Parking Permits Won’t Solve New York’s Parking Crunch If They’re Dirt Cheap

Parking dysfunction in residential neighborhoods isn't caused by the lack of a permit system, it's caused by giving away finite curb space for free.

Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine announce their push for residential parking permits. Photo: David Meyer
Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine announce their push for residential parking permits. Photo: David Meyer

City Council members Ydanis Rodriguez and Mark Levine want to institute residential parking permits in New York City.

Their proposals are light on details, which would mainly be left to DOT to determine, but one thing is clear: The motivation for the bills is mostly about appeasing complaints from car owners who feel that out-of-city residents are infringing on their turf. Rationalizing New York’s free parking giveaway isn’t the point.

One bill, from Transportation Chair Rodriguez and Stephen Levin, would require DOT to implement a citywide residential parking permit system. The other, sponsored by Levine, Helen Rosenthal, Diana Ayala, and Keith Powers, would create a permit system in Manhattan above 60th Street only.

By discouraging non-residents from driving into the city, the council members argue, residential parking permits, or RPP, would reduce the number of vehicles on city streets.

“[Congestion] is a problem that’s just getting worse by the day, and it’s being driven by [drivers] coming in from other parts of the region, who are dumping their cars on our streets to hop on mass transit,” Levine said at press conference with Rodriguez. “Commuters from other parts of the region do not have a God-given right to park for free on our residential streets.”

But the council members didn’t offer any evidence that park-and-ride behavior on residential streets contributes substantially to city traffic. And even if park-and-ride trips are an issue in some neighborhoods, their bills would not address it: 20 percent of spaces in RPP zones would still be reserved for non-residents.

In general, not much thought has gone into how the permits would work. The main cause of the parking crunch in NYC isn’t the lack of a permit system, it’s the combination of finite curb space and free parking. With off-street parking typically costing hundreds of dollars per month, on-street spaces are always going to be crammed full as long as they’re dirt cheap.

The price of the permits won’t change that calculation. Rodriguez said he’d expect the annual fees to be around $150 or $250, or about $12-$20 a month — pocket change compared to garage rates.

Cordoning off parking spaces just for residents raises a lot of other questions, like how contractors doing business on residential streets fit into the system. When the Bloomberg administration was developing a congestion pricing plan in 2008, DOT laid out scenarios for RPP that would address those nuances. The bills introduced by the City Council leave those details for later.

The regime the council envisions would link each permit to a New York driver’s license and a specific license plate. DOT would designate areas where residential permits would be in effect, in consultation with local council members and community boards. Further details would be determined by DOT through the official rule-making process.

The last time the City Council took up parking permits, in 2011, DOT said that RPP alone wouldn’t significantly affect traffic. (The council ignored City Hall’s objections and overwhelmingly passed a resolution endorsing state legislation to enable a permit system. Then nothing happened in Albany.)

The best that can be said for RPP with low permit fees is that it might cut down on insurance fraud by compelling NYC residents to register their cars in New York, instead of cheating the system by registering in lower-cost states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.

The other theory is that any change in the direction of regulating car storage on public streets is better than the status quo. Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the bills could indirectly generate momentum for smarter parking policies across the city, including dynamic curbside pricing on commercial blocks to encourage turnover and more dedicated space for deliveries.

At some point, Albany will probably have to get involved in enacting an RPP program. Every other city in New York with RPP got enabling legislation from the state, but the council’s lawyers believe the city can implement permits on its own. Even so, Brooklyn Assembly members Jo Anne Simon and Walter Mosley are willing to put forward authorizing legislation, Rodriguez said.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The best that can be said for RPP with low permit fees is that it might cut down on insurance fraud by compelling NYC residents to register their cars in New York, instead of cheating the system by registering in lower-cost states like Pennsylvania and North Carolina.”

    That’s a pretty big deal. As I said, in areas with a “parking shortage” permits could be limited, and given out only as others are surrendered. And then auctioned off.
    A modest fee for incumbent parkers and high costs for those new people would appeal to the actual political philosophy of New York: feudalism. I’ve got mine jack, and some of yours.

