2009/01/30

Parking meters: monuments to incompetence

From the San Diego Daily Transcript comes one of the best stories of the idiocy of municipal parking management I have ever read -- and I have read many. Surprisingly, the same state that brought you this sad tale also brought you the best book on the subject: Shoup’s High Cost of Free Parking. The text came to me via email and I cannot find an online source so here it is in its entirely.

Parking meters: monuments to incompetence
By LARRY STIRLING
January 21, 2009

While traipsing around historic Tallinn, the nice little capital city of Estonia, the major feature of which is a crenellated castle, the last thing I expected was to encounter an innovation in public administration. After all, what could that tiny country teach San Diego except how to endure repeated Russian military occupations?

Our small group had chipped in to obtain the services of a local guide who drove us around in her private car.

Each time she parked and we got out, she would walk to the curb to observe a number painted there and then punch it into her cell phone.
It turns out that the numbers constituted the Tallinn city parking-meter system. By recording her car location through her cell phone she was effectively dropping a coin into a virtual parking meter down at city hall.

There were no actual parking meters. They probably would not work well during the Tallinn winters. But, more importantly, there were no meters to buy, install, maintain, collect from, or replace as a result of old age, vandalism, or a bad parking approach.

The purpose of renting space on public streets is two-fold: the first is to create turnover among parkers so that incoming customers are more likely to find a place to park. The second is to raise money to support the city.

The Tallinn system accomplishes both objectives while the city of San Diego system accomplishes only the prior. The cost of installation, maintenance and servicing San Diego parking meters, including the employment of those hardy souls that walk around collecting the coins and then wrapping them defeats the revenue purpose.

Indeed, collecting parking revenues above the cost of operating San Diego parking meters would constitute a "tax" which must be approved by the voters and that has not happened. So parking meters are by law a break-even or, more likely, a money-losing proposition.

As a practical matter, the San Diego parking-meter program's primary purpose is to operate San Diego's parking-meter program. As such, it constitutes what one wag calls "a self-licking ice-cream cone."

If going digital is too big a mental leap for the city fathers of the home of Qualcomm, then, as an alternative to the grey-metal forest of obsolete parking meters, the city could adopt the Tel Aviv, Israel system of the "meter-less parking meter."

Tel Aviv, as so much of the world, cannot afford the puerile public-administration antics of San Diego.

Instead of feeding parking meters, drivers purchase city parking certificates through local convenience stores and gas stations.

When someone wishes to park, they grab one from their dash-board stash and then select and punch out appropriate chads indicating time and date. Then by use of a sticky strip, they attach the document to the inside of the driver-side window. This makes the document readily available to parking-enforcement officers.

The advantages are manifold. No meters of course. Revenue collection is done by local merchants who keep a small percentage for their trouble all the while enjoying increased foot traffic for their stores.

However, if our city fathers just cannot let go of parking meters, they could still save a huge amount by adopting the system used in Paris. There are typically only two parking meters for an entire block. Once you park, you walk to the end of the block, insert your coins or card, obtain a receipt and place it on you dashboard. The short walk is good for you and the city evades most of the costs that San Diego endures.

Each of these ideas has been presented to San Diego along with dozens of others for improving city operations, most, and probably all, of which have been ignored.

Instead our leaders seem to take pride in informing us that they have failed in their primary tasks of balancing the budget without further enslaving us through ever-increasing taxes.

We are told we are going to have to "share the pain." Really? What pain will they endure? Oh sure, they will reduce services to the public, but none of the big wigs are going to be laid off or take a pay cut.

In a previous column, I published a clear analysis of a multi-million dollar continuing cash opportunity for the city to help it balance its budget through taxi licensure. It's like "dynamic parking."

Just in case the city staff was too busy licking ice cream to read The Daily Transcript, I sent them personal letters including supporting material. So far officials have not deigned to respond. But they have announced that they want to charge fees for our trash pick up. What next, street fees, beach fees, fee fees?

When it comes to public administration, San Diego is the obsolete-parking-meter capital of the public-administration world.

Stirling, a former U.S. Army officer, has been elected to the San Diego City Council, state Assembly and state Senate. He also served as a municipal and superior court judge in San Diego. Send comments to larry.stirling@sddt.com. Comments may be published as Letters to the Editor.

3 comments:

tono-bungay said...

As Bob Dylan said in Subterranean Homesick Blues, "Don't follow leaders, watch the parking meters".

Another fine idea is to use bus passes to pay for parking. It integrates transportation planning within the city, and people don't get locked into a drive all month vs bus all month dilemma to get discounted rates.

Bern Grush said...

Thank you, tono-bungay. You identify a symptom of the key failure of urban transport planning in North America: the lack of interaction or interfacing between the car and other modalities. The subway does not tolerate bicycles. Parking is inadequate near transit hubs. There is inadequate logistical support for carpooling near transit connections. The people who decide parking pricing are not trained in transport demand management, thereby under-pricing to ensure 20-30% of city-core traffic is cars circling for a cheap spot. For this reason, your idea, which needs two disparate departments to consider it, won't get both. The required parties simply don't interface.

Andrew said...

so you say here:

"However, if our city fathers just cannot let go of parking meters, they could still save a huge amount by adopting the system used in Paris. There are typically only two parking meters for an entire block. Once you park, you walk to the end of the block, insert your coins or card, obtain a receipt and place it on you dashboard. The short walk is good for you and the city evades most of the costs that San Diego endures."

I'm looking out my window at 13th street between F & G streets and see exactly that system in place ... in San Diego

Also the meters take prepaid cards that you can get from a variety of places around town.

I'm for one not saying that it is perfect - but you paint a much bleaker picture than reality.