Friday, October 20, 2006

How to Bring Parking Charges to Offices

Paid parking at offices reduces commute trips by 23%, producing very large traffic and CO2 reduction. This is a very effective policy that is not popular. Are there "clever policy tricks" to bring this about? Can we help cities "jump in together" with small steps, making this policy more palatable? Could cities synchronize their actions to reduce risk? Here is a web page with details of such a proposal:

An example of cities "jumping in together" is provided: "Interesting example in the Twin Cities. This was always said about changing bars and restaurants to non-smoking. Every time any city council member proposed it, they were shouted down by people who said, "But people will go somewhere else and all our businesses will lose out." Then one December day the city of Bloomington (largest suburb) passed a smoking ban. The following month St. Paul did the same, then Minneapolis right after. It turns out they had been in agreement all along about who would go first and who would follow next."

What do you think?


Phil Winters said...

While not a clever policy trick, I do think there are creative opportunities to potentially implement parking charges and influence behavior. I described the following idea on Global Ideas Bank as a result of an internal creative brainstorming exercise for a suburban employer seeking to deal with a parking crunch. They were unwilling to charge any more than $20. Recognizing that small (e.g., <$20) MONTHLY parking charges may have little impact if paid monthly, we sought out other possible solutions.

We also know the common objections to the standard approaches for charging for parking in suburban locations (concern with employee turnover, reluctance to impose more regulations, you-can't-charge-enough-to-cause-changes-in-behavior, etc.).

So we should be more creative on how some could charge for parking or provide a program for cities to begin to bring any parking charges to worksites that traditionally park for free.

Part of the problem is the processes we use to be "creative". Brainstorming is often followed by idea bashing and we are left with many of the same ideas. We need to think differently.

One way to coming up with creative ideas is to list the things we take for granted then see how we could alter them to stimulate new thinking. For example, we take the following for granted about parking at a typical suburban location.

1. More people need parking at site than we have spaces
2. Everyone arrives at the same time
3. Everyone prefers to drive their own car
4. Everyone would pay the same amount
(I'm sure there are others)

Let's take the last one, Everyone would pay the same amount. One of the creative thinking techniques used by creative thinking guru, Edward De Bono, is Provocation Operation (PO). We created a PO statement - one with no basis in fact - by altering one of the items we take for granted. The PO statement makes us "uncomfortable" and we have to figure out how to use this stepping stone toward reaching our objective. In this case, we created the following PO statement PO: No one pays the same amount. This leads to ideas like usage based pricing (pay as you go) but also leads to "No one pays the same amount every day".

This led us to the idea that the equivalent monthly parking charge ($20) would be collected on a different, single day for each person. On other days parking is free. I pay my $20 to park on Oct 18th and Steve parks for free that same day. But Steve pays his $20 on the 19th while I park for free. This may spur people to telework, carpool, bike, etc. on the day they are supposed to pay the $20 to park. Think of it as(hopefully) influencing travel behavior via nominal parking ($20 = $1 per day) charges for ~5% of the workforce on any given day (assuming each employee pays only 1 out of every 20 workdays per month).

Admittedly, this idea still needs work (and research). It is the need to apply more creative thinking to identifying approaches to bringing parking charges to offices or coming up with alternative ideas that are at least equally effective.

As Albert Einstein said, "Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.”

steveran said...

Very deep Phil. You are hanging out on-line with a pretty forward thinking crowd.

1) I think $0.50 per or $20 per month parking charges would make a HUGE difference. I believe the tipping point is between free parking and charging anything for parking. Once we can start charging a teeny bit for parking in one office location, then the policy can spread. Once the policy spreads widely, then there's less resistance to raising prices. I'd argue that you can go from $0 per day to $6 per day at most U.S. offices in 4 years, but you have to start with a small charge. $0.50 per day is so small that it's hard to argue with.

2) My belief is that automation technology can make the cost of administering small parking charges very reasonable. (see my snoozer paper on the topic.)

3) But, Chris Wornum of Cambridge Systematics in Oakland has explored (but not endorsed) the idea that you can have small parking charges coupled with an irritating, "high transaction cost" implementation that would serve to further disincentivize solo driving.

So, there may be something to be said for forcing drivers to
* walk to a central parking booth with a long walk in the sleet and snow
* fiddle for exact change
* take a ticket
* endure a long walk back to their car
* open the car
* tape on the ticket to the windshield
* lock the car
* then walk into their office.

- Steve

Susan Sauve said...

OK - say I somehow get our municipal union to go for the $20/month, how do I treat people that need their car for work? Who qualifies for a "working car" tag? We have social workers, building inspectors and others that use their car daily for work. Others that use theirs occasionally. Any ideas on how to deal with this? I can see some people's houses from my office and they are driving here! 97% of our employees drive to work. The offices down the street where they pay 40-50/month to park have 75%.

steveran said...


One implementation scheme would allow folks who use their car for a certain number of days per month to get the special "no charge" tag.

Assuming widespread implementation of parking charges, then this should lead to economies of scale to enable widespread car sharing services to serve workers who only occasionally use their cars.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

What about parking cash out programs? I'm working with a suburban hospital that has a severe parking crunch. They're considering increasing everyone's paycheck by $39/ month and then charging $39/ month to park. Their discounted transit passes are only $8 /month. So far this proposal has been met with smiles in their focus groups.

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