  • walks bikes drives

    I have been advocating for this for a long time. Requiring a permit will lower the number of cars because, if parking is more scarce, fewer people will drive in. Most residents who do not own cars are not turned off by the parking aspect, but rather are turned off by the expense of owning a car – cost of car, gas, insurance- vs the amount of use they would get out of it. I recognize the cars on my block, and I know the ones that don’t belong to residents. The big thing that the council needs to address is also that the permits need to be localized. If you live on the UES, your permit should only be good to park on the UES. Otherwise, you still have the commuters driving in from Queens parking on the neighborhood streets of the UES and UWS to then hop on the subway. Also, I feel like the times are skewed, talking about rush hour. The permits should be in effect 24 hours if you want to cut down on commuter traffic, or just 5 or 6pm to 6am if you want to cut circling time for residents.

  • People seem to believe that there are a fixed number of cars, some belong to “us” and some belong to “them,” and if “we” can just get “them” to stop parking in “our” spots, the problem will be solved.

    They don’t anticipate that without putting a price on parking, the open curb space won’t last very long. As soon as people notice it’s easier to park for free, pretty soon more residents will get cars.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Doesn’t have to work that way. As I noted, in any area held to have a “parking shortage” no new permits could be issued until existing ones are not renewed.

    That would prohibit people moving in, and those in new buildings, from having cars initially. So those moving in would do so without an expectation of being able to drive. So it would affect the sort of people who move here.

    “Them,” however, includes visitors and those doing work in the area. Which is why I believe resident-only permits should be limited to the overnight hours.

  • Yes there are ways to ration permits that could constrict car ownership. That doesn’t seem to be where this legislation is heading though.

  • Fool

    Cheaper than a storage unit! Time to buy a box van.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The purposes of everything turns out to be to pay for debt and pension increases. That’s why if congestion pricing passes, its purpose won’t be to limit congestion.

    While we debate policies on blogs, the deals are done in backrooms. There are 119 retroactive pension increases secretly under consideration in Albany, somebody (presumably the Citizen’s Budget Commission) has found.

    https://nypost.com/2018/04/23/potential-albany-pension-pork-bills-could-cost-taxpayers-a-fortune/

    That’s the real “progressive” policy in New York. And the real “conservative” policy. And none of these pols will say it’s unjust.

    That’s also why the public objects to things like this. They are already paying so much in so many ways, and every time they are made to pay more, they are also left to settle for less.

    https://nypost.com/2018/04/23/theres-no-limit-to-ny-public-unions-pension-greed/

  • redbike

    With off-street parking typically costing hundreds of dollars per month, on-street spaces are always going to be crammed full as long as they’re dirt cheap.

    This is the critical consideration: on-street public parking should never be cheaper than the off-street private alternative.

    Another consideration: in many NYC neighborhoods, there’s no sharp delineation between on-street-residential-parking (long-term) and on-street-parking-for-shopping (short-term).

  • com63

    The out of town “commuters” are actually their neighbors committing insurance fraud.

  • stairbob

    A storage unit that I have to move twice a week doesn’t sound like a very good deal to me.

  • steve00

    You can’t put this toothpaste back in the tube. A huge deterrent of owning a vehicle in NYC is that it’s a pain in the ass. Can you imagine how many affluent Park Slopers would buy a car knowing that they can buy curb space?

    I also think there are fundamental issues with renting public space exclusively to residents. Should you have to have Manhattan resident permit to use Central Park?

  • Mister Sterling

    The theory is that this would force some people to give-up their cars, upon realizing that they really can’t afford it. Also, as a World City, why can’t NYC join Hong Kong, London, Paris and Tokyo? Are we are or we not one of them? I would argue we are one of them. It’s time to charge for parking permits. And they need to be expensive.

  • Mister Sterling

    Precisely. The permits need to be like what they have in Boston. Limited in supply and expensive. I want them to be so expensive (hundreds per year) that people re-think their need for a car. That’s the point.

