The cost of cars
06/16/2010 10:00 PM
The rate increases that followed the city’s privatization of its parking meter system were simultaneously dismaying and important.
They’re dismaying because the mayor and council members should have had the guts to raise the meter rates. Increased revenue could have paid for public transit, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, providing cost-competitive alternatives to driving. Instead, the mayor and 40 council members agreed to privatize the meter system, allowing LAZ to raise the rates, take the hit and ultimately reap the profits.
And yet those increases, as we said, are important because they recalibrate expectations about what parking should cost.
Like it or not, the increased rates establish the principle that on-street parking shouldn’t be free and, more generally, that parking shouldn’t be subsidized, as it is now. The costs of using a car — from climate change to traffic accidents — should be factored into every aspect of auto use, from the price of a gallon of gas to the price of a parking spot. They’re not now.
Which brings us to the Near South Side parking study TranSystem shopped around to South Loop residents Tuesday night.
The inventory the firm completed of parking in the study area may prove valuable. But the second part of the study, which will make recommendations about transit, bikes and other transportation issues, is the important one.
Improving Near South Side transit options, as well as the bike and pedestrian environment, should be the order of the day. The neighborhood needs better bike lanes and more options like the CTA’s #129 bus, which circulates between the South Loop and West Loop transportation centers during the weekday morning and evening rush.
One way to nudge residents and visitors toward these uses would be to continue pricing car use and parking appropriately.
That would mean, for example, raising the ridiculously low $25 annual cost for a residential zone parking permit. One man Tuesday, in contrast, said he pays $600 a year in taxes on a space he bought. Online ads have South Loop spaces starting at $200 a month.
Perhaps Ald. Fioretti could sponsor an ordinance to raise the residential zone rates. But we doubt he’ll take that on. In response to a question whether parking was actually undervalued, Fioretti seemed to shrug, telling Chicago Journal that “Americans are wedded to the car.”
That statement also means for the foreseeable future we’re wedded to BP and oil spills. Pricing auto use and parking appropriately is the future.
Subsidizing both is yesterday’s news.