Parking meters: It’s all supply and demand

So it seems the Association des restaurateurs is in a tiff because the city suggested that its opinions on parking meters (namely, that they shouldn’t exist) are “marginal”.

Okay, they’re only saying that their hours should be reduced, but business-owners groups always comes out against increases in meter rates or hours, and in favour of their reductions. They also oppose most reserved bus lanes because those take parking spots away.

The argument is that drivers’ are frustrated at having to pay excessive meter rates, and this encourages urban sprawl and moves to the suburbs.

Really? I’m not a driver, so I can’t speak from experience, but it seems to me drivers aren’t annoyed at paying meter rates as much as they are annoyed at having to drive around the block 50 times looking for a spot. After all, as pissed off as they are about paying meter rates, they’re not pissed off enough to stop using them to capacity.

Parking spaces are a finite resource downtown. Trying to accomodate drivers is a strategy that is destined to fail. Therefore the alternative is to encourage other forms of transportation, like buses and taxis (which don’t need to be parked) and bicycles (which don’t take up much space).

Even if you reject that conclusion, parking meter management should be simple, conforming to the rules of supply and demand. If the meters are used to capacity, the rates should go up until the demand is reduced. If demand is so low that the spaces are unused, rates should be reduced to encourage more use and keep those businesses happy.

What’s so complicated in all this. I mean, besides the political grandstanding?

30 thoughts on “Parking meters: It’s all supply and demand

  1. plam

    Your post basically expresses the main thesis of “The High Cost of Free Parking” by Donald Shoup. Yes, it is that simple, and he has a number of arguments to support your point. Free parking always fails because there isn’t enough of it, and it’s not such a great idea anyway. Also, workers tend to monopolize the parking space near work, and you actually want clients to take these parking spaces.

    Me, I bike around.

  2. Beeg

    What’s complicated is the inability of journalists to grasp basic ideas about economics. This is a classic problem of the “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” variety.

    Assuming that Stationnement Montréal is honest with its figures (a significant assumption), parking meter use has gone up since the new rates went into effect. Similarly, parking revenue is up. The fare hike is a great natural policy experiment, and a sensible observer (i.e., one who doesn’t instinctively doubt the restaurateur who argues that a 30% drop in restauranting – nice use of quotes by Irwin Block today, BTW – is a result of parking costs and not the Great Recession) would try and draw some conclusions. I’ve got three:

    (1) Parking costs now are either ideal or too low, but definitely more appropriately priced than in the pre-hike period. If the meters are being used as much or more than before, there’s simply no argument here. As you’ve suggested, if people are being more frugal about their parking (i.e., parking for shorter periods of time), that’s a good thing. Remember, the principal reason for charging for parking is not revenue generation but management of a scarce, public good. Cheap/free parking downtown means nobody can ever park there (without being extremely luck or extremely strategic in his or her time management). Oh, and we can spend the extra revenue on shiny new trams to pacify our ADD mayor.

    (2) Journalism is fucked. At least the kind on display here. What’s driving this story? A mayoral candidate with a bad idea? A “merchant’s association”? Who exactly does the Association des restaurateurs du Québec represent? Where is the study that shows their patrons are choosing Kelsey’s over Alexandre because it’s too cheap? That effectively priced parking rates do something other than make parking more efficient (and, therefore, improve the downtown dining experience)? Why can’t Irwin or Éric Clément or whoever did the ballz story on CTV last night pick up a phone, call an economist or a political scientist and get some neutral perspective?

    (3) Municipal governance is fucked. Rather than stand up and support the price, they go on and on about virtue (go ride a bike) or make irrational comparisons (our meters are still cheaper than ). This is a rare occasion where the city is actually making the right move, yet it can’t help but defend it through moralizing and strawmen. Then again, who could replace beleaguered idiot Mayor Tremblay? Louise O’Sullivan, the puppet of the restaurant racket? Benoit Labonté, who seems to be motivated entirely by a personal beef? Richard Bergeron, who, in his book on public transit, sells 9/11 as an inside job?


  3. Amir

    6 dollars for two hours max, then you have to leave whatever you were doing, and pay again. But don’t get there too fast, you’ll just waste the amount left on the parcomètre. but don’t get there too late either, at $42 per ticket, parking may be free the rest of the day, but still…

    6 dollars.
    for not even 2 hours, because let’s face it, you won’t be parking right in front of your destination, but at least a good 10 minute away walking.
    Wanna go for supper downtown on a weekday? nope, note before 9pm.
    Wanna go shopping on a Saturday afternoon? better do it in less than 2 hours or get ready for some running around.

