The Original Shoupista Reflects on 25 Years
When Winston Churchill was asked if he belonged to the Church of England, he said he was to the Church of England as a flying buttress is to a cathedral: we both support it from the outside. My own relation to the parking industry is a bit like that.
To celebrate Parking Today’s 25th birthday, John Van Horn asked me to write about the changes I’ve seen in the parking industry during the past 25 years. I usually learn about these changes by reading Parking Today. By spreading information throughout the industry so quickly and reliably, Parking Today deserves great credit for hastening the acceptance of new ideas, new technology, and new practices in the profession.
The Parking Pomegranate is another fine news source, and podcasts like Parker-X and The Parking Podcast have become another way to spread ideas about parking. I have learned a lot by listening for an hour to people like Frank Ching, Julie Dixon, Robert Ferrin, Mario Inga, Cassius Jones, Jeff Petry, and Brandy Stanley. Who knew parking was such a complicated thing?
For most of the 20th century, parking was perhaps the most stagnant industry outside North Korea. Parking meters on most city streets remained almost identical to the original ones introduced in 1935. The meter sketched in Carl Magee’s patent application looks more streamlined than later meters, but one might easily have mistaken it for a parking meter on any city street in America in 2000—the combination of a slot machine and an alarm clock.
When “The High Cost of Free Parking” was published in 2005, half the city planning profession thought I was crazy and the other half thought I was daydreaming. Charging market prices for curb parking seemed practically impossible. At the time, parking prices were limited by the number of coins that could fit into a meter. Since then, however, a burst of new technology allows cities to measure occupancy and charge variable prices for curb parking, suddenly making market-priced curb parking feasible. Baltimore, Boston, Calgary, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. now charge demand-based prices for some or all of their curb parking spaces.
In the 21st century, technology in the parking industry has advanced faster than in almost any other public service. License-plate-recognition cameras and the cloud now enable flexible pricing, frictionless payments, and effective enforcement. Many drivers already pay for parking with cell-phone apps (such as ParkMobile and Passport) and some cars’ guidance systems already come equipped with these apps (such as BMW’s ConnectedDrive). Recent progress in coding the curb enables parking guidance systems to interpret all the city’s confusing regulations and give turn-by-turn directions to the nearest available spaces. Drivers can use a voice command to begin paying for curb parking, and the car automatically stops paying when it leaves the curb space. If parking is priced by the minute, drivers pay only for the time they use.
In the future, drivers may be able to input their value of saving time on a trip into the car’s guidance system, so an algorithm can recommend the optimal parking spot based on the price at each space and the walking time to the final destination. Artificial intelligence will probably make smarter parking decisions than humans do, and parking-optimizing guidance systems may be available long before anyone gets a self-driving car.
When cars learn to find and pay for parking, parking demand will respond to parking prices more accurately, and drivers will be able to save money by parking a few blocks from their destination and walking the rest of the way.
Dashboard payments for parking may eventually become so simple, touchless, and ubiquitous that drivers will cease to think about them, as with so many other once-surprising technologies from automatic transmissions to automatic braking. These new parking technologies may seem astonishing now, but eventually we will take them for granted, and even newer technologies will supersede them.
Charging market prices for all curb spaces will greatly increase the demand for parking consultants, managers, and equipment manufacturers. Free curb parking employs none of these. With the right parking reforms, I think cities will enter a golden age for transportation management, and the parking profession can lead the way.
Parking has been an Aladdin’s lamp for my own research during the past 40 years, and I have rubbed it frequently. More important, I believe parking can be an Aladdin’s lamp for cities around the world if they charge market prices for on-street parking, spend the revenue to improve public services in the metered neighborhoods, and remove off-street parking requirements. Better parking management can improve cities, the economy, and the environment. The parking industry can help save the world, one space at a time.
Don Shoup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org