Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now

Friday, September 3rd, 2021

Donald Shoup debated calling his treatise Aparkalypse Now, but he went with The High Price of Free Parking instead:

America’s 250 million cars have an estimated 2 billion parking spots and spend 95% of their time parked. To make cities more equitable, affordable, and environmentally conscious, Shoup makes the case for three simple reforms:

1. Stop requiring off-street parking for new developments.

2. Price street parking according to market value, based on the desirability of the space, the time of day, and the number of open spots.

3. Spend that revenue on initiatives to better the surrounding neighborhoods.

If people had to pay for street parking, he argues, it would bring in money to pay for local repairs, infrastructure (like that free Wi-Fi he was talking about), and beautification. It would also make public transit more attractive and force many curbside cruisers to head straight for parking garages and other paid spots—a win for neighborhood air quality, global greenhouse gas levels, and those still playing those two-ton games of musical chairs.

As anyone who lives in a city knows, the pandemic blew up most of what we understood about parking in America. Oh, it was possible this whole time to hand over parking spaces to restaurants? To turn whole streets into semi-permanent pedestrian thoroughfares? To cut traffic enough to yield noticeable improvements in air quality? All it took was a once-in-a-century public-health catastrophe.


According to his research, U.S. cities dedicate more land to parking than any other single use, including housing and commercial space.


In many cities decades-old ordinances require real estate developers to set aside a certain amount of space for parking — usually, a shocking amount. America has an average of 1,000 square feet of parking for each car, vs. 800 square feet of housing per person.


Most American restaurants have at least three times the square footage devoted to parking as they do to the restaurant itself.


  1. Albion says:

    Pay for on-street parking… hmmm. I have to do this where I live in the UK.

    First of all the ‘enforcers’ in my town can and do (maybe deliberately) miss seeing one’s displayed permit, resulting in a fine and you appealing. In one of two instances this happened to me they quashed one fine on appeal, in the other they said I had to pay, even though I had photographic evidence that the permit was displayed.

    My parking fee goes towards the cost of running it: all monies are swallowed up by wages, heating and lighting, etc in their offices as well as paying the ‘enforcers’ wandering round. No improvements in surroundings, so that is just a lefty fantasy. If the local council want to use any excess monies gathered they can do as they wish with it.

    There are quirks in the system: most notably you get your permit in January for the year but as has happened to me twice, if you get a new car in the spring you have to pay the full yearly fee for a new permit–the old one goes with the car, which as the car was sold in another town is useless to anyone there. I would imagine getting a new car in November would elicit a new full fee. Ouch.

    As this is the UK the streets are often narrow and places limited: outside my house there is room for eleven cars but if two people park inconsiderately (and they do) then fewer cars can use the spaces. The ‘enforcers’ care not about this.

    I know I am talking about a whole difference amount of space between here and what is available in the States, but any theory about taxing cars more to improve the local environment is not realistic.

  2. Contaminated NEET says:

    Yeah, parking is a great big ugly waste of resources and to our betters, who imagine they’re playing SimCity for real, optimizing it away is a no-brainer.

    But why we do we think we need all this parking anyway? It’s because people live far enough away from the businesses and services they patronize that they need to drive there. Why do they live so far away? Well, uh, because they’re racist? Why don’t they take public transit? Uh… Same!

    There are real, legitimate reasons that cause large numbers of people to live outside the city centers and use cars as their primary transportation. Unless you acknowledge this and find some other way to solve the problems that make them turn to distance and cars, getting rid of all the the parking is going to be hugely destructive and needlessly punitive. Oh, I can’t find parking downtown, and when I can it’s super expensive? I guess I’ll just find somewhere else spend my money. Amazon doesn’t treat me like a naughty child.

  3. Harry Jones says:

    Live and work where parking is plentiful — and drive. Or live and work where mass transit is plentiful — and ride. One or the other. Your choice.

    I used to put up with long commutes for the money. Then I got fed up. Some things aren’t worth it.

    There’s a lot to say for working from home.

