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How much should parking permits cost? Four ways the city could find out

Posted by on October 1st, 2015 at 10:07 am

Space is valuable. But who wants to vote on what it’s worth?
(Photos: M.Andersen and J.Maus/BikePortland)

Last year, Portland hired a top-dollar consulting firm for advice on the best way to manage the auto parking that’s become increasingly scarce in a few neighborhoods.

Twelve months later, the city is taking steps toward some of its recommendations: for example, proposing an opt-in parking permit system that would let residential neighborhoods block their street parking spaces from being used by people living or shopping on commercial corridors.

But at the moment, Portland is on course to ignore a different suggestion made very clearly by the firm, Nelson\Nygaard: that elected officials should “never, ever” be the ones to set the price of parking.

“It’s so important to save the elected officials from themselves — their job is to adopt policy, their job is not to micromanage the city,” said Jeff Tumlin, the top parking expert at San Francisco-based consultancy. Setting the price of on-street parking, he said, is “not a city council’s job. It’s really bad. These conversations quickly get so emotional and irrational that they should never be argued at city council.”

Instead, Tumlin said city councils should agree on the outcome they’d like to see: one available parking space on every block, for example, or one guaranteed parking spot for every home in a residential neighborhood. Then they should direct their staff to come up with meters, permits, quotas or other systems to get to that outcome.

Tumlin spoke in an interview with BikePortland Wednesday that reiterated the advice he gave a roomful of 130 Portlanders back in June.

jeffrey

Jeffrey Tumlin.

“If I were an elected official, the last thing I would ever want is to have parking prices on the agenda.”
— consultant Jeffrey Tumlin

“If I were an elected official, the last thing I would ever want is to have parking prices on the agenda,” Tumlin said. “Even if you satisfy your constituents on the parking issue, you often have not satisfied them, because the real issue is something else.”

But as Portland considers letting neighborhoods vote to create overnight residential parking-permit districts, the city staffer managing the project said the current plan is for city council to make all the permit pricing decisions.

“City Council adopts the transportation fee schedule annually by ordinance,” city project manager Grant Morehead said Wednesday. “The fee structure of the residential parking permits will be adopted through this annual process.”

One week from today, the city’s year-long parking reform process will get a Portland City Council work session for the first time. In preparation for that, we talked to a few experts around town to find four ways that Portland could follow its consultant’s advice.

Here they are.

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1) City staff could take an informed guess about the right permit price and see what happens

The most obvious way for Portland to follow Tumlin’s advice would be to simply have the city’s appointed staff, instead of their elected bosses, take a stab at the right price.

This wouldn’t be an impossible task. Staffers could base the price on what it is in other cities, or on the going rate for off-street parking in the neighborhood, or simply make sure it covers the cost of administration and enforcement.

Morehead, one of the staffers who’d likely be involved with that effort, said Wednesday that this wouldn’t work well, because parking permits last for a full year. If the city guesses wrong, it might have to keep fiddling with the permit price for several years to get it right.

“The time frame is so long,” Morehead said.

Advantages: Straightforward. Responsive to political pressure.

Disadvantages: Could take years to get right. If the price is too low, there could be years-long waiting lists for a parking permit. If it’s too high, no neighborhood will ever vote to create a permit district and the whole policy will be pointless.

2) The city could let neighborhood groups add to their district’s permit price and use the money for things they want
Crosswalks in action-2

If a city parking permit goes for, say, $11 a month — that’s what they cost in Toronto and San Francisco — the city could give neighborhood groups the option of tacking on a few more bucks that would raise money for neighborhood infrastructure (a crosswalk beacon, a bus shelter, a public trash can) or programs that reduce driving to the area (subsidized transit passes for employees of local shops). That’s what the Central Eastside Industrial District already does with its daytime parking permits.

Advantages: Would let neighborhoods set rates appropriate to their area (Hollywood’s parking permits are probably more valuable than the ones in St. Johns). Would give neighborhoods a reason to create permit districts: it could become a steady source of cash for some neighborhood associations.

Disadvantages: There’s no reason to think neighborhood association leaders would be any better than elected officials or city staff at figuring the right price. If they get it wrong, see “disadvantages” beneath the previous item.

