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A researcher argues that cities could make up the revenue and control parking demand without all those hated citations.

Anam Ardeshiri has himself been the victim of one of the great tragedies of urban parking. He’s parked his car – in this case in Baltimore – and then returned to it a mere two minutes after the meter expired, only to find a $32 ticket waiting for him.

Legions of drivers can undoubtedly relate. But pity the meter maid who gives a parking ticket to a doctoral candidate in transportation and urban infrastructure studies. "I believe that for two minutes more, using this facility shouldn’t cost me 32 dollars," argues Ardeshiri, a Ph.D. student at Morgan State University. "It should cost at most one dollar, two dollars – and I’m willing to pay. But if it turns to 32 dollars, it’s not fair." The punishment, he figures, doesn’t match the crime. And there is something arguably unfair about a citation system that punishes the guy who’s one minute late in the same way as the scofflaw who overstays his parking meter all day. 

Smarting from his own experience, Ardeshiri designed a system that would make it possible to eliminate parking tickets all together.

We’re pretty sure he’ll have a hard time finding a municipal parking authority willing to implement it, in Baltimore or anywhere else. But hear the guy out: Cities could still recoup the same revenue, Ardeshiri has calculated, if they charged parked cars – at a much higher rate then they currently are – for their precise usage rather than by pre-billing drivers and sticking it to those who stay too long.

From the driver’s perspective, Ardeshiri’s offer is this: Wouldn’t you be willing to pay more per hour to park if it meant you’d never get a ticket?

In Ardeshiri’s plan, which he presented at the annual Transportation Research Board conference in Washington this week, you’d pull into a parking spot and swipe your credit card at a meter in exchange for a receipt placed on your windshield. Then when you’re ready to leave, you’d insert the same receipt back into the machine – as you would in many parking garages – and it would debit your account for the precise curb time you used. In this system, the city would get rid of parking time maximums. But spots would grow more expensive by the hour (costing, for example, $2 for the first hour, $4 for the second hour, and so on), providing a strong incentive against people staying forever. And Ardeshiri proposes using dynamic pricing that would make spots even more expensive during peak periods.

Ardeshiri is essentially proposing that you pay for your parking only after you know how much of it you need. Most current metered parking systems ask people to guess ahead of time, and then punish people who guess wrong (either via a parking ticket, or by pocketing the excess money of people over overestimate how much time they'll need). As Ardeshiri puts it, his system also creates "subsidy-free pricing," in which the costly citations given to some drivers no longer subsidize parking for everyone else.

Now, it’s still entirely possible to game such a system. Drivers might, say, prematurely swipe their credit cards before leaving a parking space. And so Ardeshiri's proposal wouldn’t entirely eliminate the need for some parking enforcement. But perhaps it could divert some officers to trolling for real road menaces: the drivers blowing through red lights and speeding through school zones.

"I believe there’s a difference between these types of violations, and parking meter violations," Ardeshiri says. "When you violate the speed limit in a school zone or work zone, it makes sense that you’d get ticketed. But in this case, overstaying for two or three minutes, it’s better to pay for that two minutes. You’re not violating people's rights or causing safety problems for other citizens. They’re two different issues."

Top image:  Constance Knox/Shutterstock.com

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