Business/Economy, Denver, Transportation

Denver shouldn’t play favorites with parking spots

Car sharing has become a popular alternative to owning a car, especially in cities. In response to this trend, the Denver City Council has proposed a Car Share Permit Program.  The permit would “allow permitted vehicles to park in excess of time limits greater than or equal to 2 hours, not pay the meter, [and] park in Residential Parking Permit (RPP) areas.”  The City Council sees this program as “Part of a multi-modal approach to solve the final mile issue; connecting transit to employment and activity centers when walking / cycling is not feasible.”

But even if there was any evidence that this program might help alleviate the “final mile” issue, it should not proceed unless the city sells permits to anyone who owns a qualifying vehicle – not just to certain car-share companies.

Otherwise, the City Council is unfairly discriminating against car owners in favor of “car sharers.” Or, as Robert Ferrin, parking and planning administrator for Denver’s Public Works department, told the Denver Post:  “Our goal is to get people to go from owning two cars to one.”  If only all government officials were so candid about their desire to tell others how to live their lives. How many cars someone owns is a personal choice. It’s no more the city’s business than how many children a couple has.

icon_op_edMoreover, the proposal shields established car-sharing firms from competition. By limiting permit sales to car-sharing firms, government officials decide which firms qualify. For example, an April 2 City Council presentation says “75% of fleet must be off-street to obtain dedicated on-street parking spaces.” Such a rule also restricts what kind of business models aspiring car-share companies can pursue.

“[Robert] Ferrin said the city will try to use on-street space that is now not being used for parking,” reports the Denver Post. A Post house editorial states that “city officials say they have identified dozens of spots downtown now marked by ‘no parking’ signs, spots smaller than conventional parking spaces, but big enough for the car-share vehicles, which tend to be smaller cars.” For example, CarShare.org’s vehicle models are the Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, and a Toyota Prius. (They also advertise trucks, but these would presumably be too large to utilize the program.)

But anyone who owns one of these cars, or a car of equal or smaller size, should be able to buy the same parking permit as the car-share companies.  If the demand is too high, that means the city either set the permit price too low, did not create enough spaces, or that metered parking rates are too low.  If no individual car owners end up buying a permit, that’s not an issue.

The point is having the choice to buy one.

Brian T. Schwartz is a senior fellow at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver.  He writes on transportation issues at transportation.i2i.org

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