Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl wants to halt the expansion of metered parking in the Strip District and some other areas where parking is currently free, saying more input is needed from business owners and neighbors.
It’s true that people don’t like paying for parking, but in denser areas of the city, where you can’t fit a lot of cars, the alternative is parking scarcity and traffic congestion.
Parking economics is pretty straightforward. Parking is a market good, not a public good. With market goods, there are only two ways to ration them – pricing, or waiting in line.
We know what happens when cars have to wait in line when parking is tight – they circle the blocks looking for spaces. Too-low pricing, or no pricing, creates parking shortages and congestion. Higher pricing creates more turnover, and of course if you set prices too high you get the opposite problem of too many vacant spaces.
It’s not clear how more public input would improve Mayor Ravenstahl’s understanding of these issues. In dense areas with a lot of business activity, parking policy should encourage high turnover. That’s the only way to get enough customers to all the businesses.
Business owners sometimes misunderstand this issue, and push for low-turnover policies that are politically popular with their customers, but just dead wrong on the economics.
Ravenstahl should ignore the political pressure for low parking turnover, keep pushing forward with high-turnover policies, and really double down on maximizing parking *convenience* with easier payment methods and variable pricing.