Donald Shoup on Using Prices to Allocate Curb Pricing

Earlier on, I’ve discussed San Francisco’s insane municipal tax policies. But it turns out that the City of San Francisco occasionally embraces pretty good public policies as well. A case in point is the city’s embrace of performance parking, an idea that’s long been championed by UCLA’s indefatigable Donald Shoup:

San Francisco has embarked on an ambitious program, called SFpark, to get the prices of curb parking right. The city is installing meters that can charge variable prices and sensors that can report the occupancy of each space in real time. The city will thus have information on curb occupancy rates and the ability to adjust curb parking prices in response. The city intends to adjust prices once a month, never by more than 50¢ an hour. By nudging prices up or down in a trial-and-error process, the city will seek a structure of prices that vary by time and location throughout the city, yielding one or two open spaces on every block.

So what’s the point of performance parking? Among other things, you sharply reduce the amount of time drivers spend cruising for a parking space, thus reducing traffic congestion, and you raise revenue that would otherwise be raised through taxes. Now, I have no confidence that the good people of San Francisco will elect the kind of cost-conscious public officials who’d use performance parking revenue effectively. But that’s an entirely separate question. The right mayor could use performance parking and congestion charges to slash sales and income taxes and other measures that punish commerce and work rather than congestion.

Reihan Salam — Reihan Salam is executive editor of National Review and a National Review Institute policy fellow.

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