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?