Updated: Who Shall We Discriminate Against?

Update 6/10/13:

An interesting hybrid of my ‘vest the current residents’ notion and the ‘auction’ notion from Matt Yglesias on Slate: distribute permits to current residents (one time) and then let them trade on a market.

Original post 5/10/13:

In allocating parking…

The vote by City Council last month to re-institute parking minimums for larger residential buildings in transit corridors is not likely to satisfy the Richmond neighborhood (or other neighborhoods) completely. There will probably be some serious discussion of permit programs, and I think that’s healthy. Managing on-street parking is far better policy than requiring construction of parking beyond what the market demands. Indeed, clear on-street policy will give the market important signals about how much parking should be built.

So what’s this about discrimination? ANY permit policy has to discriminate against (disallow, limit, charge) some group of potential users, or it won’t have any impact. So we’re going to need to have a conversation about who we’re going to try to regulate and hopefully align it with good policy.

Today, Portland has one tool in the permit toolbox, the Area Permit Parking program (APP). The plain vanilla version of this program issues permits to residents (without limit, for as many vehicles as they may own) and a portion of employees (the percentage varies by district, from about 50% to the 100% demanded by businesses in the NW Parking Plan). Visitors are limited to two hours unless a visitor pass is provided by a permit holder. So who does this discriminate against?

  • Visitors who need/want to stay longer than two hours
  • Some portion of employees (maybe)

To understand the policy rationale for this, it helps to understand that this permit program was designed for close-in neighborhoods near downtown (I believe Goose Hollow was the first neighborhood to use it). The intended policy impact is to:

  1. Prevent parkers whose ultimate destination is a nearby district from using the neighborhood to park, walking or using transit to get to their final destination.
  2. Encourage employees in the neighborhood to use non-auto modes to get to work (often coupled with incentives to do so)

If we’re going to put some new tools in the toolbox, to deal with neighborhoods with problems other than commuters, what kinds of parking behavior to we want to disallow or disincent? Some candidates after the jump…

  • The default scenario – People not willing to be inconvenienced

    This is effectively what happens in my NW neighborhood today in the areas not yet covered by a permit program. If you’re prepared to park your car some distance from your home you can find parking. If you choose not to put up with that, you can find a home with a driveway (or get a permit to put one in) – or in another neighborhood.

  • Residents of multi-family buildings

    This was the explicit request of some of the neighbors in the recent Planning Commission/City Council process – reserve on-street parking for single-family home residents. This could be implemented by assigning permits to street addresses (2 per address?) or perhaps on the basis of the street frontage of a property. At least one developer suggested that this would give them a clear basis to plan how much parking they would need to build. But it has some serious problems from an equity point of view, particularly as much of new multi-family construction is currently in apartments. Renters tend to be younger, lower-income and more diverse than single-family homeowners.

  • Newcomers

    We could allocate parking based on tenure in the neighborhood. Those who’ve been residents the longest get access to on-street parking. As people move out, the next person on the list gets the permit. However, given that single-family homeowners tend to have longer tenures than renters, this starts to look a lot like the last case, with the same equity issues.

  • Newcomers (one-time)

    We could apply the approach above as a “grandfathering” strategy, such that when one of the original “vested” permits is surrendered it goes back into a general pool allocated by some other system. While this still has some equity challenges, it might help deal with the political challenge of the kind of rapid change we’re seeing in some corridors. Transition strategy, anyone?

  • People not willing to pay

    On-street parking is a valuable resource, this approach puts an explicit price on it. We could figure out how many permits a given zone (neighborhood, block face?) can accommodate, and then auction them off and sell them at the clearing price. This is the ultimate market approach.

    But willingness to pay pretty quickly blends into ability to pay, and for the sake of equity, we’d probably need some way to means test or apply a subsidy for some potential users.

    There are simpler forms of this than an auction. A starting point would be to set a permit price above the cost of service (currently about $60/year to do the administration and fund enforcement). The premium above cost of service could be shared between the City and the neighborhood (the policy term for this is a “parking benefit district”). But let’s remember that the driving policy should be neighborhood livability and vitality, revenue should remain the side effect. If that gets reversed, political opposition would likely get much stiffer.

  • People with multiple cars

    I actually tried to apply this one in the 2003 variation of the NW Parking Plan. Households with multiple vehicles would pay on an increasing scale. The second permit costs more, the third even more, etc. How steep the curve is will of course be the subject of vigorous debate…

  • People with off-street parking

    Should someone who does not have a driveway or garage be more entitled to a permit than someone who does? A curb cut effectively privatizes at least one parking space, so there’s some rationale there. This may force some folks to clean out their garages…

  • People who don’t use their cars (much)

    I have to admit this is one of my favorites. The survey data behind the recent zoning measure had one very interesting nugget. People in the new apartment buildings have a pretty high auto ownership rate (60-70%) but a much lower rate of using them to get to work daily (~30%).

