The price of parking in downtown Boise- Why the new meters are not simply about money.

The City of Boise is in the midst of changing parking in the downtown core, and Boiseans are not happy.  Proposed changes would increase prices at the meters and extend hours of operation, allowing the city to get more money from its citizens.

The end.

Or at least that is the end to the average consumer. To them, parking should be free, and in their defense, it usually is. Tyler Cowen, professor of economics at George Mason University, indicated that 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States end in a free parking space.

Remember the old proverb that says, “Nothing in life is free”? This applies to parking too, but we are paying for it in ways that many do not consider. These proposed changes could help alleviate some of the uncommonly known costs of parking.Wikimedia meters

There are non-monetary costs that consumers overlook. According to Donald C. Shoup, a professor at University of California, Los Angeles, and author of The High Cost of Free Parking, upwards to 30% of traffic congestion in large cities is due to people cruising for a good parking space. Thirty percent. If you are driving around in downtown Boise with 1000 other cars, 300 of them could be cruising for a parking space. That means increased emissions and lower air quality, not to mention extra congestion and added commute time to those who are simply driving through. By making the garages the most convenient option, we get those who are cruising for parking off the road.

A number of Boise citizens have expressed their concern on how price increases would affect downtown businesses, amongst other things. They see the increased pricing as a detriment to quick stops downtown. See the letters here, here, and here.

Delving a little further into details can alleviate this concern. According to the City of Boise Parking Services,

“The mission of Parking Services is to encourage parking turnover and space availability in the on-street parking spaces.”

The pricing changes should do just this. This is why the first hour is only $1.50 but the second hour raises to $3.00; to encourage long term users to use parking garages, and keep on-street parking available for those who intend to make a quick shopping trip. If long term parking at meters is too expensive, only those who plan to stay for short trips will use them. Short term use means the turnover rate will be higher, which means the spots are more accessible. Now you do have time to stop by Bandanna Running and Walking on your lunch to pick up a new pair of running shoes.

Businesses also have the option of validating parking, extending the amount of time one can park in the garages for free.  According to the Capital City Development Corporation, who runs many of the downtown garages, Edward’s Cinemas validates two free hours, in addition to the first hour that is already free. The Egyptian offers one extra hour. Higher meter prices might prove a good incentive for business’s to purchase parking validation, which would further encourage consumers to shop at those stores.

Flickr Sf Meters

Metered parking in San Francisco. Picture via Flickr, 2013.

Boiseans ought to be happy the city isn’t proposing changes similar to those taking place in San Francisco. There, meters are electronic and prices fluctuate according to demand. The goal is to keep one space on the block open at all times. As the meters on the block fill up, the rates go up as well. If most of the parking spots are empty, then the price decreases. Under these circumstances, the best spot actually does go to the person who is willing to pay.

Boiseans should also be happy about the ability to pay with a credit or debit card. No more scrounging for quarters and dimes.

One of the best features of the new meters is the ability for it to update you on how much time is left on your meter. Ever find yourself sitting at dinner with friends, only to realize your meter has ran out? With the new meters this would not be a problem. Smart Meters can send a message to your phone to inform you when your time is running out. This gives you the opportunity to add 15 minutes to your space and avoid a parking ticket completely.

WM wikipedia

Sea of parking. Picture via Wikipedia, 2013.

Yes, getting used to parking in the garages may be inconvenient at first. You may have to park and then walk a few blocks to your destination. But no one thinks twice about parking at the back of the mall lot and walking across the property to their store of choice. Now let’s make it so no one thinks twice about it downtown as well.

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3 thoughts on “The price of parking in downtown Boise- Why the new meters are not simply about money.

  1. Malori, thanks for the post. I’ve followed a lot of the Boise downtown parking changes that have happened and been proposed lately, but it’s nice to see a positive point of view on the topic for a change. You mentioned that Boise residents should be happy that the city isn’t following what San Francisco is doing, but I actually like the idea of demand-responsive pricing (http://sfpark.org/how-it-works/pricing/). Once in a while I wouldn’t mind paying more for a spot if it meant one was available when I really needed it. The rest of the time I would scope out the low demand 25 cent an hour spots or be sure to use public transport/car pool/ride my bike during peak times.

    • Thanks Kelly! I was hoping to shed some light on how pricing changes could be a good thing, because I think they are. I too think demand responsive pricing is a good thing, but I also support raising the prices in general. This article wasn’t written for those of us who do support the changes, it was written to hopefully change the mind of those who do not!

  2. One of my favorite topics. Thanks for writing this, Malori.

    I’m still reeling from Karen Sander’s figure that some 10,000 parking spaces (not counting private lots) are available in downtown Boise. Only a portion of that, about 3,000 spaces according to DBA, are on-street spaces, both free and paid. Smaller still are the metered spaces that require payment–those are approximately 1,000, if I recall correctly. Smart meters will top approximately 800 of those. In short, the city’s ability to affect change on the parking system overall is small in comparison to the overall private parking business.

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