Parking in Philly Should Be Harder. And Cost Way More.

Philly Fighting Words Week continues with a guy who thinks you lazy, entitled drivers should be paying twice as much to park in Center City.

Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

Illustration by Melissa McFeeters

A car is the ultimate entitlement machine — particularly when driven by a Philadelphian.

Can’t you hear it now? “Parking here is so expensive.” “Why is it so impossible to park in Queen Village?” “Seriously, is the Parking Authority a division of the Gestapo or something?”




Garbage, all of it. (Except, maybe, for the bit about the Parking Authority.) Meters in Chicago’s Loop are 260 percent more expensive than the priciest blocks in Philly. Daily parking in midtown Manhattan is $41 on average, compared to $26 in Philadelphia. As for street parking, Philadelphia — a city of narrow thoroughfares built for pedestrians and carriages — has surrendered far too much real estate to immobilized cars. (What other city would tolerate mid-median parking on its Broad Street?)

Of course, Philly is hardly alone in its expectation that parking should be abundant and cheap. That’s pretty much dogma throughout America. But it’s still wrong. The notion that drivers are entitled to 200 square feet of street-level real estate for a couple of quarters an hour needs serious rethinking.

The first guy to suggest as much was UCLA professor Donald Shoup, who in 1997 wrote an influential paper titled The High Cost of Free Parking. Shoup’s paper and subsequent research obliterated — in policy circles, anyway — the notion that parking is ever really free, particularly in dense urban settings like Center City Philadelphia. In fact, parking subsidies are one of the biggest hidden costs absorbed by both cities and developers.

Drivers circling city blocks and burning gas in hopes of scoring cheap metered parking are massive contributors to downtown congestion, particularly at peak hours. Philadelphia motorists are so wedded to their parking — and so monumentally lazy — that they actually shot down street cleaning to avoid the hassle of moving their cars once a week, the City Paper reported in May.

For developers, parking is an expensive perk, one too often required by NIMBY neighbors even when the zoning code permits development without parking. It costs about $11,000 to construct a single parking spot in a Philadelphia garage.

That’s to say nothing of the squandered space — the huge chunks of street we surrender to parking without considering the alternatives: wider sidewalks, pocket parks, another traffic lane, dedicated bus or bike lanes, more sidewalk dining. Our collective obsession with cheap parking degrades the cityscape, makes development far more expensive, and dramatically increases congestion and vehicle emissions in the core of Center City.

The answer — hate it though you may — is to double the downtown meter rate to $5 an hour. That should reduce demand and create more open spots for those willing to pay for the convenience of on-street parking, while converting more parking lanes to other uses. Even better would be a system that adjusts prices on the fly, reacting in real time to parking demand on a block-by-block basis. San Francisco has adopted just this approach and in the process reduced “cruising” for parking by 50 percent, according to a recent study.

Though Philly’s zoning laws have stripped away parking requirements in many areas of the city, City Council will be tempted to undo that good work as locals accustomed to an emptier Philadelphia wail about the inconvenience of parking in a thriving neighborhood. They should be ignored. Cheap parking is a luxury the city just can’t afford.

We've got plenty more Philly heresies where that came from in our “Fighting Words” package. See the lineup here, then go buy the July 2014 issue of Philadelphia magazine, on newsstands now, or subscribe today.

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  • GT12

    Manhattan vs Philadelphia? Parking in LES isn’t $41 and parking at 15th Chestnut is at least $36. Maybe you should take the average of Center City prices if you’re going to compare the two. I’m sure parking in Astoria is far less than Manhattan. I get that you’re taking averages, but you’re comparing one of the biggest/most traveled cities in the world to a parking garage in South Philly.

    • DTurner

      That’s a fair point. I think that Philly’s parking rates are very low, but that’s more on the permit side. We need a smarter parking system that adapts to parking demand, raising prices in CC and UC (when necessary), and lowering parking rates in less popular neighborhoods.

      The big improvement would come from raising the incredibly low permit rates & by moving from a wage tax to a land tax, which would increase opportunity costs on property owners who only use their land for surface parking lots.

  • MetalDog

    This would be great *if* regional rail were cheaper and better. Right now, a lot of people drive in because trains are infrequent and expensive. Raising parking costs without fixing SEPTA would kill Center City.

    • kclo3

      That said, even our current service is comparable to other cities. Raising parking costs would automatically shift some suburban riders over to under-capacity off-peak trains.

    • Mike Cunningham

      Where is parking cheaper than the montlhly pass for Regional Rail?

      • MetalDog

        During peak hours, tickets start at $4.75 each way for the closest stations. Street parking is $2-$2.50 an hour in a lot of places. I used to live near a zone 1 station, and if I needed to go downtown for only an hour or two, it was faster and cheaper to drive. It’s true that a monthly pass is a better deal than parking every day, but not everyone needs it every day.

    • Dude

      Regional Rail is cheaper and better than comparative options in other cities. Not to mention that this would give SEPTA a lot more money to work with.

  • NIMBY

    I was hoping Philadelphia can start a private driveway parking permit
    program. Born and raised in South Philly, like everyone else we have a couple
    of cars. We can’t even park in front of our own home because we will get
    ticketed. So we take up another good parking spot that my fellow neighbors
    without a garage can use.

