David Porter on Parking Auctions at Chapman University

Economist David Porter is featured on Reason TV discussing Chapman University’s Parking Auctions.

The video is worth watching, as he’s very engaging, and it’s a pretty cool implementation of auction policies. However, there are a couple of things that I can’t let go without critiquing:

1. I get that he’s trying to be engaging and funny, but I really can’t approve of selecting out quotes from people who participated in the process if you are going to mock those statements. Yes, people say dumb things during policy design and implementation. It doesn’t matter. The ethics of deliberation mean that you don’t get to use occasional lapses in reason or even incivility in others that occur in the deliberation to make points for yourself later, even if you don’t attribute. It’s convenient to use these sorts quotes to show, in an ex poste hero’s journey narrative about your implementation process, how you had to overcome ignorance or criticism to get the program to triumph. Tempting though it is, it’s a bad idea for sustaining the long-term relationships you want to build with a community of people you want to continue planning and building with. Short term win, long-term threat to trust. Porter doesn’t care about that stuff, but planners should.

2. At the end, the problem with auction markets start to become apparent: “well, we need to shift these classes around, and those faculty will be willing to be paid to move to 8 am etc etc.” That is, it’s easy to get caught up in the idea that you can design perfectly efficient outcomes with auctions, when slightly imperfect outcomes may be good enough when you start to pay attention to the transactions costs. More and more rules, more shifting of activities–all of that starts to get complicated after awhile, and it’s all to serve your auction–a tail wags dog problem. Why not just let the auction prices handle the peak and be done with it?

It just reminds me of Sheldon Cooper’s three-person chess:

(BTW, there’s no way in heck that I would agree to teach at 8 am for $10. My colleagues who are early risers would; for them, the $10 would be surplus payment as they are on campus anyway. You’d need to add two more zeros before I agreed.)

SFPark launch–and, yes, there’s an iphone ap for it

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority is launching SFPark today, and it’s arguably the most innovative program I’ve seen in years–years–right along with at-grade bus and train car entrances. (Small things make a huge difference). And I say this after watching us spend a lot of money on intelligent transportation system research.

Anyhoozy, SFPark is using new sensors and electronic monitoring from meters to allow customers to locate parking spaces, including those in the 20 parking garages owned by SFMTA. I’m thinking that if I owned a private lot or garage, I’d be pestering SFMTA to let me find a way to put my open parking spots on the map, too.

You can search by neighborhood. The pilot neighborhoods are places where, frankly, there is no parking (I’m teasing! The value added of the tool helps you find the few spots that are open so that you don’t cruise around neighborhoods that have congested parking…):

1. Marina
2. Fisherman’s Wharf
3. Filmore
4. Civic Center
5. Financial District
6. SoMa
7. Mission

This is what a query of the Financial District got me just now:

Voila Capture36


I haven’t tried the iphone ap, given that I don’t drive, park, or live in San Francisco, but let me know how it works if you do….

Donald Shoup’s ideas: A series of web links

I was cc’d on an email from the indefatigable Donald Shoup today, where he laid out his ideas by web resources. That seemed worth passing along to me.

A video of how San Francisco sets market prices for curb parking

A video of a presentation on parking at Yale:

A proposal for pricing curb parking

An op-ed piece in the New York Times

The first chapter of The High Cost of Free Parking

Book reviews of The High Cost of Free Parking

Roughly right or precisely wrong in ACCESS

People, parking, and cities in ACCESS

Cruising for parking in ACCESS

Playing with parking fees and matchbox cars

Parking cash out in ACCESS

A video about parking cash out

And finally,

Donald Shoup’s website.

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Donald Shoup, Land Economics, and Political Economy

Donald Shoup’s work, The High Cost of Free Parking, was the focus onTyler Cowen’s column in the New York Times last Sunday. Parking Today gathered up a bunch of the responses and basically dismisses most of them, and I’m not sure why. The writer seems to think that the discordant discussion derives just from ideology. But eonomists disagree on all sorts of things, and with parking, we don’t really have a lot of data or a ton of studies yet. I don’t think, for example, you can dismiss the question of movement along both the supply and demand curves, and I don’t think you can ignore the externality argument around parking spillovers–because the externality argument about spillovers is one of the reasons why we have all these parking requirements in the first place.

The other weird thing about the Parking Today entry is the suggestion that you have to “actually know Shoup” in order to respond to his ideas.

So in order to establish my street cred, Donald was one of my mentors at UCLA, and I read draft after draft of his wonderful book when I was a PhD student largely because Donald would pay anybody and everybody to read his draft and comment. He was an absolute fanatic about perfecting his arguments and his prose,* and his generosity and commitment to the quality of this work allowed me to read it, get a few hours of wages out of it, and bought me many a pizza when I was otherwise broke. Now, in perfect disclosure, Donald never considered me as a particularly bright student, but that’s because he had far, far more brilliant people to work with, like Jeffrey Brown and Daniel Hess and David King. Nonetheless, he was always wonderful and witty and ready to afflict the comfortable.

That said, I’ve always been convinced by the basics of Donald’s argument, and pretty much any time he tells me something about land economics, I always think he’s right. And even though I am bigger fan of his other work–the stuff that people don’t pay as much attention to, such his award-winning article in JPER on graduated zoning–it’s really hard to overstate the magnitude of his contribution of getting people to critically examine parking requirements.

But what I think we miss in this discussion is the political economy. As in, you can whinge about ideology all you want, but the political economy really influences property and its regulation, and while I love the catchphrase that free parking is a like a fertility drug for cars, I’ve always wondered about the direction of causation. Is it that people use cars because parking is free (or too cheap), or is parking free because drivers and property owners are politically powerful constituencies? IOW, are cars the fertility drug to free parking, and does any of that matter now? Because if parkers are voters and property owners have a vested interest in trying to wedge free parking out of collective provided street space, then the political web holding the regulations in place may be really hard to crack open.

In the discussion over at Marginal Revolution, there was one comment in particular that always messes me up:

Am I the only one who remembers when you had to pay for parking in any reasonable city or town, and the new-fangled strip malls outside of town were advertising free parking, easy in and easy out free parking right in front of the store? Then with the malls, you had the massive tracts of land with the shops concentrated at the center, building up with quick escalators so you could easily get in, park free, and the access every store you might want with a few feet walking, and then head back to your car parked free to head home or to the next shopping mall with free parking? Then malls started adding huge parking garages with free parking so you could park closer for free and not get rained or snowed on. I remember the downtown businesses, including the Sears and Wards and Woolworths calling on government to do something to provide free parking to allow them to compete.

link: Marginal Revolution: Kling on free parking

Ultimately, I think Donald has a pragmatic and useful strategy for going forward: trying to combat the regulatory creep that got us into the free parking boat: creating new types of use and revenue sharing around parking so that property owners in high-congestion areas have an interest in the take from charging, rather than just using their political clout to mandate a supply of parking that people don’t value enough to pay for themselves.

*I will remember forever just how incredibly patient he was in putting this book together. For graduate students who are starting down the publish publish publish as fast as you can road…it was a breath of fresh air.

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