  • steve00

    That’s assuming people are more price-sensitive than convenience-sensitive. In some NYC neighborhoods, I’d expect people willing to shell out quite a lot for dedicated on-street parking. Once the program is in place, it’s then pretty easy for permit holders to lobby their electeds to not raise rates or even reduce them. That’s why parking still costs $0.25 per 15 minutes in most places.

  • steve00

    If you think it’s hard to remove on-street parking for safety projects now, imagine when that space is dedicated permit space? Every neckdown or Citibike station will be fought tooth and nail by permit holders. This is another move to give the car-owning majority even more influence in how safe and equitable our streets are.

  • steve00

    What price do you suppose? Will the price differ from neighborhood to neighborhood? If it’s the same across the city, how is that fair to poorer neighborhoods? If it varies by neighborhood, how is that fair to a lower-income person in a rent stabilized apartment living in the affluent neighborhood?

    The can of worms gets messy really fast and the economic theory and politics get out of sync really fast.

  • kevd

    “This is another move to give the car-owning majority”
    It’s a car-owning minority in NYC.

  • steve00

    Ah! Yes. Correct.

  • JarekFA

    Here’s my thoughts on this. This person can afford a $100K Mercedes SUV. But the city won’t allow me public space to store my bike that I use to commute. Failed policy. https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/989537043586875398

  • kevd

    Cool. Seemed like that might be your point.
    Residential parking permits are a way to keep those who vote for local representatives from having to pay market rate for their on street parking.

    We should just price on street parking so that there is always 5% free on a block.
    In some places that would be $5/hour.
    In others $2/day.
    And is some, it would be free.

  • redbike

    imagine when that space is dedicated permit space?

    Parking permits merely allow and regulate and charge for something that’s currently random and free. If done properly (admittedly a very big “if”), there’s no expectation or guarantee of a parking space, and the city collects a fee.

  • Joe R.

    Personally, I’d rather do away with the practice of curbside parking altogether. It’s an eyesore, a dooring hazard to cyclists, a source of delay for traffic when cars park and unpark, etc. It also rubs me the wrong way that people get to use public streets to store one type of private property but not others. We need to go the route of Tokyo. You want a car, you need to prove you have an off-street place to store it before you get permission to buy it.

    Once that’s done, we can use the curbside lane for more sensible uses, like loading zones, bus lanes, bike lanes, and so forth.

  • Joe R.

    I agree with you in principal, although if we reserved curbside space for bikes I personally wouldn’t want to store my bike outside. The elements would cause it to deteriorate, assuming it doesn’t get stolen first. I think a better answer for you is your landlord letting you use utility rooms for bike storage.

  • com63

    What kevd said above:
    We should just price on street parking so that there is always 5% free on a block.
    In some places that would be $5/hour.
    In others $2/day.
    And is some, it would be free.

    The pricing should be set almost on a block by block basis.

  • JarekFA

    Well, after implementing my long term vision of removing 1/3 – 2/3 of curbside parking space, a good portion of that space will exist in the form of extended sidewalks, on which, we could build, sheltered bike parking. You’d need super good locks though.

  • vnm

    If that’s the case, then the thing keeping you from buying a box van isn’t the cost (or rather the lack of cost), it’s the regulations, the hassle of alternate side parking.

  • Fool

    Don’t worry. I’ll just get a hold of a placard.

  • JK

    New York City is huge, experimentation and actual data gathering is good. How about trying RPP in a couple of community boards as an opt in pilot project and seeing how it works? Find a CB or two that will accept a whole curbside reform package. Roll it out with curbside metering using occupancy targets and metered parking on side streets near commercial streets. I share the skepticism about RPPs — they have tons of problems, including formalizing the completely backward policy of putting private cars before service and delivery vehicles, but the current curbside system is broken. RPP can help reduce cruising mileage and encourage visitors and commuters to pay to garage their cars or take transit. Let’s experiment and see what happens. This is one policy that requires little front end investment and can be easily reversed, or expanded. This said, I completely doubt that RPP will be priced high enough to effect local demand. In Philly they are $35/year, in nearby Yonkers $25/year. The purported legions of poor motorists will come out of the woodwork, as they did with congestion pricing, and there will be be potent push back from the placard classes.