    I could argue that this is actually the worst case scenario. Whatever you think of cars, they generate value only when in motion. So a car that is just parked most days is generating no mobility value, while at the same time using up a space that could be used by the customer of a local business during the day. I would welcome policies that encourage folks who use their cars only rarely to switch to any of the varieties of car sharing that we enjoy in Portland. And they’d be likely to save money in the process…

I would note that almost any of the approaches above would work better if the market in off-street parking were freer. Our residential zoning makes it illegal in most cases to rent any surplus off-street capacity in residential zones to neighbors. I certainly hope we can fix that in the Comp Plan update.

So what do you think of these approaches? Do you have others to suggest?

18 responses to “Updated: Who Shall We Discriminate Against?”

  1. I like your thinking on this. I’d quibble with your suggestions that parked cars provide no mobility value. They calm traffic on residential streets and protect sidewalks. I don’t think, therefore that we gain much by discriminating against car owners who don’t drive much. The curb frontage metric coupled with a free market approach to any additional permits distributed has an appealing logic to it, and could even account for lost curb frontage due to curb cuts.

  2. Regarding “People who don’t use their cars (much)”: It is a violation to leave a car parked in the same location for more than 24 hours.


    What about a strategy of more strictly enforcing this policy? Folks who have a car they only drive on the weekends, and leave it parked on the street during the week, would probably reconsider the benefit/cost ratio of car ownership if they had to move it every single evening (or periodically pay fines/visit the tow yard).

    I think if the City started aggressively enforcing the existing parking laws most of the parking problem on the inner east-side would go away.

    This policy would effectively discriminate against people violating existing Portland parking law, for the benefit of those not breaking that law. What’s not to like?

  3. Re: the APP, as far as I know it is not designed to deal with parking problems caused by commuters who work IN the area where they are parking.

    If you just happen to live in an area with a couple office buildings, your streets could be clogged with commuters every day and (at least under the original rules) you don’t qualify for an APP.

    It’s too bad that, in the case of the Eastside APP areas for example, that commuters can’t buy a limited number of permits for a market rate price. If downtown parking was $185 a month on average in 2011, likely some people would be willing to pay 12X the current permit cost (60/year) to park west of SE 7th and walk or bus over the bridge. That’s a lot of money being left on the table.

  4. Enforcing the existing law is just like discriminating against those who own a car but don’t use it much. That is what the effect of it would be.

  5. I don’t see any reason at all to cater to people who want to move into the neighborhood and then barely use their cars. The space is valuable, and those people are using more of the space than everyone else, and paying less for it.

    I’d like to see non-transferable permits issued to existing residents as a tool to mollify them so that we can just move to meters in high-demand neighborhoods. If residents can’t always indefinitely use curbside space for free, then in time we’ll see developers respond and provide an appropriate amount of off-street space for parking (and the car ownership rate among residents will probably go down as well, since it will be less convenient).

  6. I think what this will create is a barrier for people who want to try other modes sometimes but need to drive a few days a week. A few will give up their cars but others will drive more… is that your goal… I thought the goal was reduced VMT

  7. Note active parking management isn’t just a way to discriminate, it also allows us to favor classes of people we might want to support such as the elderly and households with young children. I think giving such people preferential access to permits would undermine much of the argument that crowded on-street parking is a public problem.

  8. Chicago sold its parking meters. While that deal was poorly structured for the city (the banks got a great deal), in practice it could work to privatize parking management.

    How about we give a private company a 10 year lease to all public street parking in the city? They would be responsible for maintaining the pavement, and using part of the money to pave and add sidewalks on the unpaved or partially paved streets in parts town. The private company can set prices for the metered spaces, add meters in other places where they expect a profit, and vary prices by time of day or week as they think fit. They can also charge monthly fees for residential parking, if the neighborhood has demand to make it profitable. Some places would still have free parking, because some neighorhoods would be so low demand that the cost of enforcement would not be worth the value of parking in low-density (e.g. east Portland, SW hills). And if a business wants to turn a space into a sidewalk cafe or a bike corral instead, they can negotiate a rate to pay.

    The city can subsidize parking for the disabled or the poor, if it so wishes, or as part of the lease it could be subsidized by the profit. And the city could get half, or 80% of profits, to spending street improvements or policing or whatever.

    I’m pretty sure this would be superior to any alternative, if it is politically feasible. The city could also try to do this itself, but I doubt the politicians would allow true market rates, if they kept any ability to meddle.

