Dynamic Pricing for Parking Ensures Vacancy, Reduces Congestion

By Ryan McGreal
Published April 19, 2011

I've been a fan of UCLA economics professor Donald Shoup's work ever since I waded through his opus, The High Cost of Free Parking. Through page after page of painstaking detail, the book debunks the persistent myth that "free" parking is somehow good for urban economies. Some cities have even experimented with Shoup's recommendations, to considerable success.

If you aren't sure you want to commit to a 733 page book, the always-brilliant Streetfilms folks have created a documentary that introduces viewers to Shoup's argument that parking should be priced dynamically to ensure 15% vacancy.

The documentary also looks at SFPark, a municipal initiative in San Francisco that is using careful data collection to provide variable pricing so that motorists don't have to "cruise" around and around a block looking for scarce parking.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus, HuffPost and Behind the Numbers. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2011 at 14:49:39


Parking is FREE at on-street parking meters all day Saturday, Sunday, on Holidays and after 6:00 p.m. Monday to Friday in Hamilton Downtown (area bordered by Queen, Cannon, Victoria, Hunter, and the commercial areas of James Street North and South). Look for the orange face plates.

Anybody who has tried to find street-side parking downtown without paying the all-day fees of the sketchy parking lots knows that this was a terrible idea.

I don't want free parking that's always full. I want cheap parking that I can actually find vaguely close to my destination instead of having to pay the nasty all-day fees for what could be a 1-hour stop.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 19, 2011 at 16:56:00

Ironically, someone recently posted a link to this article on a post by Burlington Councillor Marianne Meed Ward's blog:

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By SpaceMonkey (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 17:22:27

Although paid parking may be good for cities, it is not always good for towns or villages. I recently read that shop keepers in Stoney Creek have noticed a large decline in customers since parking meters were introduced.

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By Taxman (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 22:45:27 in reply to Comment 62472

I'm always wary of representations from shopkeepers about "a decline in customers". Are they witnessing a decline in overall visitors? Revenue? Number of sales?

Is this something new, or is it part of a cyclical annual trend, or is there some other reason for it?

I find it hard to believe that parking meters have all that much impact on shoppers. The marginal cost of paying for parking is miniscule if you actually have some interest in purchasing the product.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2011 at 06:56:21 in reply to Comment 62481

The paid parking situation in 'Downtown Stoney Creek' deserves to be looked at according to its own particulars, not simply dealt with by a blanket policy approach. (We should always be wary of applying solutions with a blind eye, doing as many do when they 'wrap their rhetoric in the flag'.)

As I've dealt with all this as nauseam on my site, I won't belabour the point and take up valuable space here. Suffice it to say that for Downtown Stoney Creek, though there is a creditable case to be made for meters to be an idiotic approach to revenue generation in this instance, there are two much more important issues present on King Street, the paramount one being what Gertrude Stein once opined about a place near and dear to her:

"There's no there, there."

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 20, 2011 at 10:46:45 in reply to Comment 62488

For any who are interested in a concerted examination of Downtown Stoney Creek and its parking woes, I've posted a further article:

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By Robert D (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 16:45:54 in reply to Comment 62502

I read your piece, and it's actually improved my opinion of you as a person. ;-)

I also sympathize with your desire to "redesign" the area to make it better. I have the same feeling when it comes to Concession street up on Hamilton mountain. It really could be so much more - especially at night. With so many residential homes, I'm really shocked there aren't more restaurants along concession, or anything to do in the evenings really. It would be a great promenade for strolls during the summer - if there was actually anything to do there.

It has so much potential...and no one willing to help realize it. Instead it seems that it's slowly becoming more and more dominated by health care providers (nothing against them, I just don't see them as a "draw" for most people).

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By FilmLover (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 21:11:17 in reply to Comment 62563

How about the death of the Movie Palace? That was one of the great evening activities. Engs, StoneRoad, Tim Hortons, Sams, the hooka smoking middle eastern place are all open. Yet it is impossible to sustain these types of places without corporate influx to survive the winter.

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By GrapeApe (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 21:32:33

I have to admit, even though I hate paying for parking, the new meters on Locke mean that there's almost always a spot. Street seems busier overall though.

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 19, 2011 at 22:54:54

Sorry, I can't give a pass to the paid parking argument. I am especially saddened by the turning of Gore Park into a parking lot.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 09:19:15

Would you force the private parking lots to set there rates at the same level? So that they have a 15% vacancy rate or does free the market continue to provide parking rates? Over the last months there have been many articles on this site that lament the excess of parking downtown. Now you wish to raise the price of this "scarce" commodity. Last time I went to a Bulldogs game it cost me $7.00 to park and my car was there for over 3 hours. That works out to just about $2.00 an hour. There was not an empty street meter spot anywhere I am sure but so what?

I personally would love to see the parking rates downtown go sky high. Since there is very little that anyone has to go downtown to get instead of a mall or power center more people would stop going downtown and simply go elsewhere to get the goods and services that they need. This would make the whole process of getting around in the city so much easier for those of us who already only go downtown occasionally (and would go there far less). What can I not get elsewhere that I need to go downtown for? Couple of government offices, Copp's Coliseum and probably a few other things that do not come to mind at the moment but I am sure they exist. All the rest is replaceable by going elsewhere already.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2011 at 14:06:28 in reply to Comment 62544

Surface parking lots and curbside parking are very different. Studies do show benefits to local businesses from curbside parking, but those tend to evaporate once people have to walk more than a block. Sad, but true.

