Parking Reform Has Big Implications for Sustainable Transit — and for Ride-Hailing, Too

Cities have traditionally eliminated parking requirements to encourage walking, bicycling, and transit. But it can also aid the rise of on-demand car services, two top parking policy experts say.

Photo: kworth30/Flickr
Photo: kworth30/Flickr

While tangible, on-street changes like bike lanes, busways and plazas attract lots of attention, parking policy is arguably the unsung hero of urban transportation reform. Removing off-street parking requirements in the zoning code and tweaking on-street meter rates doesn’t often attract press and politicians like a flashy ribbon-cutting, but these policy changes are crucial to ensuring that sustainable transportation succeeds.

Increasingly, parking reform is becoming key to ensuring the success of on-demand ride-hail companies, as well.

Few people have been leading the fight for parking reform like Donald Shoup, retired UCLA urban planning professor and author of “The High Cost of Free Parking,” and Jeffrey Tumlin, director of strategy at consulting firm Nelson\Nygaard. Robert Steuteville interviewed the pair recently for the Congress for the New Urbanism.

Shoup begins by demolishing the pseudo-science that led to parking mandates becoming engraved into zoning codes across the country.

“The planners of the 1950s didn’t impose minimum parking requirements on an unwilling public, they simply gave a veneer of professional expertise to parking requirements. But that expertise really didn’t exist,” Shoup says. “Nowadays, consultants have much more to tell cities about how parking affects the city, the economy, and the environment… Expertise has been developed from the successful outcomes of the recent decades.”

Much of Shoup’s seminal book is devoted to highlighting these successful outcomes in places that have reformed parking rules to ensure drivers have a space when they need one, by correctly pricing the limited supply of parking. He explains:

 I can boil the 800 pages down to three bullet points. First, charge the right price for curb parking so there are always one or two open spaces on every block. Second, spend that revenue to pay for added public services on the metered blocks so that the stakeholders benefit from these metered spots… Investing the money back into the metered street creates the political will to charge the right price for on-street parking. And third, remove off-street parking requirements because nobody can say there’s a shortage of parking if drivers can always see one or two empty spaces on every block. Removing off-street parking requirements can have a big effect, even in the short run, because it allows the adaptive re-use of older buildings.

Although some cities, like Buffalo, have moved to completely eliminate off-street parking requirements, it remains a controversial prospect in many places, where people think government mandates to build parking will help them find a spot on the street.

“I think it’s foolish to say that without parking requirements we won’t have any parking. If you ask any developer whether they would exclude parking if it wasn’t required, they would respond, ‘That’s ridiculous,'” Shoup says. “If drivers paid for the cost to provide parking, we would use cars more rationally.”

Tumlin concedes that on-demand personal mobility is an appealing idea, even if it can never be achieved in reality: “The idea of limitless personal mobility is incredibly alluring. The ability to park, in part, drove the invention of a new lifestyle. The mistake that we made was trying to apply the concept of the suburban dream on certain urban places.”

While parking reforms have succeeded in places that want to shift away from that dated suburban model and instead encourage dense, mixed-use, walkable development, Tumlin and Shoup also see the growth of on-demand ride-hail services.

“Uber and Lyft have had a significant impact on urban parking demands,” Tumlin says. “Within San Francisco, it’s always cheaper to take UberPool or Lyft Lines downtown than it is to drive and park there.”

Reforming parking requirements to accommodate on-demand driving can have different implications than reforming parking to encourage transit, walking and bicycling — although it’s possible both can co-exist.

“Uber and Lyft know very well that the highest demand for their services are in areas where the price of parking is high,” says Shoup. “Therefore, they have often asked me about minimum parking requirements. They realize that minimum parking requirements reduce the demand for transportation network companies. If you’d like to see shared automated vehicles succeed, the best way to do this is to reform off-street parking requirements.”

