UCLA professor tries to sell La Jollans on metered parking

In what’s likely to be a long, arduous battle over introducing paid parking, a UCLA professor and author told La Jollans March 21 why he felt free parking is not an inalienable right.

At the behest of Promote La Jolla, the community’s Business Improvement District, Donald Shoup, an urban studies professor who wrote “The High Cost of Free Parking,” gave an hour-long presentation followed by a brief question and answer period at the La Jolla Museum of Contemporary Art.

Shoup’s point was simple: Free parking isn’t really free. In fact, he concluded, it’s rather expensive.

UCSD geology professor Ray Weiss, a member of the La Jolla Parking Advisory Board representing the Town Council, introduced Shoup. Weiss had an epiphany after hearing Shoup’s rationale for charging for curb parking. “When I began on the parking board, I was adamantly opposed to the idea of any paid parking,” said Weiss. “I thought it would (adversely) affect the quality of life in the community. I thought more of the people who have been parking in the limited time zones and the chalk wipers would go into my neighborhood near the Village, making the parking problem there worse.”

Weiss now believes parking is a much broader problem. “It has to do with management,” he said. “There is a framework, tools for dealing with those issues. I hope you approach (Shoup’s) lecture with an open mind.”

During his speech, Shoup attacked the foundation for the argument against charging for curb parking in urban areas. “Some people will say, ‘This is un-American to charge for curb parking,’ ” he said. “It’s unfair. I think it’s very American to charge people for what they use. In La Jolla you’ve got some of the most expensive free parking on Earth. Housing is wildly expensive in La Jolla. But it’s rent-free for cars. You’ve got your priorities the wrong way round.”

Shoup said his research indicates free parking leads to extensive cruising by those seeking open spaces which wastes fuel, adds to pollution and traffic congestion and is an unwise management practice. “In studies done on hunting for parking in Detroit, 30 percent were found to be looking for parking and it took an average of eight minutes,” said Shoup. “That’s an awful lot of wasted energy and traffic congestion. What you really should be doing is reducing unnecessary vehicle travel miles, air pollution emissions, problems with waste of energy and fuel.”

Shoup added wasting fuel is especially significant in light of the fact the United States imports 60 percent of its fuel from countries that are opposed to its philosophy and policies.

Many cities in California and the rest of the United States have found a way to solve the problem of waste caused by those hunting for parking: charge for it. And, the best formula for charging for curb parking is the “goldilocks analogy,” said Shoup, wherein you find the price point, not too high or too low, where most, but not all, of the available parking space is taken. “The price is too low if all the spaces are full,” he said. “If 85 percent of the spaces are occupied, the price is just right.”

One of the reasons why the public is discouraged by the prospect of paid parking is because they are only familiar with the old-style, single-space metal meters that are antiquated by today’s technical standards. Said Shoup: “People have such an antiquated idea of what a parking meter is. Parking meters are very high-tech now, monitoring multiple spaces. They can even communicate in several languages, charge different prices at different times of the day.”

Nowadays, parking meters can be done using debit cards with stored values, said Shoup, allowing a user to turn a device on and off so it only records that time when they are legally parked and away from their vehicles. Other parking meter technologies are wireless and can easily by monitored. “The city can see, in real time, just how many spaces are occupied and whether they’re paid for,” Shoup said. “Then someone can be sent out to ticket those who are parking without paying. It’s very easy to pay with these new technologies.”

On his last trip to La Jolla, Shoup said he was driving on Prospect Street and a car in front of him pulled out of a diagonal space. “The very next car in the traffic flow pulled into that spot,” he said. “That suggests almost all the traffic is looking for a parking space. A lot of this traffic you see on the street is not going anywhere. They’ve already arrived. They’re looking for a place to park. This has been going on a very long time.”

The cruising for parking problem becomes even more acute, said Shoup, as the discrepancy between the cost of paid versus unpaid parking increases, which has the net effect of encouraging even more people to actively hunt for a free parking space. “The only thing that happens with people who have to park, when the demand goes up, is that they take longer to find a place,” said Shoup.

Citing Westwood Village near UCLA, which has a total of 470 curb spaces, as an example, Shoup said the collective distance traveled by those taking three minutes to find a free open parking space during peak times translated into 900,000 vehicle miles per year. “That’s 36 trips around the Earth and four trips to the moon hunting for underpriced curb parking,” he said. “It would take 10 years for a person to drive that far. This is happening everywhere.”

Once an appropriate price is charged for curb parking, Shoup added all or part of the revenues derived from metered spaces can be used to improve sidewalks and road infrastructure, even assist and encourage use of mass transit. “That money can then be used to improve neighborhood public services,” he said. “People have asked me if it’s like squeezing a balloon, if you charge for parking here, does it drive people into the neighborhoods? If you charge the right price for parking, people won’t be monopolizing spaces all day long. And employees and merchants will find it cheaper to park off-street.”

Shoup added Boulder, Colo. has found an interesting way to make metered parking work to aid mass transit. In that city, he said metered monies are used to pay for free bus passes for everyone who works in that city’s downtown. “Free transit creates of lot of (parking) space,” Shoup said, adding UCSD provides free shuttle transit for its students. “We’re going to make much better use of public transit, and parking, if we do this,” Shoup said. “This (parking) is an extremely valuable resource that we have. Revenues from curb parking should be spent to improve our streetscape.”

The public is invited to attend the monthly meetings of La Jolla Parking Advisory Board which convenes the third Wedensday at 9 a.m. at the Athenaeum Music & Arts Library at 1008 Wall St.