Thursday, January 7, 2010

Paid parking

Every now and then I will read something that leads me to a completely different interpretation than what the writer had or perhaps intended. A longtime Columbia resident wrote a letter to the editor in which she recounts a harrowing and unpleasant experience trying to find a parking spot at the mall. I presume this occurred near the holidays, because that is the only time in which traffic near the mall is bad. This person had to drive around looking for a spot and eventually resorted to following shoppers leaving the mall in order to take their soon to be vacated parking spot. When she finally secured a parking space, she felt as though she had “won the lottery”. She then had to sit in her car for a few minutes to recover from the parking ordeal. She then alluded that someone else looking for a parking spot gave her an obscene gesture for sitting in her car.

The writer complained that, if GGP's development plan is approved, there would be a “moat of parking garages which would probably be charging [her] to park.” Her specific objection to this is that tax dollars would most likely be used to pay for the parking garages. That is a valid objection which I agree with. It seems obvious to me that the developer should pay for these garages, and of course get all of the parking revenues. However, that particular quarrel is with the county, not the developer. I guess the county wants to pay for the garages, and use the revenues to offset debt or other spending. That seems dumb to me, but whatever. I am in agreement with the writer on these specific points so far.

What did not make sense at all to me is the writer did not seem to realize that the parking garages, regardless of who pays for them, would solve the problem of an insufficient number of parking spots. If her parking experience proves anything, it is that free parking is anything but “free”. When demand is high and supply is low, obtaining the scarce resource becomes a real hassle. This is why she compared finding a parking space to winning the lottery. A parking garage which charges a fee would allow the parking spaces to be allocated efficiently. People who want to park in a close garage would be able to do so for a couple of bucks (which they would be glad to do if it saves them an experience like the one above), and people who weren't as concerned with a close spot could park somewhere farther away (maybe by Lakeside Cafe) or perhaps even do their shopping online. This is not really a point for debate, as this something that any first year economics student can figure out.

People who are more interested in Columbia than I am can take issue with the other, perhaps larger, points that the writer made. But as far as the parking bit goes, yay for paid parking!


Eludius said...

You make a good argument. I always wished the mall should create more parking spots closer to the door.

Eludius said...

BTW - my last sentence is sarcasm. Blogger removed my sarcasm brackets.