    Why go through all those hoops when I can just go to dinner (or shopping at carrefour laval) somewhere close to home, with plenty of *free* parking? True, going out in Laval or Brossard might seems less glamorous than on Crescent or Saint-Denis, but at least we don’t have to deal with all the bulls**t associated with downtown. So in a way, yes, merchant have a right to be angry, because they’re loosing money this way. Well, my money at the very least.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Yeah, it sucks. But making parking free won’t suddenly create enough spaces to accommodate everyone who would want to park downtown. If you can’t take public transit to go for supper, and you don’t care if your restaurant is part of a corporate chain, then sure, go to Laval or Brossard, where everything is a giant parking lot.

  4. Edna

    The increased cost of parking meters absolutely keeps me from bringing my car downtown (or has me parking underground if I’m on a later shift). The few times I have brought the car, I’ve discovered it’s easier to find a spot than it was back in the days of reduced pay hours. If it’s keeping people like me on the metro instead of behind the wheel, that’s not a bad thing from a green point of view.

    However, if I’m in the mood for a movie, I’m far more likely to take myself to a theatre with free parking than to one of the downtown places, which also means I’m eating and drinking away from downtown.

    As if I’d ever have time to go to a movie.

  5. Philipppe-A.

    Supply and demand (or La concurrence pure et parfaite), implies a full mobility of agents, or in this particular case, the possibility to park somewhere else for cheaper or to some extent, the possibility to use some other mean of transportation.

    When a monopoly controls a ressource, in this case Stationnement de Montréal, with it’s parking space, it has nothing to do with supply or demand.

    They could jack the price another 3 fold times that most space would still be occupied. Why? Because this has nothing to do with fair pricing but everything to do with the fact that some people HAVE to park downtown, regardless of prices. People are litteraly held hostage. And don’t even tell me about the meters in the old port which are just as greedy but won’t even take credit cards… so you have to carry an exact 6 dollars of loose change for two hours of parking.

    Putting more constraint on car drivers does nothing to push them towards taking other form of tranportations. Implemanting new, more efficient and more confortable form of transportation does. And as the STM enthousiast that you are, you must have noticed that the metro is already over packed at rush hour.

    And please don’t mention bicyle. We live in a town where the temperature range is a full blown out 60 degrees. To cold for 6 months of the year and two hot for 3. Not to mention the inability to carry pretty much anything and the major safety risks that riding a bike downtown represent.

    I for one, think it’s absurd that three stupid parking spots downton earn more per hourl than the minimum salary.

    And the idea that cost raises mobility is absurd. Time limits creates mobility. When I was working in the old port, I didn’t take my car not only because I found it too expensive, but mainly because I couldn’t rush out of the restaurant in middle of service to go feed the meter. (I actually used some free parking on de la gauchetière near amhearst)

    1. Fagstein Post author

      1. Stationnement de Montréal does not have a monopoly on downtown parking. There are plenty of private parking lots ready to accept your cars. The only problem is they cost more.
      2. Sure, some people have to park downtown. But the vast majority don’t. They merely choose to.
      3. The metro is crowded at rush hour, but I’ve never had trouble getting on one. The last time I had to wait for a second train because the first one was too full was at the Impact game at the Olympic Stadium.

  6. Marc

    The main problem with the parking system is, unlike the old meters, you can’t add time to your spot. Each transaction is handled as if it was a new one. It’s like refilling a Tim Hortons card with $1.50 left and they wipe out the $1.50. Also, because of this, it allows for malicious acts: you can go up to the box, punch in a spot number and put 10¢ in, then the driver gets a ticket. This is outright theft on the city’s part on top of being pure twoddle.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      This idea that someone can wipe out the time you’ve paid at a parking meter is a common misconception. It’s not true. First of all, you have a receipt that shows you’ve paid for the time. Secondly, the meters are programmed with that in mind, and an officer won’t ticket your car if it’s happened.

  7. Jean Naimard

    The problem is, again, suburban sprawl, and the solution is, again, to punish the suburbs by punitively taxing their suburban parking spaces to the point that driving a car is no longer an option everywhere.