  4. Harper’s Notes says:

    Shoup is a very interesting family tree of brilliant minds, about which very few seem at all aware. Early history of Stanford University. Role in Silicon Valley. Etc. etc. I played some very small role in the publication of Donald’s father Carl’s landmark book looking at the total reworking of the new tax code of Japan after WWII. A unique opportunity to try new things that had never been tried before. Who knew tax code law could be so fascinating?! (But as it happened, the Japanese nodded yes, yes to MacArthur’s representatives and then went ahead and did full on industrial policy tax codes anyway. Roughly speaking. Politics!) But I digress, though taxes and rents on parking spaces relate on an abstract level, and in the minds of the fans of Henry George economics.

  5. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Contaminated NEET: “Oh, I can’t find parking downtown, and when I can it’s super expensive? I guess I’ll just find somewhere else spend my money.”

    Are you sure you are a NEET? Because you are smarter than author Donald Shoup.

    Lefties tend to forget that every regulation they impose will have consequences — many of them not the consequences they were seeking. We already know some of the consequences of difficult expensive downtown parking — malls & office parks in the suburbs, exurban sprawl. And the Lefties are convinced that suburbia is just undisguised racism.

    The problems of downtowns do not relate to insufficient money squeezed out of the citizenry for parking. Downtowns were generally much nicer places back when society was much poorer. Today’s problems are due to the refusal of Leftie officials to maintain reasonable standards of public decorum. Instead, we get drunks sleeping in doorways, mentally ill people crapping in the streets, and threatening behavior from “youths”.

  6. TRX says:

    You want my business, you’ll provide parking within a reasonable distance. Otherwise, unless you happen to have something not easily shippable, I open the web browser and buy online.

    What’s next? Bringing my own flashlight because your business isn’t going to waste money lighting the inside just for customers?

    You’ll blame it on Amazon or “the intarwebz”, but the blame is on you, because you suck at being a business.

  7. Contaminated NEET says:

    ‘Today’s problems are due to the refusal of Leftie officials to maintain reasonable standards of public decorum. Instead, we get drunks sleeping in doorways, mentally ill people crapping in the streets, and threatening behavior from ‘youths’.”

    Exactly this. They fail to enforce the rules needed to maintain a pleasant, civilized environment, then they lecture us about all the terrible wasteful consequences we’ve caused by abandoning their filthy, unpleasant, dangerous spaces.

    You want people to use mass transit? You want people to live in dense housing in the city core? A good first step would be to clear out the bums, beggars, madmen, and criminals so that normal people find it to be a pleasant, or at least unobjectionable, experience. But no, that wouldn’t feel caring and generous, so the problem must instead be all us stupid bigots who aren’t acting the way you’d like us to.

  8. VXXC says:

    Donald Shoup and the rest can go to Hell. Just another scam.

    FYI I work from my own house, and parking in the country is not an issue. Just another scam.

  9. Wang Wei Lin says:

    “To make cities more equitable, affordable, and environmentally conscious…”

    Eff these bastards. Every challenge has the same bullcrap boilerplate: take more money, equity and environment. If my phone didn’t cost so much I’d throw it.

  10. VXXC says:

    Perhaps if anything begins it will be over this sort of thing, one silly and sanctimonious grab too many, like the Tunisian police shaking down a fruit vendor setting it all off.

  11. Lucklucky says:

    Another one that hates the individuality that the car makes possible.

    Well, what the pandemic has shown are the dangers of mass transport.

  12. Bomag says:

    These articles remind me of the receding horizon phenomenon we get with an ever burgeoning population.

    Cars get too numerous, so we ban them for mass transit. Pretty soon, mass transit is overloaded so we ban that for walking on narrow paths. Soon that is overloaded, so we can only walk at prescribed times and dates. Next we are relegated to floating in vats of amniotic fluid, generating electricity for our overlords. Or, as in one of the comic book planets, the press of the bodies drives us insane.

  13. Harry Jones says:

    Has Bomag been reading Ballard?

  14. Gavin Longmuir says:

    Bomag: “Cars get too numerous, so we ban them for mass transit.”