3) The city could let people resell permits they don’t need
310 se 27th ave not enough parking built 2007

This simple measure would have surprisingly far-reaching results.

When someone signs up for a parking permit, one of the things it could include would be the right to give it to someone else.

This simple measure would have surprisingly far-reaching results.

This is a suggestion from Portland Planning and Sustainability Commissioner Chris Smith, who said he sympathizes with longtime residents of neighborhoods that have been getting denser.

“We’ve flooded their streets with cars,” he said. Smith said it makes sense for “folks who’ve had their lives changed” to get something for that trouble, if they vote to create a parking district: a spot at the front of the line for a parking permit, if they want one. Or, if they don’t want one, the ability to get a permit and then resell it to anyone else who might want it: a resident of a nearby apartment, the manager of a nearby restaurant.

If every permit in a district were sold — except maybe for an allowance the city would reserve for poor residents or people with disabilities — someone who wanted a permit would track down someone who didn’t need theirs and buy it. When people left the neighborhood, they could sell their permit to whoever might be moving in, or just let it return to the city’s pool of unused permits.

Advantages: Residents would set the price of their permits for themselves by deciding what they’re willing to pay for one. People would have a reason to vote for permit districts because they would be creating a valuable commodity for themselves.

Disadvantages: Doesn’t earmark money for neighborhood projects or services. Creates a stronger sense that residents own public space when they don’t.

4) The city could sell permits with a Vickrey auction.

Each year, everybody interested in a permit for a given district could record what they’re willing to pay for it. Say the district had X available parking spaces. The city would put all the bids in descending order, count down X slots and give permits to everyone in that group … but they would only have to pay the price bid by person X, the cheapest of all the winning bids.

This is a concept from Tony Jordan, president of the Sunnyside Neighborhood Association and one of the city’s most active volunteer parking wonks. It uses the same system that Google used when it started issuing public stock.

“Say you have 5 things for sale, you have bids for $1000, $900, $800, $700, $600, $500, and $400,” Jordan explains. “Everyone who bid $500+ gets the item at $500.”

Advantages: Residents would set the price of their permit for themselves by deciding what they’re willing to pay for one. Would raise a lot of money for either the city or neighborhood improvements.

Disadvantages: Complicated. People might not vote to create a system they don’t understand.

After puzzling through these options, I had one more question: is this question — how to remove parking permit prices from the direct oversight of the city council, as Tumlin recommended — even part of the parking permit committee’s job?

Absolutely it is, said Lidwien Rahman of the Oregon Department of Transportation. She ought to know; she awarded the grant that is paying for the city’s reform effort.

In fact, Rahman seemed to hope that the committee will help the city answer this question: not exactly how much the permits would cost, but how to find the right price.

“The advisory committee can definitely recommend whatever they want,” Rahman said.

— The Real Estate Beat is a regular column. You can sign up to get an email of Real Estate Beat posts (and nothing else) here, or read past installments here.

NOTE: Thanks for sharing and reading our comments. To ensure this is a welcoming and productive space, all comments are manually approved by staff. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for meanness, discrimination or harassment. Comments with expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia will be deleted and authors will be banned.

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TonyJ
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TonyJ

It’s ironic that the disadvantages cited in the first example (PBOT takes a guess) are present in the currently suggested process (let council set the rates) except based on less information, more vulnerable to political influence, and less likely to ever change.

At the very least, there needs to be a methodological process to set these rates that is evaluated on a timely basis and adjusted outside of the political process.

9watts
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9watts

Option 5 – run whatever approach you choose past TonyJ first to make sure you’re not missing something. 🙂

Pete
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Pete

Regarding #3, here in SF bay area many cities are sending cease and desist letters to homeowners selling their private parking spaces (often using mobile apps). It seems to violate ordinances against commercial business in residential zoning, and councils are concerned the practice creates neighborhood parking shortages (which ironically it’s trying to address, here).

Hello, Kitty
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Hello, Kitty

I’d like a clarification: would the city sell only enough permits that everyone who gets one is guaranteed a place to park? If so, why not individually allocate spots so you know where yours will be, and that it will be available when you need it? That would have the added benefit of being more valuable and reducing time spent circling the block looking for a free spot.