    But let’s be punitively creative: let’s put a punitive tax on **FREE** parking offered by stores. But if the store punitively charges something to park (a minimal punitive amount, set by law, sufficient to pay the collection/enforcement costs and the real-estate aspects of it), there is no tax. This way, the stores will recoup the real-estate costs of parking while not having a too disproportionate non-punitive advantage over downtown and the Holy Plateau.

    And better yet, the blame will not squarely fall on the government but on the suburban merchants.

  8. Beeg

    Agreed, though the fact that you can’t refill a meter early (or park on someone’s surplus time) is a shame. It’s also a unfortunate that you can’t fill your meter from any machine. Suppose you park near McGill College but wind up shopping near Guy and you’re low on time, you have to walk back to probably Peel before you’ll find a meter that accepts your letter. It’s the sort of real-world problem that could really only have been addressed before implementation (it’s not a software issue; the machines only have four letter buttons). Similar to the ridiculous slowness of the Opus card readers and the poorly designed Opus refill machine UI. (Also, I wonder if a bus driver has ever – ever! – checked the reduced fare ID card of student passengers. Has anyone seen this? I more or less like the new system but am also willing to admit that there’s not much that can be quicker than flashing a bus pass.)

    Where oh where is the Stationnement Montreal iPhone meter-filling app, LOL?

  9. Patrick Lagacé

    Fagstein, come on, you’re wrong on this one. Supply and demand ? Where’s the demand when, on a Monday night, I stop by my favorite restaurant, on Saint-Laurent, near Laurier (now on Amherst), park my car and I am almost alone on my side of the street. It’s 7:30. No cars. But parking is metered till 9. On a Monday ! Okay, so I pay up. Put some money in the meter till 8:30. But at Piatto, I feel so much at home, I take a coffee, chat with Dominic and Vince… And get out at 8:45. What’s on my windshield ? You guessed it ! A ticket. Thank you for living in Montréal.

    Look, I can live with paying 2 bucks per hour on Mont-Royal to park the car. I think it’s only targeting people who live, choose to live in MTL, but I can live with it. No one from Vimont or Bromont leaves their town to come and eat in Mont-Royal on a Monday night. So the city chooses to target people who live in Montreal. Fine.

    My problem is, justement, having such hours for meters. Till 9, on a Monday ?! Come on. Then, sorry, it’s not about the 2 bucks per hour. It’s about the 42$ tickets you can slap on many, many more Montrealer,s windshields’.

    Take the bus ? Oh well. I have a car. I need it for work. Leaving from La Presse to aforementioned restaurant is a straight line. A 10-minute thing. If I have to drop the car home, walk or take the bus_metro, we’re not talking about minutes. We’re talking an hour. I just won’t go. I’ll stay home, like a good banlieusard, and eat my supper watching Virginie.

    I chose to have a car. I’m not gonna make apologies or explain it. I need it, period. I don’t have a 9 to 5 job, I have a 3 year-old kid (here I go justifying myself) : I just need the wheels. But the wild meter regulations is not pissing off the driver in me, it’s pissing off the Montrealer in me. Gettinfg a ticket at 8:45 on an empty street on a Monday after I patronize a local business is not pushing me an inch toward my bike or the metro. It’s pushing me to dream about a house with a driveway in Longueuil. I’m looking at the numbers : Montreal is losing people to the suburbs. Yes, living in Montreal is expensive. It explains some of the flocking to 450-land. But living in Montréal is, in itself, difficult : noise, overcrowdedness, trafic, etc. Living in MTL is an act of faith. I just wish the City, and The Little City that is my borough, would stop adding to the grief. They’re not.

    1. Fagstein Post author

      I’m not an expert on traffic patterns and parking in Montreal, so I don’t know how much parking meters are used between 6pm and 9pm Mondays to Wednesdays. If they are mostly empty, as you say (especially outside downtown), then the rates should be lowered (or eliminated) until demand rises to meet supply.

      My point is that those who think downtown parking meters are too expensive are missing the point.

      Besides, we all know the chroniqueurs-vedettes at La Presse have personal SUV limos to drive them around everywhere.

  10. Jean Naimard

    > Agreed, though the fact that you can’t refill a meter early (or park on someone’s surplus time) is a shame.

    A friend of mine once left 10 minutes after feeding such a meter for 2 hours. He then gave the paper receipt to the guy waiting for his spot… :) :) :) :)

  11. Jean Naimard

    > I chose to have a car. I’m not gonna make apologies or explain it. I need it, period.

