In his book The High Cost of Free Parking author Donald Shoup persuasively argues that no parking is really free, that the hidden costs of “free” parking outweigh the benefits, and that our cities would be better off if the enormous veiled subsidies propping up ostensibly free parking were eliminated, or funneled towards more productive goals. The DC Council must be familiar with the work, or at least the concept, because they are considering a $25 / month tax on every free commuter parking space in the city. Parking at residences, transit stations and shops would be unaffected, as would for-pay parking, but any employer currently subsidizing its employees’ driving habits with a free space would face new charges. Even if the initiative fails to discourage many drivers, at least someone other than taxpayers will be footing part of the bill for “free” parking.
Councilmen Jim Graham and Phil Mendelson, co-sponsors of the bill, should be commended for showing the sort of progressive leadership our cities need if they are to climb out of the automobile-induced funk in which they’ve been stuck for 50 years, and which has resulted in our country being at the mercy of foreign oil exporters. Graham and Mendelson’s prudence is particularly glaring when compared to the populist pandering of presidential hopeful John McCain, whose plan to suspend the federal gas tax would have the primary effect of encouraging consumption. The feels-good-but-ultimately-counterproductive plan would make all our oil and transportation problems worse. It would be a step backward at exactly the time we should be sprinting forward. It’s the latest indication that McCain isn’t the logical, independent thinker he purports to be, and that no matter his foreign policy pedigree, he has little idea how to run a country.
By the way: Cutting the gas tax would take money directly out of the federal transportation budget, forcing cuts to funding for new projects. Considering McCain’s anti-rail record, it’s not hard to guess where those cuts would be made if he’s elected. Anything but a moderate when it comes to transportation, McCain considers rail “pork” and says he will not negotiate over his desire to shut down Amtrak. Transit advocates are calling him worse than Bush.