Out of Control Policy Blog

Central Parking Planning Gets it Wrong in New York

The economic slump has thrown thousands of commuters out of work in New York City. One of the byproducts is opening up coveted commuter parkings spaces at various rail stations. The New York Times reports that hundreds of spaces are now left vacant.

"If owning a car in New York City demands the daily contortions of alternate-side-of-the-street parking, then the bane of suburban car ownership is securing a spot at the train station. But the recession, with all the commuters who are getting laid off, has introduced a flicker of hope, and a good deal of confusion, into this struggle.

"From Ronkonkoma on Long Island to Darien, Conn., riders are doing double takes at the vacancies in the station lot, and the empty spots, in turn, have sparked efforts to free them up for parkers without permits. In Connecticut, there is even a push to let permit holders “rent” their permits.

"Consider Westchester County. Roughly 100 of the 573 spaces at the parking lot in Dobbs Ferry were free at 3 p.m. on a recent Tuesday. Over in Hartsdale, Stephanie Kavourias, executive director of the public parking authority, figures that about 90 of the station’s 900 permit spaces are empty on an average day now. And Robert Meehan, the supervisor of the town of Mount Pleasant, which includes Valhalla (191 spaces) and Hawthorne (355), has also seen growth in vacancies."

But, here's the kicker: hundreds of people want to use these empty spaces them but they can't. The spaces are held by permit holders and there is an 8-10 year waiting list. So, even if you are out of a job, you won't give up the permit! This scarcity is artificial, an artifact of poor planning and market coordination.

Parking privatization would increase the number of spaces and probably increase transit use. Can anyone say public-private partnership?

New York MTA owns the land around the rail statioins, but local cities and villages could probably  enable the construction of parking garages by loosening up zonning and planning, an ideal opportunity for the private sector to step in and build the capacity needed for a win-win solution.

Everyone expects the vacant spaces to be filled up once the economy starts growing again. Then, the shortage will be real again--simply too few spaces for too many users.

Nowhere in the article is there any discussion of increasing capacity to meet demand. With waiting lists of 8-10 years, surely there are ways capacity could be expanded by adding more spaces or even building parking garages to meet needs.

Samuel Staley is Research Fellow


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