Spiffy
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Spiffy

5) don’t issue any permits… if people want a guaranteed parking space they can dedicate some space on their property to it…

if it’s that bad then somebody will build a parking garage…

davemess
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davemess

“block their street parking spaces from being used by people living or shopping on commercial corridors.”

Overnight parking districts would stop people from parking during the day or evening for shopping/dining though, right?

If they did, then you would likely never be able to get rid of any parking on arterials (so good luck every getting a bike lane on Division).

BIKELEPTIC
Guest

Sooooo many issues seen here – and so many benefits towards homeowners. Our work used to pay for Zone G/N parking passes, but would only bus passes before taxes. When employees began to raise a stink about it that they were essentially encouraging car culture, work axed the parking passes. (They still pre-tax the bus tx out of people’s pay checks if you sign up for that. But you’re essentially paying for that yourself. Just saving 50c or whatever.)

The thing is that parking is huge problem in the city – and if you make the passes unaffordable, you are favoring the upper income bracket over the lower income bracket who may rely on the car. It’s asinine.

What needs to happen is that since the developers are buying up every corner lot in the city they deem fit, how about some sustainable development in underground lots? Mixed use-buildings? It only takes some of the burden off, but it takes some off.

The city also needs to be in serious conversation with Trimet about the future of our bus and lightrail line. We’ve already outgrown it and they just added the orange line. We need to start looking at San Fran (which runs 24 hrs a day,) at Chicago, at Boston, at New York – we can begin to learn from what they did wrong and what they’ve done right. We can look at Salt Lake City, which now has three light rail lines and a passenger train that runs from Provo past Ogden (about 100 miles), and they were able to accomplish all of this in less than 10 years.

Portland needs a light rail in the N/NE/E. Portland needs public transit that runs longer than 12pm (and more frequent than every 45 minutes) – people aren’t going to take it seriously if we are only using it as something that rich people take to Timbers games when they don’t want to deal with parking. We need to treat community transportation as something that we need to invest in seriously; we need to divest in private transportation and get serious about enforcing law breakers to show that it’s a privilege to be a car owner, not a right.

Lester Burnham
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Lester Burnham

Remove street parking on Skidmore from Interstate to MLK…NOW!

soren
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soren

Giving neighborhood associations the right to set fees (e.g. legislate) for parking could be challenged in court given Oregon’s vote by mail requirement.

WAR
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WAR

Parking permits make the city cost more.
Thus, pushing out the poor.

Champs
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Champs

Neighborhood associations don’t know the right price. Too low—the side most are likely to err on—cheap permits will get snatched up, and parking won’t be used optimally. Others might use high permit prices as a weapon against specific or a class of residents. These people are no more trustworthy than City Hall.

Auction is really the only way to price these permits.

Nobody likes to pay for parking (or anything else), but surely a guaranteed space has some nonzero value—what’s it worth to you? Name that price, and don’t complain if you get “sniped” because that only means you bid less than you were actually willing to pay.

Auction is not such a foreign concept. Charities use the silent auction for fundraisers all the time, and in this instance the cause is your own neighborhood.

Adam Herstein
Guest
Adam Herstein

Charge $1,000 per year for each permit. Don’t want to pay $1,000 to park? Then don’t drive. The land is probably worth more than that, anyway, considering how an apartment the size of two parking spaces goes for over $2,000 in many neighborhoods.

Adam Herstein
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Adam Herstein

Whatever the parking plan, it needs to be a financial burden on people who drive. Otherwise, it won’t be effective in changing driving behavior. Obviously, exceptions can be made for low-income people.

Steve
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Steve

Did you seriously write “(Parking in the Hollywood District is probably more valuable than in St.John’s)”

Endo
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Endo

It’s pretty simple. A 100×50 plot in inner SE/NE costs about $250-300,000. Charge for the parking strip in front of the house. The typical house is 50 feet long by 5 feet wide, so that’s $15,000. That should give death machine operators a bit of pause.

Dead Salmon
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Dead Salmon

The whole thing sounds like car-hating.