    Then pay up and shut-up while you responsibly face the consequences of your personal choice, including social disapproval and ostracism.

  12. Philipppe-A.

    I don’ think you can consider privately owned parking as a competition to Stationnement de Montréal as they offer very different things. And they are not nearly as ubiquitous as street space. There are not plenty of privately owned parking spaces on St-Catherine, for instance.

    Second of all, I insisted on CONFORTABLE alternative of transport. You can’t ask people to go from the confort of their own car, to being packed like cattle inside a car in the morning, just cause “it’s the right thing to do”.

    You don’t have to actually miss a subway car to have a hellish experience, just riding an overpacked one (especiallyl at 8 am) makes you wanna shove Kyoto really far up!

    1. Fagstein Post author

      Second of all, I insisted on CONFORTABLE alternative of transport. You can’t ask people to go from the confort of their own car, to being packed like cattle inside a car in the morning, just cause “it’s the right thing to do”.

      No, you make it cheaper, faster and more convenient to use public transit than cars. I’m not going to force anyone to use public transit, but I’m not going to bend over backwards making it easy for them to clog downtown with traffic either.

  13. James Lawlor

    At the risk of sounding a bit redundant with the very first post

    I have a blog postabout “The High Cost of Free Parking”.

    An amazing amount of traffic is simply cars driving arround looking for parking. Sometimes as much as 90%.

    What Shoup recommends that the city is not doing is adjusting the rate dynamically depending on the demand so that drivers can be assured that at least one spot is always available per block.

  14. Daniel

    Although I appreciate your point of view, I think parking is already way too expensive as is. I have paid my dues using the bus and metro, did the 90 minute commute going to University everyday from the West Island for 3 years, and then again for another 2 years working in the Plateau before I finally caved and got a car. Maybe I’ll stop complaining when the city makes it easier for commuters to get into town from the West Island, but paying $3.00/hour on top of the terrible road conditions and ridiculous gas prices seems unreasonable. Not to mention the inept street cleaning crews in the winter who ripped half of my car off when I was parked downtown…I’m so fed up with this city sometimes.

  15. Jean Naimard

    I think parking is already way too expensive as is. I have paid my dues using the bus and metro, did the 90 minute commute going to University everyday from the West Island for 3 years, and then again for another 2 years working in the Plateau before I finally caved and got a car.

    Boo hoo hoo. Cry me a river.

    It’s been more than 30 years since I can legally drive a car and I have yet to cave-in and get a car. You young squirts really have it good and you don’t even realize it.

    How about moving to Rosemont? You could bike to work and do your share for the planet.

  16. Denis Canuel

    Parking underground doesn’t always cost more. A spot at 1000 DLG is 7$ during weekends (unlimited time!)
    Plus, if you skate there, it’ll be just 5$

    It’s a great place to park if you plan to be in downtown for the whole day.

    But on the realistic side, people need spots and perhaps shuttles might be an interesting way to move cars out of downtown and in cheaper areas. You know, kinda like the airport. You pay a very high premium if you’re next to the terminal and it’s pretty cheap if you use park-n-fly.

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  18. Daniel

    I shouldn’t have to uproot my life just so that I can get to work in the morning. I make no apologies for driving to work, I’m just fed up with the high parking prices. Seeing as how I pay for the car myself, I don’t think it’s fair to call me spoiled. Seeing as how you don’t (or perhaps can’t) drive, I really don’t think you have the right to chime in about the parking prices I have to pay. I don’t have any kids, do I complain about the government subsidies and tax breaks handed out to families? Half my pay check goes to taxes for services that I don’t even qualify for. Just the other day I tried to book an appointment at my local CLSC only to realize that the center caters only to those over 40 years old…ridiculous. That’s my tax money hard at work. It would be nice to get a break now and then is all I’m saying. And as for “doing my share for the planet” I’ve been a vegetarian for over 7 years which I’m sure is more than you can say for yourself. Pipe down buddy.

  19. NewMontrealer

    Sure you pay for your car yourself, but you don’t pay for the roads. And you don’t even want to think about how bad traffic and finding a parking spot would be if the city tried to get people in their cars to come in the city and cut back funding for transit because they weren’t charging what the market will bear for parking; there is no way they can build enough roads or enough parking to satify the demand if the price is set too low.


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