The challenges free parking policies present have long been known – since the first parking meter was installed in 1935. The negative financial impact of free parking policies was examined more recently in the book The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup and published in 2005.

When implementing a paid parking program, the challenge for public officials is clear: to use economic incentives to encourage people to park where you want them to park, and for the desired length of time. While the generation of parking revenue is a beneficial by-product of a well-run parking program, it should not be the sole motivation.

Transportation and parking industry experts suggest parking problems are commonly a direct result of an inadequate parking management policies rather than a lack of space(s). To achieve the level of control necessary, an understanding of the concepts of public parking management is required. Parking management is the comprehensive control of the quantity, location, cost, and availability of parking. It seeks a balance between the competing needs of motorists, transient users and pedestrians to help satisfy various public objectives, including but not limited to mitigation of traffic congestion and associated ills. Parking management should help create economic growth, and ensure preservation of public investment and community values.

While the amount varies from city to city, a common rule of thumb for the value of a prime on-street parking space is approximately $150-$300 in retail sales per day, according to HyettPalma, Inc., of Alexandria, VA. Based on this calculation, the cost per year to downtown retailers is a loss of $45,000-$90,000 when business owners and downtown employees park in prime downtown spaces.

Another way to look at this is for every prime parking space occupied by a business owner or employee working downtown all day, one or two jobs are potentially being lost. Businesses are not realizing profits that would result from increased retail transactions, and local governments are not realizing their share of sales tax revenues when parking is free. In short, if downtown employees are not walking, customers are – and they may choose to take their dollars to a more convenient location.

There is a better way.

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