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Let’s keep in mind, this is Uber. Uber only cares about making money. UberPool is not this wonderful idea to reduce congestion and save the environment. It is simply a way for them to make more money from fewer drivers. Let me demonstrate how evil UberPool is:

    Speaking from the Los Angeles market… In Los Angeles, an Uber driver is paid $0.675 per mile and $0.1125 per minute. On a 10-mile/1-hour drive to downtown Los Angeles an Uber driver earns $13.50 (out of which he needs to cover all expenses). On the same route an Uber driver earns on an UberPool ride $0.6375 per mile and $0.0825 per minute; or $11.32. Yes you read that correctly, The Uber driver earns 16% less to drive UberPool.

    O.K., what if the ride is unmatched or matched doesn’t the driver earn more – No! If it is a regular UberX ride, the driver earns $13.50. If it is an UberPool ride without at match, the rider earns $11.32. If the UberPool ride has a match or multiple matches, the drivers still earns, yes you guessed it, $11.32. Basically, with UberPool the driver does twice the work (pick-ups and drop-offs) for 16% less money. Uber does throw a small bone to Uber Drivers; Uber pays for the additional distance to pick up and drop off the additional riders. So the driver may earn $12.00 for the UberPool rides instead $11.32. So the driver now does twice the work for 11% less money. Furthermore, Uber receives a booking fee for each pick-up ($1.85 in Los Angeles) plus $0.50 for an additional rider. The driver does not share in these fees.

    I realize from the outside, UberPool looks like a great idea. Turn rideshare into sharing the ride. But in reality, it is simply a way to double up driver work while paying them 10 to 20% less. It is also a way for Uber to double-up on fee income (not shared with the driver). Also keep in mind, when you rate the driver at the end of your Uber ride, you are rating the driver not Uber. The well-dressed business rider is paired with a smelly drunk rider; the business rider rates the driver 1-star. Not because the driver gave a bad ride, but due to Uber’s policies. The driver then gets an email from Uber regarding professionalism. The driver looses again.

    So Streetsblog readers and writers, do not use UberPool. Yes it may make you feel like you are reducing congestion and reducing your carbon footprint. But in reality, you are increasing the revenue of Uber on the back of a driver who makes less than minimum wage after expenses.

  • Richard

    Uber drivers are not slaves, they choose to drive for uber willingly. If the deal is bad and they could be doing something better with their time, then they are chumps. If it is the best job for their skills and time, then good for them for finding it.

    If Uber paid more, there would be more Uber drivers running around creating traffic all over the place. Uber, already losing hundreds of millions of dollars a year would lose more, or they would raise fares. If fares go up then less people would use Uber. Then it becomes more difficult for Uber drivers to get a ride, so they spend more of their day just sitting around. Instead of using uber more people drive, ride the bus, or dont bother going out.

    So higher fares, more Uber drivers, less people actually using Uber drivers take home pay is about the same.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    True, drivers are willingly driving for Uber. But let’s look at the driver profile history. When Uber first launched, rates were $2.00+ per mile; and the average driver was a young college graduate. Many drivers made over $60,000 a year. As the economy improved, the younger drivers got 9-5 jobs. Then the semi-retired Baby Boomers or Gen Xers that got hit hard by the recession started to drive. Rates were around $1.50 a mile and somebody who worked smart could earn $50,000 a year.

    Uber has recently raised their rates. Last summer Uber rolled out upfront pricing. Since then Uber has charged the riders on average 25% more than when they were charged miles and minutes. Uber tried everything to prevent drivers and riders from comparing charges, but after six months enough evidence was produced to start a class action lawsuit. Uber countered by changing their driver Terms of Service. Drivers now earn about $36,000 a year by working 10-hour days, six days a week; while putting 50,000+ miles on their car. It’s at the point where a driver would be better off financially by selling their car and buying the same model two years older and with 100,000 more miles on it.

    I personally do not use Uber. I disagree with their anti-tipping culture and the way they treat their drivers. I use Lyft and never use Lyft Line. (If driver’s were compensated properly for their extra work, I may have a change of tune.) I firmly believe a driver should earn at least $20.00 an hour after expenses and I tip accordingly. If a rider cannot pay $1.35 a mile and $0.25 a mile (roughly half a taxicab fare), then they should take the bus.