Why not let people park where they want? They put their life savings into the purchase of their homes WITH PARKING ON THE STREET. Why make life more difficult for them? Is government not meddling enough in our daily lives? Why do they just add layer on top of layer on top of layer on top of layer on top of layer on top of layer on top of layer of rules and regulations to drive us out of our minds?

mark
Guest
mark

It seems odd to provide parking passes to private homeowners on a public street.

JJJJ
Guest

Option 5: Determine the average neighborhood rent per square foot. Charge that rent.

If the rent is going for $1 per square foot, then each parking spot should cost $176 a month. Maybe round down to $175.

bjcefola
Guest
bjcefola

People looking at these districts to solve parking problems are looking for predictability, the last thing they want is more uncertainty. Markets and auctions necessarily involve uncertainty, I think they’d defeat the purpose of districts and discourage their adoption.

Tumlin’s comments about keeping elected officials out of pricing might be true for the average city, but are less applicable to a city with commission governance. Portland’s commissioners are routinely involved in minute details of administration, including setting prices. As the recent vote over an independent utility district showed, we trust them to do this. Why work against that?

resopmok
Guest
resopmok

Am I the only one who finds Tumlin’s remarks to be rather self-serving? He spouts some assumptions without giving even weak anecdotal evidence about why the city shouldn’t set parking rates. Perhaps his motivation is that the task, like red-light camera administration, should be given over to his private entity who can then get their slice of the pie? After all, the city and its official entities already set prices for things like building permits, traffic infractions, and metered parking, what makes us think Tumlin’s agency, which isn’t even based in Portland, would be better qualified? Sounds to me like he’s fishing for some government cheese.

k1ndun
Guest
k1ndun

What about option 5? Change policy so we can take the consultant’s good advice, learn from other cities and price parking based on the desired outcome, such as a certain number of spots always available?

Matt
Guest
Matt

I don’t really understand the issue with parking. On the west side, for example–Parking by PSU on 14th and SW Hall requires a zoning permit. Anyone parking there without is limited to a few hours or have a guest permit. Why can’t they just do this all over the city where there is controversy over parking? I understand the frustration to pay for a zoning permit and not be able to find parking (or you have to park a long ways and walk), happened to me all the time on the west side, but that’s just what happens when you live in a city…

Mark
Guest
Mark

The idea that street parking is a right…..seems so wrong. The city should sell a market rate permit.

Clive Durdle
Guest
Clive Durdle

Embarassing how expensive consultants do not actually know their subject
“In the last few decades a growing number of European cities have led the world in changing the direc- tion of parking policy. European citizens grew tired of having public spaces and footpaths occupied by surface parking. Each parking space consumes from 15 m2 to 30 m2, and the average motorist uses two to five different parking spaces every day. In dense European cities, a growing number of citizens began to question whether dedicating scarce public space to car parking was wise social policy, and whether encouraging new buildings to build parking spaces was a good idea. No matter how many new parking garages and motorways they built, the traffic congestion only grew worse, and as much as 50% of traffic congestion was caused by drivers cruising around in search of a cheaper parking space.

In the cities reviewed here, parking policy has been reoriented around alternative social goals. Some recent parking reforms are driven by the need to comply with EU ambient air quality or national greenhouse gas targets. Other new parking policies are part of broader mobility targets encouraging reductions in the use of private motor vehicles. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging to reduce motor vehicle use, more are turning to parking.

Every car trip begins and ends in a parking space, so parking regulation is one of the best ways to regulate car use. Vehicles cruising for parking often make up a significant share of total traffic. Other reasons for changing parking policies were driven by the desire to revitalize city centers and repurpose scarce road space for bike lanes or bike parking.
The amount of parking available in a city is heavily influenced by public policy. On-street parking is governed by municipal or district policy, and off-street parking is generally controlled through zoning and building regulations. These are ultimately political questions: how much parking is built in new buildings, and how much public space should be dedicated to motor vehicle parking as opposed to other uses.

The impacts of these new parking policies have been impressive: revitalized and thriving town centers; significant reductions in private car trips; reductions in air pollution; and generally improved quality of life.

https://www.itdp.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Europes_Parking_U-Turn_ITDP.pdf