circling for available parking.

Kai B October 16, 2013 - 10:41 pm

Similar to selling Metrocards, local merchants could sell temporary parking permits at a price that is reasonable for occasional use but wouldn’t make sense for the long run.

Tower18 October 17, 2013 - 12:45 pm

Why do people keep raising this point over and over? There’s a very simple solution here in visitor permits, which every city has already implemented and it works just fine.

Spendmore Wastemore October 16, 2013 - 10:41 pm

Hm. Re insurance rates, 3 things would help.

i) Some amount of off-street residential parking under new and renovated buildings. People still have places to go beyond NYC (amazing, huh?).
ii) Punish one time insurance fraud with 3x payback, and repeat fraud with payback, state prison and no driving within NYC for 5 years.
iii) Replace the sharp headed screws on everyone’s front license plate with free, urethane tipped screws. That material is both soft and tough and won’t dig through plastic. That, or eliminate front plates. Painted bumpers were a stupid idea but they’ve become universal and we have no reasonable chance of fixing that, so we have to adapt.

johndmuller October 17, 2013 - 5:33 am

I experienced some of the permit thing while living in DC. I thought of it at the time as a revenue thing, although it was cheap when they first started it up ($5-$15 per year).

At one address, I was largely unaffected. People living around the corner from me, however, were not in the residential parking zone as the boundary was right at the corner. Unfortunately for them, their street was not very self sufficient in parking as it had parking on only one side plus rush hour restrictions and perhaps also street cleaning restrictions periodically. Prior to the permits they could park on my street or further down their own street during those occasions. When permits went into effect, they did not need to buy a permit, but OTOH, they also could not buy a permit, nor could not park around the corner, etc, so they were bigger victims than the commuters, who apparently did not want to park around there anyway.

In another location I lived, there was no shortage of daytime spaces, so either the permit system worked really well or nobody wanted to park there anyway. There was congested parking at night there, which the permits did not help.

The authorities were really good at enforcement there, at least for parking; one would be lucky to get away without a permit for even a day, and they kept better track of inspection and registration dates than I did. OTOH, Several times I had obviously abandoned/stolen cars left in front that took many months and many calls to get towed away, even as they accrued many tickets.

Getting visitor permits was somewhere between a chore and a PIA, depending on the mood of the desk officer at the police station. Ironically, the available (even the illegal) parking at the police station was usually filled up with police cars.

Apparently they have upgraded their pricing to more noticeable amounts, and made other changes, like more universal coverage and liberalized guest permits, to make them perhaps so easy to get that it could foster a market selling them to commuters (the permits are still way way less that commercial parking).

I’m suppose that there are parts of DC where permits are worthwhile, like very close to Metro stations, but there may nonetheless be people driving from another part of the parking zone to legally occupy your space when you go out somewhere, so there is no real protection if you live in a coveted area.

Overall, I don’t know that it does much beyond the revenue, the appearance of doing something to keep out those dreaded commuters from MD and VA (who don’t necessarily pay the tickets they get anyway), and, did I mention, the revenue.

Alon Levy October 17, 2013 - 6:41 am

Re zones, this also affects zone-based transit pricing systems. The solution is to either use natural zone boundaries, like water, or have neutral zones in between zones. The London Underground has some stations that are in two adjacent zones, and the fare to them is based on whatever is more advantageous for the rider. Berlin has three zones but only sells two- and three-zone tickets, so the middle zone is like a huge neutral zone.

For parking, it should be trivial to designate both sides of a street (or better yet 2-3 parallel streets) as lying in both zones.

johndmuller October 18, 2013 - 1:14 pm

Re the parking: I’m not sure that I would like the trade-offs involved with the neutral zone. I suppose it depends on whether you are trying to maximize your chances to get any parking space or whether you wish to protect the space in front of your house.

People do get quite possessive of “their” spaces, and not entirely without reason, especially when potential vandalism or healthy amounts of snow removal are involved.

sirjed October 17, 2013 - 10:52 am

I’m in favor of improving parking rules and regulations; right now it’s a nightmare. But permit-only parking in regular residential neighborhoods will only make the problem worse (if NYC can even get its act together in enforcing reasonable fines and permits without corruption or favoritism!!). Alternate Side is an absolute nightmare in heavily congested areas of Brooklyn.

Some things that may be useful: Have full-day parking zones near (but not adjacent) to subways in Brooklyn and Queens. Have metered hourly parking in the same areas. In select areas have permit only zones (such as DUMBO) and metered parking near business centers.

The concept can be implemented wisely. But as discussed in the article , I think it would do more harm than good.

Nathanael October 17, 2013 - 12:55 pm

” 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”

This is for stupid 19th century historical reasons.

The City of Ithaca, NY just fixed that historical error (or will as of January). Sidewalks will be paid for out of fees on property tax bills, rather than the wacktastic system of property “assessments” for specific hunks of sidewalk in front of them.

I suggest New York City do the same thing.

3ddi3 B October 18, 2013 - 9:52 am

I am in total favor of this, my neighborhood (Rego Park) has undergone a lot of changes in the last 10 years; what used to be a quiet and easy to park area, has become a nightmare. This is partly because of Queens Mall being renovated, and the 2 new malls nearby. We also have 2 subways stations that are on the local track. (M, R; Woodhaven and 63rd Dr)
This doesn’t affect me much, because my house has a driveway, but if I have guests over I don’t encourage them to drive, if that’s their only choice, I have to grab a spot for them prior.
I notice many out of state plates, and many people dressed in suits that come after work or dressed with an uniform from the mall.
So, for us it’s a major issue. I think this area should have a parking permit available only to residents, this would only reduce the number of cars that people have. I have a neighbor with a big family that has 10 cars!
A permit system would alleviate all these issues, 50% of the money should go to the local city council district for street and subway station improvements and the other half to the MTA. I think $3-400 is fair.


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