    As a socially responsible person, which I believe StreetsBlog readers are, I will not support a business that unfairly profits from their “Partners”. Unfortunately, today’s Uber drivers are desperate people. They do not realize that in two years the $12.00 an hour job needs to replace the car that they put on over 100,000 miles. If all they do are Pool/Line rides, then the car will deteriorate faster while the driver earns $10.00 an hour.

    So again, do not use UberPool or Lyft Line. These are not reduce congestion and pollution, but instead a method of Uber and Lyft to make more money at the expense of desperate people. Use regular Lyft and tip your driver.

  • JK

    These three parking reform bullet points are really targeted at parking in commercial and retail areas — not residential. And, in cities like NYC, the big fight is over curbside space and off-street minimums in residential areas when there is an upzoning. Developers of new apartment buildings often have to build excessive amounts of off-street parking to mollify NIMBY. I love Shoup, but consider that to guarantee two curbside spots are open per block, you have to charge something. In most American cities, curbside parking on residential blocks is free. (Yes, there are RPP, but they are nowhere near market and do not ensure open spots.) Additionally, some American cities (including NYC) have charters/constitutions that require all revenue go to the general fund. That means you cannot steer parking revenue to the equivalent of a parking improvement district. (Incidentally, creating TIF/PID etc also have implications for social equity — areas that can charge more for curbside get better services. )

  • c2check

    They could certainly be applied to denser residential areas where parking demand is high, using more robust residential permit programs (like Toronto for example). Especially to ensure that delivery vehicles can get to homes and apartments without double parking. Parking revenue could also be directed to transit or bikeshare programs, for example, to help increase access for folks without a car.

  • c2check

    I agree with most of your points, but disagree about tipping. How am I supposed to know how much the driver is making from my ride to tip a “fair” amount? Why don’t we just get charged enough for our rides to pay drivers a fair wage per hour or per mile driven? And then how do I decide how to adjust my tip based on service?

    Determining how much to tip is confusing, especially for foreigners visiting, but even for Americans like myself in many cases. With normal NYC taxis I don’t know how to tip (I don’t take them often, only from LGA). Why are the recommended tip amounts on the payment machines like 20 and 30%? That’s a ridiculously high amount for a tip. If they expect at least 20% tip, why not build that into the price? If I am lower-income, is it ok if I don’t tip much or at all? If a taxi driver doesn’t know where to go, or enters my address into his GPS while driving, do I give a lower tip? If the taxi driver speeds, should I tip less for being unsafe or more for getting me there faster? If I felt sick to my stomach after a driver drove in a jerking fashion, is it ok if I don’t tip?

    I think any tipped worker should get a living wage from their employer upfront, and consumer prices should reflect those costs.

    (Tipping is one of my pet peeves about the US so excuse me as I die on this hill ;p)

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I get it. I have done a lot of business travel over the last 30 years. What to tip is second nature for me. Good rule of thumb is $2.00 to $3.00 for a “Short trip” (under 30 minutes), $5.00 for a long trip. Remember, regardless of a vehicle’s fuel efficiency, it costs a rideshare driver $0.30 a mile to operate their car. That $2.00 to $5.00 tip will cover an hour’s worth of expenses.

  • SZwartz

    The idea that parking should be priced so high that there is always an empty space is as ill-conceived idea as one could envision. If the available spaces are 120% of need, then parking would be free which retail stores would love, but if available spaces are 20% of need, then retailers will hate the idea. This foolish idea boils down to more for the wealthy, less for everyone else.

