The Parking Dysfunction Meter: Fines Are Five Times Revenue


More enduring than Big Foot, the Loch Ness Monster and the resurrection of Elvis is the deeply held belief that there is such a thing as "free" parking for the average motorist in New York City. "Free" means you do not have to pay.

But someone is paying the $579,455,152 in parking fines the city expects to collect this year, according to the Mayor’s supplemental budget — and it’s not just Fed Ex and UPS. Together, those companies pay about $30 million in NYC parking fines, or just over five percent.

Meanwhile, the city expects to collect $112,248,000 from meters in 2007. This more than five-to-one ratio of fines to meter revenue may very well be the ultimate measure of the dysfunction of New York City’s on-street parking policies. Why?

The revenue the city raises from parking violations does little to solve
traffic and transportation problems. Many parking tickets are penalty
fees imposed on motorists who for one reason or another need to park their car for a moment but simply can’t find a legal spot (double-parking on Brooklyn’s 9th Street, for example).

In contrast, special loading zones and higher meter rates encourage more parking space turn-over, thus freeing up more curbside space
and reducing wasteful cruising. This means less traffic, less double-parking and
fewer delays to buses, all of which adds up to reductions of billions of
dollars in economic and environmental costs.

When you start looking at the parking problem this way, the choice becomes clear for New York City motorists: A few dollars more for on-street parking vesus a $115 double-parking fine. So, when you hear a
motorist call higher meter rates "unfair," ask them what’s fair about
paying more than half a billion a year in parking fines and still not
getting a place to park
— unless, of course, you have a government-issued parking placard. In which case, none of the above applies to you.

Photo: on Flickr

  • P

    Interesting angle to approach the fair pricing of parking. I fear that it’s a bit of a high wire act tough to raise the specter of parking fines without having the fines demagogued out of existence themselves.

    It’s probably useful to point out that it is only ‘good citizens’ who will eventually pay those fines- shifting the burden onto those who are trying to play by the rules while the scofflaws park for free.

  • JK

    So, revenue measures parking that is working and fines measure parking that is not working. Not working is winning five to one.

    Looking out the window at the double parking, that seems about right.

    How much of the total for both rev and fines are paid by commercial vehicles? What would this ratio be for London or somewhere with a functional parking system?

  • Yet, even the NY Times Wheels blog is getting wind of the right way to do it.

  • Parking Squat anyone? Or do we risk a ticket for that?

  • JK

    Excellent link Nut (#3)
    SB should put this on the media links section. I had the same experience as the Times writer when first exposed to the great Shoup some years back. Interesting to see the SF blogger bemoaning SF’s backwards on-street parking policy.

  • Steve

    I suspect the reason that UPS ad Fedex are only paying $30 million is because the DoF forgives most of their fines through the “delivery solutions program,” described here:

    There is a FOIL request in to DoF on the impact of the program on revenues and enforcement but as usual there is much foot-dragging.

  • double take

    The other thing you realize when you read through Martha Stark’s testimony (or the NYC Traffic Rules) is that double parking is legal for commercial vehicles (supposedly only under certain circumstances, but good luck proving that there wasn’t an open parking space with 100 feet). Doesn’t matter the location, the time of day, or whether there’s more than one travel lane.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    All these fans of Professor Shoup, and no one’s composed a Shoup Shoup Song about parking?

    “Is it the price of gas?
    No, no, that’s not the way …”

  • ddartley

    Here’s a drop-in-the-bucket anecdote:

    I had to borrow a car this past weekend to move furniture.

    Now, granted, I’m not practiced at the art of finding parking in my neighborhood (if there is such a skill), but once I’d finished using the loading zone outside my building (which was, as a sign of the apocalypse, NOT full of parked cars), I headed out to find a proper parking space for one overnight.

    I was very willing to pay the pittance that meters demand, but all the metered spots only allowed stays of one or two hours. So I could have paid mere cents for the meter, plus a parking ticket for–what are they? $115? Yeah, I have to agree that the “market” for parking is pretty darn obliterated by a byzantine structure of contratictory subsidies and punishments.

    So I was forced to look for a free spot. For how long did I drive around the neighborhood? Three minutes? Eight minutes? Nope, a lovely, leisurely, polluting, infuriating, twenty-five minutes. Near the end I took a little break for a steering wheel-punching temper tantrum.

    What I kept thinking was, how in hell do people who drive put up with this? Are they out of their @#%$ minds??

  • Steve

    Agreed, double-take. However that same provision of the traffic rules prohibits commercial vehicles from double-parking in the bike lane–they are supposed to park in the traffic lane adjacent to the bike lane.

    ddartley, as for skills in finding a parking space, I can remember cruising around NYC with my Dad looking for a parking space. His trick was to drive slowly with the window open, listening for the tell-tale jingle of people walking with their keys out. He’d ask them if they were on their way to their car to avoid following those on their way home. Back in the ’60s and ’70s, the man on the street generally didn’t mind such inquiries; don’t know how it would go over today. (I guess our kids will have memories of us asking commercial vehicles to get out of the bike lane instead!)

