Thursday, January 26, 2006

Urban problems

We know that getting the prices wrong can be disastrous and we also know that when pricing is by planners, instead of markets, they are very likely to get them wrong -- setting off all sorts of problems. This is of course ironic because most planners think of their work as greatly beneficial.

Putting some meat on all of this has been the steady work of Don Shoup who looks at parking in cities and shows how many urban problems can be traced to planners misallocating scarce urban space because they have arrogated allocation functions to themselves.

Don makes a huge point, one that has been overlooked by practically everyone writing about land use and transportation.

Dan Klein's review (in the Independent Review) of Shoup's book adds interesting context and some elaboration. When it comes to ham-fisted municipal management of curbside parking, Shoup suggests that parking benefit districts, created to replace the city's role, would lead to better pricing. Klein adds: "It seems [that] in-vehicle meters could easily be adapted such that the driver punches in a parking-merchant code, which is then displayed by the meter. This system could operate nationwide among anyone who wanted to participate. Call it the Acme system. For example, if you wanted to rent out space in your personal driveway as parking space, you simply put up a sign announcing rates and saying that the customer must have an Acme-system meter and punch in the merchant code (provided by the sign). You then monitor parked vehicles for compliance. A car without an in-vehicle meter, or with the wrong merchant code, or perhaps the wrong rate code displayed would be a trespasser, and could be booted or otherwise held to account. You then collect your payments from the Acme system, who like American Express, takes a cut. With such an Acme system, we will easily be able tio imagine a reform movement in favor of capturing the potential revenues of parking supply."

New technologies can easily expand property rights, exchange, wealth and welfare. And there would be less work for the hamfisted.