    People prefer the suburbs and exurbs and one reason people continue to move away from urban cores is social engineers who think that they can force people to use mass transit. The demographics prove them wrong. Crowded urban cores are losing out to the suburbs and the exurbs and the core areas will be financially devastated within a decade when TelePresence, aka Virtual Presence becomes widespread. For many decades, the need for people to live close together has been a relic of history. The rich and powerful have succeeded in slowing down the future, but the cost has been enormous. The only way to stave off the future is via massive poverty among 90 to 99% of the people. That should not prove to be politically viable.

    http://bit.ly/2rhHXYp June 14, 2017, NewGeography, Dispersed Cities: Starting the 3rd Decade, by Wendell Cox

  • Patrick Jackson

    1. Government infrastructure shouldn’t be built to boots retailers profits, but to provide the taxpayer with the best product for their money, with regards to the greater good. Regardless, additional revenue the city receives from parking can result in slightly lower taxes on retailers, eliminating any theoretical loss. However, this is irrelevant since the most profitable retail establishments are located in dense, urban cores with less parking than demand. Also, don’t try to make a class war out of this seeing as their is no linkage between parking policy and income inequality.
    1. People don’t prefer the suburbs and exurbs–there is about a 50/50 split in preference, trending towards urban cores. Moreover, there is no social engineering pushing people towards mass transit–there are basic market forces (lots of people/little space) pushing them towards that, and it is ridiculously inefficient to subsidize (thus pushing people more towards cars than the market would demand, the opposite of what you suggest) vehicular infrastructure at densities above 15,000 people per square mile.
    3. The demographics are showing a roughly 50/50 split between people living in urban cores and suburban areas. However, urban cores are, on average, more expensive than suburban areas, indicating increased demand for these areas. Were restrictive development laws loosened, virtually all new construction would occur in places with average home values above $300,000, which is, in most situations, urban areas. Therefore, people are not moving away from urban cores in net, and there would likely be a net inflow were supply matched to demand.
    4. Because of the aforementioned market forces, people have shown a preference to live in urban areas. Therefore if “Telepresence” ever occurs, then people will be able to live where they want–in urban cores. Indeed, as we have seen the rise of people being able to work from home over the last few decades, we have seen increased wealth and population concentrated in a handful of urban cores, indicating that, when given the choice, people don’t want to live in dispersed settings at all.
    5. Rich people aren’t pushing the masses to urban areas. That is a ridiculous conspiracy theory.

  • Kenny Easwaran

    What would it mean for available spaces to be 20% of need? If there is a “need” for a lot more spaces, then the spaces will be priced extremely high, and it will be worth it for some landowner to build some parking spaces and charge some rent for anyone who wants to park there. It won’t be at 20% of “need” for long. If, as you say, having a shortage of parking makes retail lose out, then some of those businesses will lose value to the point at which it makes sense to convert them to parking.

    On the other hand, if the retail use continues to be more valuable than the parking use, then that suggests that there is plenty of parking, whether you say it is 20% of “need” or not. It just means that a different class of people are going there than the people who think it “needs” parking.

  • AB3

    I tend to agree about the tipping issue. While I do like Uber’s no-tip model because of the WYSIWYG pricing, I’m also concerned about them low-balling their drivers pay-wise. Thus, until they increase their driver pay (and rates to match I assume; I’m OK with that), I tend to steer clear of using Uber, with the exception of the UberBLACK service that employs professional livery drivers and charges a higher rate accordingly.

    Until then, when I’m looking for a “bargain” ride-hailing trip, I’ll opt for Lyft and tip accordingly. Sometimes, especially when surge pricing goes into effect, I just get a traditional cab by using the Curb app.

    As for Lyft Line / UberPOOL, I’ve tried them but was not really impressed and unless I really want to sit next to a stranger in a closed environment, I tend to avoid those services. It’s interesting to learn about how those services affect driver pay.

    Ideally, I’d like to see Uber raise its rates in order to keep its all-inclusive pricing model. I assume that by allowing tips, Lyft would thus appear to be cheaper, though with tipping factored in, they really wouldn’t be. It would be nice to see UberTAXI roll out in more cities as I believe there’s still a role for the traditional taxi in the ride-hailing economy, but as of yet, I’ve only encountered UberTAXI in NYC.

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