Let's Get Rid of Free Parking

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Who could possibly complain about free parking? Economist Tyler Cowen, for one. In The New York Times, the George Mason University professor argues that free parking is "a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions." How so? In suburbia, "the presence of so many parking spaces is an artifact of regulation and serves as a powerful subsidy to cars and car trips." By refusing to let the market decide the right price for parking spots, we "end up overusing land for cars--and overusing cars, too."

What would he suggest? Many regions could reasonably charge $100 a month for a parking space that is now used for free. Even congested cities could use a little more free-market magic on parking. Explains Cowen: "higher charges for parking spaces would limit our trips by car. That would cut emissions, alleviate congestion and, as a side effect, improve land use." In an era when "direct carbon tax doesn't seem politically acceptable ... we can start on alternative paths that may take us far."

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