Austin planner Meghan Skornia tipped me off to an article she wrote (which was inspired by a magnificent screencap from a PDX city council hearing a few years back) about residential parking permits (RPP).
Austin has a permit program, approved by council in 1996. The program is similar to most RPP: cheap, exclusionary, and protectionist. Permits cost $15 (4 cents a day!) plus sales tax a year. Residents of multi-family buildings with more than 6 units are excluded, if the building was permitted after 1959 when minimum parking requirements came to be in Austin. The purpose of the program is entirely to protect the convenience of residents to park. It does not appear, unlike Portland, that limited time stay parking is permitted for the public in permit zones.
Meghan is very critical of this program, for good reasons, but I think the problem is that very few permit programs are actually trying to manage parking for the general good.
Do permits privatize public space?
I don’t think it’s a given that RPP privatize space so long as: the permits cost a market rate, they are available to anyone with a legitimate interest in parking in the area, some amount of time-stay parking is allowed. Do most permit programs operate this way? NO! But they should.
Do permits raise the cost of development?
I think this is the weakest critique in the article. Even Austin’s permits are only implemented if parking on the street is congested. Parking permits should (and I know they usually don’t) go hand-in-hand with eliminating parking requirements. Structured parking is expensive, permanent, and takes up space that could be used for housing. It’s much preferable to manage the on-street supply with a market-based approach than to require on-site parking.
If a permit is available to all people who live in the zone & is priced appropriately, then some parking may be built, but it would still likely be very much less than with minimums.
Are permit programs unfair to low-income residents?
I do think we need to be sensitive about impacts on low income people, but those concerns must be held in context of the impact of new structured parking on housing costs and supply. Also, given that time is money, allowing people to choose what their time is worth is fair.
Of course no parking minimums and no permits is also fine, but if the parking is actually congested, then the city should be implementing a permit/metering zone to make sure that people can access the area if they need to drive.
If the city is doing it right, they will limit the permits sold to some percentage of the actual supply, if permits are warranted, this will lead to higher prices for permits. How that money is spent is the key. Portland has a great program called the Transportation Wallet.
I advocate for direct redistribution to low income residents. This might be in the form of transit passes or other subsidies (like the transportation wallet), but I would say it should actually be a cash rebate sent to SNAP recipients or some other such identifier. What I don’t like to see is discounts for permits, a subsidy only for car owning low income people.
What’s the future of permits?
I think technology can be used wisely to allow for pretty dynamic “virtual permitting,” particularly in areas impacted by commercial parking. In these zones, visitors (be they customers or airBnB guests) could purchase neighborhood parking at market rates w/o meters. This raises more revenue for transit subsidies!
In the end, it’s like @DonaldShoup says: “All may park, all must pay.”
If there’s more demand than supply for parking we should use markets to manage it. I’m a socialist for healthcare, education & housing. I’m a capitalist for parking.