  • qrt145

    I think steve00 is right; no matter how clear you try to make that the permit doesn’t guarantee a parking space, people will complain “why are they removing those parking spaces that we already paid for?” at the CBs, leading to resolutions against street improvements that reduce space for car storage. Unfortunately, a complaint doesn’t need to be factual or even logically coherent to have an impact!

  • Thomas Matte

    How is allowing non-city residents to park and ride for free equitable? I don’t own or need to own a car, but believe it or not there are NYC residents whose commutes, shifts and family needs make it impractical to live without a car. A residential permit system does not guarantee a space to permit holders, just prevents freeloading suburbanites or registration fraudsters from parking for free. In Inwood where I live 10 to 20% of parked vehicles have out of state plates; presumably as many or more are from upstate NY counties. Getting these vehicles out of competition for scarce curb space will reduce park and ride commuting and their contribution to traffic and make it easier, not harder to repurpose space for other uses.

  • Thomas Matte

    Supporting residential permit parking is a chance for cyclists to make common cause with NYC car owners, some of whom do need cars for daily use (I don’t). Opposing it because it isn’t perfect is in effect supporting the status quo: free street parking for non-resident commuters, registration fraudsters and tourists.

  • Vooch

    overnight curbside car storage was illegal in Manhattan until the 1950s

  • Boeings+Bikes

    “Most residents who do not own cars are not turned off by the parking aspect, but rather are turned off by the expense of owning a car” — *citation needed. I once owned a car and the only reason I didn’t get rid of it was that I had employer-supported parking outside the city. I wouldn’t have been able to keep it in the city due to parking difficulties, not non-parking cost (since I was paying those anyway). That is overwhelmingly my experience with others – it’s the nightmare of parking that inhibits car ownership. Parking is already scarce and yet some number of people – city residents and outside-of-city residents – still choose to drive.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    “Commuters from other parts of the region do not have a God-given right to park for free on our residential streets.”

    There you have it, folks: you have a GOD-GIVEN RIGHT to park for free on residential streets and long as you live… somewhere. I’m checking in the Bible now to see if there’s a defined radius for that God-given right to park – is it only on your own block? Same neighborhood or borough? Maybe it’s decided by social class or skin color? Maybe it’s in the Koran? Or… maybe it’s a decree from Thor, the God of Thunder and Motor Vehicle Storage!

  • Andrew

    It should vary by neighborhood.

    Entirely separate from this, the poor should receive vouchers of a predetermined dollar figure valid toward transportation expenses. A voucher could be used to offset the high price to park in parts of the city where parking is expensive. (But I suspect far more of the poor would use it to offset the price of a MetroCard.)

  • Andrew

    How is allowing non-city residents to park and ride for free equitable?

    It isn’t equitable, for non-city residents or for city residents.

    I don’t own or need to own a car, but believe it or not there are NYC residents whose commutes, shifts and family needs make it impractical to live without a car.

    If it is impractical to me to live without a grand piano, nobody’s going to give me space to store that piano – I need to make sure that I have enough space to store it, at my own expense.

    But if it’s a car I need rather than a grand piano, somehow I’m entitled to store it for free on public property? Why shouldn’t I be expected to pay the full costs to store it, as I would a grand piano or anything else?

    By the way, it’s amazing how many more people “need” something when it’s heavily subsidized than when it isn’t.

  • Andrew

    I don’t think we should provide free street parking at all.

    But if we do, I’d rather it go to tourists who are actually coming and going than to residents who leave their cars for days or weeks at a time without moving them except for alternate side.

  • Mister Sterling

    I was thinking $50 per month. That’s $600 per year.

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