Last week Streetsblog LA talked with UCLA Professor and parking guru Donald Shoup about ExpressPark, the new parking pricing system coming to downtown Los Angeles.
Damien Newton: Los Angeles is changing the way it does parking in its downtown. They’re calling it the ExpressPark system. Let’s start with the basics — what is the program and what are your thoughts?
Donald Shoup: For the first time they’re stating how they’re going to set parking prices. Instead of basing it on council decisions or emotions or people’s feelings, they stated a principal. Parking at a meter will be at the lowest price they can charge and still have one or two open spaces on every block.
If they get that price right, then those spaces will be well used because almost all the spaces will be full. Yet there will be spaces readily available because one or two spaces will be open.
Can it get any better than that as a goal for the parking system?
The key is, can you set the right price without looking at the results even though the results are what’s going to count when setting the price.
DN: This marks a shift in policy for the city that seemed to base parking decisions based on what brings in the most revenue.
DS: It hadn’t been about that even, until quite recently.
You may remember a few years ago they doubled the price of parking everywhere in the city with a minimum price of a dollar an hour. Since most meters were at a quarter an hour, that meant quadrupling the price at most meters. That was the first time meter prices had been changed in eighteen years.
There’s been a lot of neglect of parking meters. Inertia seemed to be the main factor in determining parking prices.
They’re changing that by saying, “Here’s the rule. If half the spaces on a block are empty, we’re going to lower prices. If all the spaces are full we’re going to raise prices.” Since the price change two years ago, I’ve seen entire blocks where there isn’t one car parked. The price is too high.
I think a lot of prices would go down if they extend express park to the whole city. They’re starting in downtown, but I suspect that some prices will go down.
DN: One of the tenets of “The High Cost of Free Parking” is that money collected from meters should be returned to the communities where it was collected. L.A.’s plan returns all metered funds to the general fund. Is that a mistake by the city? Does it give you any misgivings about the plan altogether?
DS: That’s what they’re planning in L.A., they’re not planning on funneling any of the money back to the neighborhood?
That’s a mistake. When you funnel back to the neighborhood you get local buy-in and you get wonderful results.
Pasadena returns all of the metered money back into the neighborhood for decades and they turned the local neighborhood that used to be a commercial skid row into one of the most popular shopping destinations in Southern California. The meters brought in an extra million dollars a year in public services in just that little shopping district. They replaced all the sidewalks, streetlights and street furniture. They cleaned up the allays. They put electric wires underground. This was all paid for by meters.
But that’s a political issue. I think that getting the price right is also very important.