“Free” parking isn’t free, and the benefits of charging for it

This piece originally appeared in the Boulder Daily Camera in response to the question:

[A] proposed test program was tentatively approved for Chautauqua, which would have time-limited parking for areas within the landmark, but outside of the parking lot near the green. The test program will run in June, July and August. What do you think? What do you think about parking and parking restrictions in Boulder?

Since demand for “free” parking spaces near Chautauqua exceeds supply during popular hiking months, clearly the monetary price to park is too low.  With “free” parking, the monetary price is zero, but non-monetary prices become costly: time, inconvenience, and frustration.  Many Chautauqua hikers would happily pay some money to avoid such hassles – if the price is right. Hence, the City should certainly find a way to charge for parking.


Of the approaches described in the City Council’s April 17 agenda packet, a combination of parking permits and time-limited parking sounds best. However, this proposal limits permit sales to only Chautauqua guests, Boulder residents, and those who work in Boulder. Why not sell permits to any willing buyer?  The City could discount permits to Chautauqua guests, residents, and local employees to roughly account for taxes they pay.

Also, how about earmarking the Chautauqua revenues for trail maintenance?

For per-hour parking, in Chautauqua or elsewhere, the City should consider pay-by-phone methods, which would allow hikers to extend their meter time via text message or smartphone app. CU-Boulder uses ParkMobile, while San Francisco’s SFpark project uses PayByPhone.com.

The City Council should also consider leasing its parking lots and curbside parking areas to for-profit or non-profit operators. Several cities have made such arrangements, as discussed in the Reason Foundation‘s recent Annual Privatization Reports [2010, 2011]. Such leases bring cash-strapped cities significant non-tax revenue while freeing them from financial risk and maintenance costs. Cities have also retained the power to approve or reject leasers’ proposed rate increases.

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In the video above, UCLA professor Donald Shoup explains Pasadena revitalized a shopping district by charging for curb-side parking.


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