Shoup Weighs in on Oakland Parking Controversy

3831238502_8b32f79956.jpgA newly installed SFpark parking meter in San Francisco. The SFpark program was inspired by Donald Shoup’s theories on parking management. Photo: Bryan Goebel

If the recent parking battle in Oakland had you thinking of UCLA Professor Donald Shoup, you’re not alone.

After the Oakland City Council raised parking fines and extended parking meter hours to help balance the city’s books, some merchants raised an outcry. Merchants, lead by Grand Lake Theater owner Allen Michaan, said the new policies were hurting business, and threatened to recall the entire City Council if the changes weren’t rolled back.

Shoup, whose market-driven parking management theories are the inspiration for San Francisco’s SFpark pilot program, told the East Bay Express the merchants may have some legitimate complaints about how the city made the changes:

First, the council shouldn’t be using parking meters as a cash register for its general fund, [Shoup] said. "You shouldn’t set the price to raise money, but to manage supply," he explained.

Second, the council is micromanaging when it sets parking meter prices for every district in the city, he said. Instead, the council should delegate those responsibilities to city staffers who then set prices based on how difficult it is to park. As a result, it makes no sense for parking prices to be the same in busy districts, such as Rockridge and Lakeshore, as they are in less crowded ones. In addition, parking meter prices should fluctuate during the day, based on how tough it is to find a place to park. It makes no sense, Shoup said, to charge the same price at 8 a.m. when stores are closed, as at 1 p.m., during the height of the lunchtime rush.

The East Bay Express also notes that San Francisco is making some not-so-Shoupian moves of its own with the SFpark program, including sending all revenue to the MTA instead of funneling a portion back to the districts that it originates from for streetscape and other improvements.

  • soylatte

    He has a point somewhere but I am vary both of “market-driven” approaches to managing public space, and of sophisticated techno-solutions for it (prices fluctuate during the day etc).

  • bikerider

    Shoup’s theories work very well for short-term trips to a store. The problem is how to devise equitable allocation scheme for long-term parking (say at a movie theater)?

    In the case of Grand Lake, the real fundamental problem is that despite having a very dense neighborhood, there is a lack of quality transit service. If Oakland is going to be building monorails anywhere, it should be between Grand Lake and 19th St. Bart, not the airport.

  • Joe

    @bikerider: what’s the problem with having folks pay market rates for movie theater parking?

  • bikerider

    @Joe: There is a a subtle but important distinction. Shoup’s argument relies on maintaining high turnover rates. In the case of movie theater, cars will be parked for hours at a time.

  • SFResident

    I’m always a bit uncomfortable when we sell off public goods at ‘market rates.’ Government isn’t in business to make money, it exists to promote the general welfare. A key part of promoting the ‘general welfare’ is attempting to give citizens equal access to government services.

    When the government distributes a scarce good (like parking) to the highest bidder they are treating us more like shareholders and consumers than like citizen. There may be good reasons for doing this, but it shouldn’t be done lightly and the benefits to the few should be off-balanced by benefits to the many. With parking, market-based pricing is only fair when the funds raised are directly used to support public transit, bicycle improvements, and other more inexpensive transit options for those who cannot afford the market rate.

  • huh

    “market-based pricing is only fair when the funds raised are directly used to support public transit, bicycle improvements, and other more inexpensive transit options for those who cannot afford the market rate.”

    @SFResident: that’s exactly the point of SFPark and congestion charging schemes like London. The money should be funnelled into public transit, not frittered away into local cosemitc improvements, cleaning sidewalks, paying security “ambassadors” and other superficial things as suggested by Shoup, which are little more than ways to buy-off the locals with goodies that they can “see” rather than actually using the money to make it easier to get around without a car.

    If you care about equity, there will never be justice and equity unless the fees levied for use of roads and parking are at least as much as a round-trip transit fare for every trip. No parking space in SF should ever cost less than $2, even if you stay for only 15 minutes, as the cheapest public transit ride for the same trip is $2.

    There is nothing unreasonable about paying $6 to park for 3 hours to go to a movie. If there are 2 people in the car that’s a measly $3/person! That’s cheaper than taking the f—ing bus! It’s an outrage how cheap that is!

  • SFResident

    @huh – Very well said.

    Shoup’s version of this (where parking is regulated simply to keep away “demand” and any income is put into beautification improvements) seems designed to build income-segregated cities. I’m all for high parking fees, but those fees should go towards improving movement around a city, not towards creating exclusionary enclaves.


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