  9. In the longer run I’d like to see Portland using smart approaches to building parking like the one in Seattle:


    I don’t think permitting is a good choice of management tool at all, frankly, and I definitely think it’s a terrible idea to discriminate against people who own cars but don’t use them, because it’s a huge barrier for people who want, or might want, to try to migrate to being car-free, but need some time to make the transition. Our carsharing options in Portland are really good compared to other places, but they aren’t fantastic, and they are expensive.

    Plus, sometimes people own cars and don’t use them much for a while (unemployment, easy bike/bus commute, and then use them a lot (employment, new job faraway). Cars aren’t so cheap to buy and sell that you want to sell and then re-buy them frequently.

    And cars definitely don’t only generate value when in motion! When in motion they are also emitting and participating in causing congestion.

    I’d prefer the method that it costs more to get an on-street permit if you already have off-street space, and that each subsequent car per household costs more.

    But I still don’t think permitting is a great solution. It’s not bad for mananging the situation you mentioned, but that’s not the situation that the Richmond neighbors are complaining about. Their “problems” are purely driven by entitlement — they think they have more right to the street space than other people who live there do.

  10. Privatizing parking meters like in Chicago is a horrible idea if you ever get to the point of wanting to remove parking to add bike lanes, etc.

  11. Chris,

    I like your piece but was surprised that in your lineup you forgot a very sizable contingent. Those who don’t own cars. 24% of renter households in the portions of Multnomah Co. we’re talking about here (West of I-205) don’t own a car. That is a sizable contingent. A nontrivial percentage of Mult. Co. homeowners also don’t own cars. I think it is about 6%. Comparing the 2000 and 2010 Census figures suggests that those numbers are growing. Some of my neighbors have a ridiculous number of cars. They park up the space in front of my house but I don’t care since I have nothing to park there. Haha.

    As for a line of parked cars as traffic calming. Hm. I don’t know. I think I prefer Portland’s Skinny Streets Ordinance that too few people know about in Portland but that is written up in books and articles that laud Portland’s progressive land use policies. Narrower streets are safer by far, and clogging them up with parked cars has that effect. But just think how safe or calm the streets would, I mean will, be once those parked and driven cars have faded from memory. In our lifetimes.

  12. “Our carsharing options in Portland are really good compared to other places, but they aren’t fantastic, and they are expensive.” (Alexis)

    Compared to what?
    I can’t believe how cheap car sharing is. I’m having a *really* hard time imagining someone keeping their own car they drive rarely and paying less than the occasional zipcar rental or getaround or whatever.
    If driving (all forms) were more expensive lots of things would improve, not least of which would be the experiences we’re talking about here: finding parking.

  13. I absolutely agree about the traffic calming value of parked cars, but I don’t think that’s at risk.

    A well-tuned permit program will generally target about 85% occupancy, so there will still be cars there (unless for good policy reasons we want some block faces not to have parking).

  14. The more simple the program, the better. Most people don’t understand parking policies at all, so throwing in wonky policies to the mix will lead to confusion and opposition. There should be a simple fee, say $100 per vehicle, and everyone who resides or works in the area should have access to it – unlimited. The fee should be raised as needed until you reach the 85% occupancy standard.

    Anywho.. why on earth don’t we have paid parking meters on commercial streets? It’s most frustrating to try to park near a business and reluctantly needing to park in the neighborhood behind it because all the commercial street parking is gone – all free of course. I’d much rather pay for the convenience of parking closer to where I need to be, and I’d be generating revenue for area street improvements.

  15. why on earth don’t we have paid parking meters on commercial streets?

    Because most business owners believe they will drive away customers and say so loudly to their elected officials.

    In fact, the data suggests that meters drive turnover and get more customers into stores.

  16. So what’s the consequence to an elected official who votes to meter a commercial street, if business IN FACT increases over the next couple of years?

  17. Alexis-

    Carsharing is far cheaper than car ownership (AAA estimates that car ownership costs total well over $500+ a month). And ironically, cost per trip is way higher for occasional drivers, because most ownership costs are more or less fixed: insurance, payment, depreciation, etc.

    Carsharing costs, by contrast, are overwhelmingly variable: if you drive less, you pay less. So occasional drivers have the most to gain by car-sharing.

    Car2go is $25 to join but they’ll give you a slug of free driving credit. Getaround costs nothing to join and hourly rates start at $3 — and they’ll give you a $25 credit (code: SHAREPDX). Zipcar costs a bit more, but also has great introductory offers.

  18. @Douglas K,

    So what’s the consequence to an elected official who votes to meter a commercial street, if business IN FACT increases over the next couple of years?

    The business owners will think they did it themselves, in the face of the hideous handicap of parking meters.

    “Ain’t I a genius!?!?“, they will say to themselves.

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