One of the problems with many of the transportation systems we've set up in North America is that they are pretty good at serving the operators but not all that good at serving customers. Among these customer-last practices it would be hard to find a worse offender than parking permits. Prepaid parking is so universal that most people take it for granted. Almost every employer or university in the US or Canada that charges for parking sells pre-paid parking permit. Which does wonders for the operator of parking, but mostly harms commuters.
DO WE REALLY WANT TO RUN AN ALL-YOU-CAN-EAT BUFFET?
Ask yourself, how much do I usually eat at an all-you-can-eat restaurant? It’s a stupid question. The answer is in the name of the place. Parking permits are essentially the same thing. They cause people to drive more because the amount of driving is priced in. We’re expecting people to drive as much as they can when we sell them an all-you-can-park permit. The moment you’ve sold someone a pre-paid parking permit, you just took away any incentive they might have to leave their car at home even a few times.
Permits hide how much we are driving and parking. It’s really hard to change an unconscious habit. That’s why in recent years we’ve seen a proliferation of apps and gadgets that help us quantify how many steps we’ve taken, how many hours we’ve slept, how often we took a break from our desk and so on. Because all of those things are small repeated habits that are hard to keep track of, but all together make a big difference in our well being.
By having a set it and forget it approach to parking charges we create an environment of unconscious consumption where it is really hard for people to make changes.
Parking permits go against the principles of a dynamic transportation system because they make it harder for people to make gradual changes. As my partners and I interview commuters all over the country we hear this all the time. “I want to drive a bit less but I still need to drive sometimes. So I can’t give up my parking permit.”
HAVE FUN IN HAWAII! WE'LL KEEP CHARGING YOU FOR PARKING, JUST IN CASE.
Again because it is such a common practice, we don't really think about it, but pre-paid parking essentially forces people to pay for parking even when they don't use it. When I converted the Seattle Children's parking program to pay-per-use there was a really positive response to the idea that we weren't going to charge them for parking when they were sick, or on vacation, or at a conference. We were just going to charge them for parking when they parked. What a relief right?
So the first step in our transformation from static, operator-centric single choice menu to a user-focused, choice-filled, dynamic mobility menu is to decide that we are not going to be an all-you-can-eat joint anymore. Serving a high-quality product--in the quantities that customers want--should be our goal.