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Comparing the Price of Parking Across U.S. Cities

This article was cross-posted from City Observatory

How much does it cost to park a car in different cities around the nation?

Today, we’re presenting some new data on a surprisingly under-measured aspect of cities and the cost of living: how much it costs to park a car in different cities. There are regular comparisons of rents and housing costs between cities. The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports on regional price variations among states. But the price of parking falls into a kind of unlit corner of the statistical world.

Parking is central to the operation of our automobile dominated transportation system. There are more than 260 million cars and trucks in the United States, and most cars sit parked about 95 percent of the time.

It isn’t free, in any sense of the word. (Flickr: reflexblue)
It isn’t free, in any sense of the word. (Flickr: reflexblue)
It isn’t free, in any sense of the word. (Flickr: reflexblue)

While we have copious data about cars—the number registered, the number of gallons of gasoline they burn (over 140 billion), the number of miles they travel (over 3 trillion)—we actually know precious little about the scale of the nation’s parking system.The best estimates suggest that there are somewhere between 722 million and more than 2 billion parking spaces in the United States.

The cost of constructing all of this parking is considerable. Surface parking spaces cost about 5,000 to $10,000 to construct (including the value of the land they occupy).  Structured parking costs between 25,000 and $50,000 per space.  And while expensive to build, the actual users of these parking spaces are seldom charged a price for using them.

The most common places where parking is priced in the marketplace are in city centers. Private owners of parking lots and structures charge hourly, daily and monthly rates to their users.  Cities collect revenue from metered on-street parking spaces.

But because all of these markets are intensely local, there’s effectively no national data on parking prices. In the absence of government statistics on parking prices, we turned to the next logical place: the Internet.

ParkMe is a web-based service that provides users with directions to parking structures and lots. And, importantly for our purposes, it gathers and reports on data the price of parking cities around the country. Here’s a snapshot of a typical search using Park.me.  We’ve used it to look for monthly parking available in downtown Seattle. The site shows the least expensive monthly parking rates within easy walking distance of the Seattle public library. Expect to pay around $200 a month to get a parking space in this part of Seattle.

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 10.57.33 AM

We used the website to search for parking in each of the nation’s largest cities. For purposes of constructing reasonable comparisons among cities, we looked for parking lots and structures near the City Hall of each of the largest cities in each of the 50 largest metropolitan areas. We identified the five listed parking lots closest to City Hall and recorded the monthly price of parking for each lot. The we took the average of the five prices. The results are shown below:

ParkingCost

There’s a huge variation among different cities in the price of parking. In the largest, densest cities, parking is the most expensive.  New York tops the list. Parking near City Hall costs a whopping $770 per month.  But in many other cities, the monthly cost of parking is much less. In downtown Oklahoma City, monthly parking costs only about $25 per month–or about a dollar a day.  For the forty-six cities for which we were able to obtain data (ParkMe didn’t have data for all the 50 largest metros), the median prices of monthly parking in the city center was about $120. If you’re commuting to work 20 or so days a month, that works out to a daily cost of about $6.

Its interesting to look at the geographic patterns of variation in parking prices.  The highest prices are for cities in the Northeast and on the West Coast.  In the heartland and in the South, parking prices are generally much lower.

Screen Shot 2016-10-20 at 1.33.49 PM

To our knowledge this is the first comprehensive comparison of inter-city differences in parking prices. Even Donald Shoup’s magisterial and encyclopedic treatment of the issue — the High Cost of Free Parking — doesn’t report such a list.  The price of parking has a lot to do with travel behavior, and with urban form. In tomorrow’s commentary, we’ll present some initial findings on the relationship of parking prices to other aspects of the urban environment.

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