On the Use, or Misuse, of Shoup’s Research

Dr. Shoup and I agree that governments should eliminate minimum-parking requirements and charge market rates for on-street and other public parking. That said, we have two areas of disagreement.

First, Shoup thinks that these changes would have dramatic effects on the amount of driving people do. I think the effects would be trivial, and that the larger effects would be to discourage people from traveling to high-density areas (such as downtowns) where parking is currently below market value. Instead they would go to low-density areas where the market rate for parking is zero. In other words, his policies would promote what planners derisively call “sprawl.” But it really doesn’t matter who is right; let’s fix the policies and find out.

Second, I worry that many cities are using Shoup’s research to justify the imposition of maximum-parking limits in many zones, while Shoup thinks this threat is unimportant.

It doesn’t take much of a web search to find cities that are imposing maximum-parking limits in at least some zones in the city. Many of these cite Shoup’s work on the evils of minimum-parking requirements, but then compound those evils by proposing the reverse.

John Charles, of Oregon’s Cascade Policy Institute, has documented that land next to the stations along Portland’s light-rail lines sometimes remains undeveloped years after the rail lines open. The reason, Charles has shown, is that the city has imposed maximum-parking limits, reasoning that people living next to the rail stations will ride the train rather than drive. Developers, however, know that developments with limited parking end up with high-vacancy rates.

Many of the cities proposing maximum-parking limits also cite a paper by Todd Litman of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute. Litman argues strongly for maximum-parking limits and cites five of Shoup’s papers. While Shoup is not responsible for another policy analyst’s work, I hope he would let potential readers of Litman’s paper know that his opposition to minimum-parking requirements does not equate to support for maximum-parking limits.

Also from This Issue

Lead Essay

  • Free Parking or Free Markets by Donald Shoup

    America’s supposed love affair with the automobile is more like an arranged marriage, says Donald Shoup. Car and parking policies make cities and suburbs less livable for human beings. He recommends three reforms: First, adjust parking meter prices according to supply and demand. Second, return parking revenue to local communities for civic improvement. And third, remove minimum parking requirements that lock up useful land, lengthen commute times, and contribute to urban and suburban sprawl. These policies, he argues, are good for the community, good for the environment, and represent sound, market-based urban planning.

    America’s supposed love affair with the automobile is more like an arranged marriage, says Donald Shoup. Car and parking policies make cities and suburbs less livable for human beings. He recommends three reforms: First, adjust parking meter prices according to supply and demand. Second, return parking revenue to local communities for civic improvement. And third, remove minimum parking requirements that lock up useful land, lengthen commute times, and contribute to urban and suburban sprawl. These policies, he argues, are good for the community, good for the environment, and represent sound, market-based urban planning.

Response Essays

  • Using Markets to Enhance Mobility by Randal O'Toole

    Randal O’Toole argues that the automobile brings mobility to the common people in a way they could never have otherwise. As such, it is a great social good, and those who criticize urban sprawl are neglecting the many good things about our highly mobile contemporary lifestyle—among them better housing, higher labor productivity, and better access to consumer goods. These may well be worth the commute.

    Some parking subsidies, such as minimum parking requirements and cheap on-street parking, should indeed be removed. But using parking fees to subsidize local public works projects simply redistributes the automobile subsidy to local landowners. O’Toole proposes to privatize parking; private entities would then use the money they collected to build additional parking in response to consumer demand.

  • Zero Price Parking and Nickel Beer by Sanford Ikeda

    Sanford Ikeda calls Shoup’s proposal “an important, and presently… politically feasible step in the right direction.” He contrasts it favorably to congestion pricing, which represents, to him, a needless added layer of regulation. He recommends several refinements to Shoup’s thesis and situates it in a larger constellation of free-market transit policies, including especially deregulated private conveyances. Moving toward these policies, Ikeda argues, should be the ultimate goal.

  • Efficient Road Pricing for Stationary Vehicles: The Case for Curb Parking Charges by Clifford Winston

    Clifford Winston offers a variety of suggestions for further research and implementation of optimal parking charges. What are the current shares of various types of parking capacity? How much of it actually is free right now? How would congestion fees on roads interact with efforts to price parking efficiently? What can new information technologies offer us in this area? Although Winston is clearly sympathetic to Shoup’s thesis, his essay points to the magnitude of work yet to be done.

The Conversation