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Lunch with The Donald — No Not That One – The Hutongs of Beijing

“Actually I learn more from you than you learn from me” he says as we part after lunch at the UCLA Faculty Center. I smile and nod. He is most gracious.

Don Shoup in retirement is the same Don Shoup when he was teaching. He still has an office at UCLA and he still is on speed dial with CNN and Fox News. When every they have a parking story, he’s worth a pithy quote.

He loves to talk about how the difficult part of making changes in parking policy is political, not technical. His lead story this lunch was about Beijing. During a recent visit, he was given a tour of the ancient alleyways, Hutongs,  near the Forbidden City. They are a mixture of poor dwellings and compounds where more well to do live. These houses and compounds have one thing in common, they do not have toilets. Residents use common facilities located down the block. And according to tour guides, these are some of the least hygienic in Asia. In addition, cars were parked everywhere.

hutong

Don wondered whether a residential parking program would generate enough money to clean up the local privies. Some graduate research discovered that it would cost $65,000 to upgrade the facilities in each Hutong.  The parking program and maintenance on the restrooms would cost $25,000 a year but would generate $50,000 in revenue. In a little over two years the program would pay for itself and begin to generate funds that could be used for other programs.

He published a paper on the subject and even before it was translated into Chinese it raised substantial interest in the Capital.  The government liked the idea that the more well to do (those owning cars) would be paying and the less fortunate would benefit from the resulting maintenance program. Wealth redistributed. A Communist dream. It’s being tested in a number of Hutongs today.

In a presentation to the Manhattan Institute, Don wondered why this type of program wouldn’t work in New York City.  There are no residential permit programs in the city, and car owners spend many hours searching for and keeping parking spaces. “Wouldn’t someone on the Upper East Side pay a lot to have a reserved parking space near their apartment home?” he said. Plus, wouldn’t someone in a less wealthy area like to participate in the program, too.   If the city were to auction the spaces on the Upper East Side, they could go for a substantial amount. Probably much more than the spaces would go for in less affluent areas.

upper east side (2)

In those areas a reverse auction could be held. If there were 1000 spaces available, residents could bid on the spaces, and the 1000 highest bids would be selected, however each would pay the lowest amount bid. The bids might range from $1000 to $100, but everyone bidding would pay $100. This program is being used with great success to allocate permits in some lots at Chapman University in Southern California.

The additional monies generated in the affluent areas could be used to supplement costs in the poorer sections of the city.

The problem is that New York has opposite side of the street parking bans where weekly you must move your car so the streets can be swept. How could I have a reserved space if I had to move my car twice a week? The streets still have to be swept.

Our fearless parking rock star proposes boutique street cleaning. City workers using high tech vacuums would walk the streets and clean around the parked cars. It would cost more, but the monies generated from the parking program could pay for it. “Think of the pressure removed from drivers in Manhattan. They wouldn’t be playing parking roulette twice a week. How much is that worth to them?”

Would this sell in the Big Apple. The current administration is ‘progressive.’ Don thinks it would. The program redistributes wealth by taking higher parking fees in some areas and using them to supplement lower fees in others.  It would also allow the city to hire more workers (street cleaners) and reduce some unemployment.

From the back alleys of Beijing to the streets of the Upper East Side. Who would have thunk it.

JVH

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