  • As an ex-New Yorker it is no surprise to find the same retoric passed back and forth. The number of vehicles is increasing in every major city in the world. Finding curbside parking is a remote dream, because logic tells us we can not increase street parking. Period.
    The theory behind UCLA professor, Donald Shoop is that the most valuable spaces on street and up-front should be priced as high or higher than what someone would pay in a garage. In NYC and some parts of LA that would mean approximately $7 an hour. Parking meter technology that allows credit cards as a form of payment is out on the market and the coinless alternative will make it easier.
    The flipside of Shoop’s theory is that the revenue derived from the net profit resulting from the per hour rate should be allocated for street improvements for the affected districts, such as new benches, trash cans, steam cleaning sidewalks, and landscaping. I’m in agreement with the concept, however in practice, who will monitor and aren’t these sorts of “improvements” expected as urban dwellers, regardless of what is collected at meters.
    Interestingly I have heard no mention of improving mass transit or even subsidizing or leasing underutlized and overpriced parking garages. Finally loading commercial goods can be managed by requiring deliveries occur during off-peak hours, prohibited, or with a special permit. New construction should include accomodation for deliveries and taxis in a traffic circulation plan and/or implementation of an off-street passenger and commercial loading plan as part of the planning process.

    Don Norte
    California Public Parking Association

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    As with congestion pricing, I think a Shoup-style parking pricing plan would be good even if all the money went to the parking enforcement agents to spend on hookers and blow. The main thing is to induce a level of scarcity that corresponds to the actual difficulty and cost of providing the parking.

    Obviously the city isn’t going to spend it on hookers and blow (or if it does, it won’t tell us). The main thing is to make sure that it doesn’t go to projects that promote car use. Don, I think that subsidizing underutilized and overpriced parking garages counts as promoting car use. Besides, the city subsidizes parking garages all by itself.

    Ideally, the money from parking would be used to pay for the maintenance of all the on-street parking spaces. If there’s money left over, it can be used to pay for the cost of maintaining the wear and tear on the streets caused by the cars parked in those spaces. Any money from the general fund or gas taxes freed up by parking fees can go to the pedestrian and cycling infrastructure, or to transit.

  • JK

    A chunk of change from performance based parking should go to giving cops and fireman a travel/parking allowance in exchange for their placards. This “cash-out” or “placard buy-out,” could be tried in a couple of places where it would have the biggest impact and where there are plentiful transit options: downtown Bklyn, Midtown for instance. The number of placard holders are so large —100,000 to 200,000 that they will dilute the positive impact of Shoupian 15% vacancy targets.

  • What this post says is absolutely true and also clearly the reason why the City will not change the present system: they want to make the $578 million (and growing) each year that they earn from NYC parking ticket revenue. Factor in towing and the figure jumps to nearly $1 billion annually. One of the main reasons that people get so many parking tickets in NYC and Manhattan in particular is because the regulations on the signs are so confusing. There are over 300 variations of NYC parking regulations. Replace those with one main regulation: metered parking, with only the price varying, and there is much less confusion which will add up to far fewer parking tickets being written and far less revenue being collected by the City. The additional revenue collected from higher priced (and more) parking meters won’t come close to equaling what the City loses in parking ticket and towing revenue. Is this a bad thing? Of course not – it’s a great thing for you and me but the City Government cares much more about their coffers than they do about you and me, which is why they like the system exactly how it is.

  • JK

    Erik — you assert that the city is earning approx $420 million/yr in towing fees. (“Factor in towing and the figure jumps to nearly $1 billion annually.” So $1b – 578 mil fines.)

    Can you show us where in the city budget this very large towing revenue can be found?

  • I am checking for an official document on this – will follow up.



Curb Appeal

Alan Durning is the executive director of Sightline. This post is #15 in the Sightline series, Parking? Lots! Imagine if you could put a meter in front of your house and charge every driver who parks in “your” space. It’d be like having a cash register at the curb. Free money! How much would you collect? Hundreds […]

Chicago-Style Parking Plan Could Raise $5 Billion Plus for NYC

According to a senior municipal bond analyst at a leading Wall Street firm, New York City could raise between five and six billion dollars immediately if it privatized its parking meters as Chicago is doing. Whether privatization is the right way to unlock New York City's parking riches is debatable. What's not in question is that curbside parking in New York and most U.S. cities is grossly underpriced and could potentially be a crucial source of revenue for much needed transportation improvements.

Congestion Pricing Should be Attached to Parking Reform

The daily scene on SoHo’s Crosby Street, jammed with illegally parked government employees. The Observer reported on Wednesday that Walter McCaffrey’s Committee to Keep New York City Congestion Tax Free recently solicited UCLA parking policy guru Donald Shoup to do a study of curbside parking policy in New York. Carolyn Konheim, a Brooklyn-based transportation consultant […]

Vacca, City Council Agree to Deeper Budget Cuts to Keep Parking Cheap

Speaker Christine Quinn’s office just announced that the City Council has reached a budget deal with the Bloomberg administration, restoring some services slated for cuts and targeting others instead. There’s also one case where the council successfully fought to prevent the city from raising revenue to fund more services. A proposal to increase parking meter […]

There’s a (Parking) Place for Us

This post is #14 in the Sightline series, Parking? Lots! Alan Durning is the executive director of Sightline. There are places in this world the savvy traveler would never drive with any hope of finding street parking: Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco, for example, or just about anywhere in downtown Los Angeles. That’s what you […]