Thursday, May 21, 2015

Measuring the Health of a Parking System

Here's an odd little fact: For every dollar of parking revenue it collects from curbside meters, the Philadelphia Parking Authority collects more than two dollars in parking fines. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, the ratio is reversed. At the end of the SFpark demonstration project in 2013, the pilot areas were collecting four dollars in meter revenue for every dollar of parking fines.

The SFpark Numbers
I ran across the San Francisco numbers on the SFpark website, in a document called SFpark Pilot Project Evaluation. The meter revenue -- $242 per meter per month -- is on page 122 (pdf page 62). The citation revenue -- $61 per meter per month -- is on page 124 (pdf page 63).

During the course of the demonstration project, citation revenue declined and meter revenue increased in the pilot areas. Interestingly, the average price of an hour at a meter declined. SFpark employs variable pricing, also called demand pricing, where the price at the meter varies during the course of the day and the overall price schedule is adjusted at intervals, all with the goal of assuring a target occupancy rate of 60-80 percent. (For more on SFpark, see Parking in San Francisco.)

The SFpark numbers are not exactly comparable to the Philadelphia numbers I discuss below. The ticket revenue in the SFpark study is for meter-related offenses only -- such as not paying the meter or overstaying the meter time limit. Other parking offenses, such as blocking a driveway, are not included. Also the SFpark numbers are only for the areas of the city included in the study. The Philadelphia numbers are for the whole city.

Still, the SFpark data provide a portrait of a well-run parking system that is centered on meter revenue rather than ticket revenue.

About the Philadelphia Numbers
The 2014 annual report of the Philadelphia Parking Authority provides an aggregate number for on-street parking revenue (page 31) and also lists the sources of those funds -- ticket revenue, meter revenue, towing, booting etc. (page iv). The annual report does not, however, provide the revenue numbers for those individual categories.

So I wound up filing a Right-to-Know request, and a few days later I received the information in the mail. I reproduce it below.

As an aside, my interactions with the PPA over the last few months have been productive and, dare I say it, pleasant.

2014 On-Street Parking Revenues in Philadelphia

Tickets - $76,510,245

Meters - $34,633,109

Smart Card - $485,055

Towing - $3,665,909

Storage - $558,432

Booting - $1,818,305

RPP - $1,059,648

Contractor - $1,062,525

Loading Zone - $468,705

Auction - $115,195

Auction Proc Fee - $62,460

Credit Card Proc Fees-Auction - $42,520

Credit Card Convenience Fees - $1,290,722

Proc Fee Registration/Suspend - $17,059

Ticketing Refund - ($324,945)

Miscellaneous - $66,175

Total - $121,531,119

A Few Notes of Explanation
RPP stands for residential parking permit ($35/year). Contractor, I believe, is revenue from contractor parking permits ($150/year).

The Loading Zone category refers to a quaint Philadelphia custom.  If you qualify, you can get a loading zone at the curb in front of your business. For each parking space removed there's an installation fee of up to $500, and an annual permit fee of up to $150. Loading zones limit parking to 20 or 30 minutes, and they are available to anyone who wants to park there. The business owner does not control parking in the zones.

The residential permit, the contractor permit, and the loading zone permit are all dramatically underpriced. A standard $2.50 parking spot in Center City can generate revenue up to $8,000 per year.

Searching for a Set of Vital Signs
When you go to the doctor's office, the second thing you do (after you fill out the paperwork) is get your vital signs taken. You know -- temperature, pulse, respiration rate, blood pressure. I've been wondering for a while what a set of vital signs for a parking system might look like.

Clearly, occupancy rates are important. Are you maintaining peak occupancy rates of 85 percent on the street and in the garages? The answer in Philadelphia is no, but it's not an easy answer to get. The Philadelphia City Planning Commission surveys the large garages in Center City, but it only does so once every five years. As for curbside parking, I don't think anybody has good data, but the situation is so bad, and so obvious, that we can easily limp along without precise information, at least for a while.

SFpark evaluated the demonstration project in a large number of ways. Beyond parking availability it looked at things such as the amount of time drivers had to search for a spot, greenhouse gas emissions, daily vehicle miles traveled, double parking, and the number of accidents.

SFpark also looked, as noted above, at parking citations issued per meter. And that's how I got the idea of comparing ticket revenue to meter revenue.

The great advantage of this ratio as a vital sign for a parking system is that it doesn't require a survey. The data will already exist in the parking authority's financial system. You just need to order up a report.

Would You Rather Pay a Fine or Feed a Meter?
And I think our ratio says a lot about us, here in Philadelphia. There is intense resistance to adding new meters, or raising the rates on existing ones. The inevitable result is overcrowding, which leads directly to a large revenue stream from parking tickets.

Along with the overcrowding and the tickets we also produce a lot of anxiety, frustration, and anger. Parking is a very emotional issue in Philadelphia, and few of those emotions are positive.

We don't need this.  And we don't have to have it.  It's up to us.

(See also Parking:  Storage v. Access, Professor Shoup's Parking Book, The Parking Dream.)