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By Squelch (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 11:57:32 in reply to Comment 62544

Squelch squelch squelch.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 21, 2011 at 10:10:00

Mr Meister, the glut of parking that is frequently lamented is the surface lots. Street parking is definitely a scarce resource.

In order to make our downtown a better place to be we need to make it a better place to LIVE. I am sure that there are many who, like you, also feel like they would never go downtown if parking rates were higher.

These people are not who we should be catering to when we make planning decisions for the core.

To fix the downtown we need more people living there. And catering to occasional suburban visitors is not the way to do this.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 23:55:59 in reply to Comment 62547

Absolutely. How does raising parking meter pricing help to attract people downtown? Usually the first step in convincing people to move somewhere is to attract them to visit. Rather than raising parking meter rates why do we not increase the number of parking spots? It seems every time there is a road renovation the number of parking spaces is reduced. Look at the recent York Street make over. There used to be a number of curbside parking spots both sides of York, in front of the Market and even a couple East of Macnab Street. Now they are all gone. Making it more difficult to drive and park downtown reduces visitors and will reduce the ability of the core to attract new inhabitants.

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2011 at 12:57:59 in reply to Comment 62575

It's supply and demand. Higher prices mean more vacancies, which allows people to find a spot more easily, as well as discouraging people from leaving cars in ultra-convenient spots all day.

That's the theory, at least.

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By mystoneycreek (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2011 at 13:33:47 in reply to Comment 62593 well as discouraging people from leaving cars in ultra-convenient spots all day.

Sorry; so the 'desired' behaviour is...? Not leaving them? Leaving the car at home? Being more apt to share the ultra-convenient spots?

No, I'm not being glib (at least not purposefully), merely wanting to properly understand.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 22, 2011 at 13:40:10 in reply to Comment 62594

Well, for one, higher street rates make it less likely people (namely employees and residents) will leave their car on the street all day and pump quarters in. When james was 50c an hour, where was the incentive to park in a lot all day when you can park on the street for 4.50?

People parking all day should be parking in lots or garages. These cars are making it difficult for those coming in to shop for an hour or two.

Read the link already posted above - it outlines this and other important points very eloquently:

Comment edited by seancb on 2011-04-22 13:40:36

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2011 at 03:08:33 in reply to Comment 62595

I have no doubt the study was very true and applicable to New York City, especially Manhattan. What that has to do with Hamilton is a totally different question. Do you really think Hamilton can be compared to NYC difficulty of finding a parking spot? What is the going rate to park in a lot in NYC? Bet it is a lot more than the $5.00 or so it costs in Hamilton. Lets start comparing Hamilton to comparable cities and not some of the major metropolitan areas in North America or Europe.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2011 at 10:14:26 in reply to Comment 62613

You are right. Hamilton is different from every other city in the world and nothing that works anywhere else will work here.

We should not consider ANY studies conducted in any city other than Hamilton, unless the other city is exactly like Hamilton in every single way. Because those cities are different.

Did you read the link? It's more than just numbers from one study done in NYC

I'm willing to have a debate but if you don't have the courtesy to read the background information then there is no point in talking to you about it.

I run a business downtown, and I witness people parking all day in front of my shop, walking out every two hours to put quarters in the machine. This is supposed to be short term parking for customers but it is not used that way because meter parking is too cheap.

We could be talking about NYC or about Wawa, it does not make a difference - if it is cheaper (or free) to park on the street all day than it is to park in a lot, people are going to park in the street all day leaving no room for short term customer parking, and increasing the number of vultures circling and waiting for that elusive cheap/free spot.

This is not rocket science.

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By NoiseyNeighbour (anonymous) | Posted April 21, 2011 at 21:13:57 in reply to Comment 62547

How about two way conversion of Main and King with bump outs for parking. That should solve the issue of spaces. Let me know when that comes around.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted April 23, 2011 at 03:01:59 in reply to Comment 62570

So now you want to take a scarce resource, curb side parking and remove some of the spots. Wow when will it end.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2011 at 10:15:51 in reply to Comment 62612

So now you want to take a scarce resource, curb side parking and remove some of the spots. Wow when will it end.

uhh... this poster suggested converting a travel lane to parking. That means ADDING spots, not removing them...

Comment edited by seancb on 2011-04-25 11:50:43

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By TnT (registered) | Posted April 23, 2011 at 22:07:26

Sigh. Did I detect sense above with someone requesting two way conversion of main? Why has this failed?

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By Meredith (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2011 at 08:29:22

If you want a local and recent example of how free parking takes spots away from customers and encourages people to park all day, I've stated this example before in a couple of settings. On King West near Hess, there's several small businesses who normally have parking spaces along the street.

During the pre-Christmas holiday season when that parking becomes metered instead of free, it's taken up by residents and people who work nearby instead of leaving any spots open for customers, who then have to find parking elsewhere. That does bother business, and it's a concern that's been brought to the councillor in a meeting I was at - although I don't know if the complaint's been made in a more formal capacity.

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