    That is indeed the path the Enemy is attempting to force upon us. However, historically, mass transit came first — boats, stage coaches, railroads, street cars, subways. Personal transportation in an automobile (more convenient than a horse) came later. The adoption of the automobile allowed lower-density development — which is what many people wanted and is what we now have.

    China’s modern cities have very effective mass transit systems, along with plentiful neighborhood shopping and parks within easy strolling distance. However, this requires very high-density development, where most people live in 30 story apartment towers (with shops on the lower floors) — maybe a thousand people living in each tower. That high density works in China because the authorities have a very low tolerance for public anti-social behavior.

    It is asinine for Shoup to get excited about parking without thinking through the rest of the system required for living. Maybe Shoup should move to China? As long as he is comfortable in crowds and is prepared to behave with decorum in public, he will be quite happy there.

  15. Harry Jones says:

    When people are crowded together in artificial habitats, they must be rigidly controlled – like factory farming.

    Megacities are incompatible with human dignity.

  16. Hoyos says:

    Our greatest cities and most desirable places to live occurred without these bright ideas.

    Ironically I personally have some preference for dense urban areas, transit rail, all that fun stuff, with limitations more on that in a minute. I would love to be in a situation where I never had to drive unless I really, really, wanted to.

    The oldest parts of old cities are often very livable and human, because they were built back when men knew what it was to be human more or less.,The London of my youth was reasonably safe, plenty of parks, it felt like a bunch of villages that grew around each other, which it was, even in Westminster.

    The bright idea people now don’t want to have a look at then though, it’s planning for people who aren’t them. I’m not really a libertarian, but if the answer to your question at this point is “more taxes” it’s probably a bad question.

  17. Bomag says:


    Thanks for the pointer.

    “When people are crowded together in artificial habitats, they must be rigidly controlled — like factory farming.”

    This. All in service to the GDP, Praise Be Upon It.

    Meanwhile, our overlords have vast estates: Bill Gates, largest farmland owner in the US.

  18. Mario says:

    “Spend that revenue ….”

    You could have put the period right there.

    Mass transit, how about NYC, how’s that mass transit working out? What’s the next regulation due to the next “Covid” mutation?

  19. Isegoria says:

    From another article I’ve cited:

    Many parking spaces are extremely valuable, even if that’s not reflected in current market prices. In fact, Professor Shoup estimates that many American parking spaces have a higher economic value than the cars sitting in them. For instance, after including construction and land costs, he measures the value of a Los Angeles parking space at over $31,000 — much more than the worth of many cars, especially when considering their rapid depreciation. If we don’t give away cars, why give away parking spaces?

    Yet 99 percent of all automobile trips in the United States end in a free parking space, rather than a parking space with a market price. In his book, Professor Shoup estimated that the value of the free-parking subsidy to cars was at least $127 billion in 2002, and possibly much more.

  20. Harry Jones says:

    Shoup is all wise. The market knows nothing.

    And the reason the market knows nothing is because it keeps getting lied to. We learned that in the accounting scandals of 2002.

  21. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “… the value of the free-parking subsidy to cars was at least $127 billion in 2002 …”

    Professor Shoup may be accurate in that cost estimate — but he is certainly misleading.

    There is no subsidy; someone is paying for that “free parking”. Usually, it is the businesses or municipalities that provide the free parking. If businesses did not offer parking, they would have difficulty finding employees — or they would move the business to the suburbs. If a mall did not offer parking, it would have few shoppers. If cities do not provide parking, they lose shops & businesses — and tax revenue.

    And if we trace the money flow, Shoup’s “subsidy” is eventually paid by the person using the parking space, whether through higher prices in the shops or lower wages from the business.

  22. Sam J. says:

    Gavin Longmuir says, “That high density works in China because the authorities have a very low tolerance for public anti-social behavior.”

    There you’ve nailed the root of the problem. I would have no problem living in an Asian set up type city. They have public transportation, shops, and entertainment close by within walking distance, but in the US they regulate that businesses mostly can not be in with residential, so…

    If they would ban anyone who attacks people or is aggressive towards others in public transportation more people would use it. But you have vicious maniacs who they never do anything about so people avoid it.

    In some parts of the US now White people can be murdered openly, and Black people will just let them go.

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