    • Michel Saewert

      If you do the math, it is IMPOSSIBLE to accommodate more than one car per household and expect everyone to be able to park in front of their own house. With an average rowhome width of 14ft-18ft, and a typical car length of 13ft-15ft (with 1-2ft of clearance between each), there simply isn’t enough street frontage for every household to own more than one car! So what do we, as fellow residents of South Philly, do? We park in the median, we double park over bike lanes, we park on the sidewalks, we park in crosswalks and in front of curb cuts; we break the law and then, incredibly, we blame someone else: “It’s not that I own too many cars, or that parking enforcement is too lenient,” we say, “It’s because there’s not enough parking! We need more permits! We need private driveways!” And of course, we are blameless, aren’t we? Because we’re just like “everybody else”. Everyone else has more than one car, so I should too; I’m just like everyone else, so I’ve done nothing wrong; I’m not part of the problem, it must be someone else’s fault.

      If you’re really feeling neighborly, you could always sell a few of your cars to make room, try carpooling with your neighbors for errands, try biking or taking transit to work, walking when possible, or signing up for a car share. But in reality it seems you care more about justifying the social costs of owning more than one vehicle in a dense, historical city by evoking the feeling of perceived unity said ownership brings you than you do the actual convenience of your neighbors and the accessibility of your neighborhood.

      • SC

        I live in South Philly, and this is just how people are down there. They have this idea in their heads that parking is some god-given right. Anytime any kind of development or new buisness is discussed, you get all the oldtimers out there beating drums about parking. It’s exhausting.

    • Dude

      Yo genius, you realize that getting a private parking spot reduces the supply of parking spots?

    • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

      move to the suburbs if you want to have a couple of cars and then there’s even more parking for your neighbors

  • metroeco

    Enthusiastically agree. Taking it further, cars do not belong in Center City. Leave the streets to delivery trucks, taxis, emergency vehicles and bicycles. Shift state funding from highways to transit.

  • Reasonableeaglefan

    So what is your solution? I’ve used public transportation for school and work at different times in my life, and our system is inadequate. And I was traveling to center city from other neighborhoods in Philadelphia, not some remote suburb. This plan you suggest sounds great for someone living in the city, that gets around on a bike, this would be painful to commuters. A bike lane, please. True the city was designed for carriages, but it was also built for a population a fraction of the size it is today. How about we boot 8 out of every 10 people out of the city, it sure will be easy to stroll those widened city streets and parking shouldn’t be an issue.

    • ohnonononono

      No, Philly was once much more densely populated than it is today. Those narrow streets in Center City and South Philly? Once teeming with families with 8 kids. All the vacant lots in North Philly? Once vibrant neighborhoods. Philly was “built for” a bigger population than it has now.

      • Reasonableeaglefan

        ” a city of narrow thoroughfares built for pedestrians and carriages”

        I understand we’ve had our share of “white flight” and Rust Belt decline. My statement was in response to the above quote, as if Philadelphia is still some Victorian era city.

    • Dude

      This is a pretty nonsensical comment. The city was built for more people, not less. Not to mention that SEPTA is not “inadequate” it literally has more coverage than any other system outside of Chicago and NY.

      • Reasonableeaglefan

        Do you work for septa or the parking authority? I only ask because of your responses to others who disagree with your line of thinking. I’m only giving my personal experiences from my time living in the city as well as now that I liive in (gasp) suburbia. I think the scenario that Metaldog laid out is pretty common and valid. Very similar to my experiences living in the city. And the public transportation in those ities is vastly superior. Let’s not act like because they can do it, our system can accommodate it as well

        • Dude

          Neither, I’m just relying on data and research on this. I agree we need more RR service, but the best way to do that is to force more people to use it.

          • Reasonableeaglefan

            Have you ever relied on SEPTA for your daily commute? It’s really not a very convenient system. Now the only time I use it is a regional rail for a night out or a ball game in south Philly. Half the time I need an expensive cab home because the lines stop running, I know his is changing. Again, I’m not going off research, I’m comparing my experience here versus NYC(never been to Chicago).

          • Dude

            Yes, I’ve used it for my daily commute quite a bit. It is much better than any transit system outside of NYC/Chicago in this country, and even then, the NYC system is not nearly so great outside of Manhattan.

          • Michel Saewert

            I take SEPTA every day for work. Yes, it takes longer, but time isn’t everything. Time that I would otherwise spend driving I now spend reading the paper, having a coffee, reading a book, catching up on e-mails. Plus, on days when the highways are gridlocked thanks to those ball games, I laugh all the way to the bank as I sail by. Transit gives me more time to do the things I need and want to do than driving everywhere ever would.

            You might also be interested to know that the subway service in Philadelphia is now 24/7; the line no longer stops running at 12:30am. And you know why that is? Instead of whining about it, people advocated for it. And we got it.

          • Reasonableeaglefan

            Well the Broad St line and the Blue line running late does nothing for most suburban commuters who are dependent on the regional rails. Also, I arrive to work at 6:00 am, which is earlier than the first drop offs in Market East and Suburban Station. So again, what’s the solution, because SEPTA is inadequate for my needs. Raising parking rates wouldn’t force me to public transportation, it would just cost me more money to park.

          • James Beard

            Oh i get it…you want SEPTA To cater to YOUR schedule. Talk about selfish…

          • Reasonableeaglefan

            Haha. I simply explained how raising parking rates doesn’t get me on public transportation. They don’t offer a service that meets my needs. Now that you have so elequently poked holes in my post I feel shamed into doing my part. You’ve turned me around on this subject. I will give my notice first thing Monday morning and begin my search for a new job that will allow me to start my work day after SEPTA starts running. Thank you of showing me the way.

  • denalai

    I abandoned center city years ago because of the lack of security. Using public transportation is dangerous and inconvenient. Try a subway. When called for jury duty I did, and if a cop had not got on my car when did, I probably wouldn’t be here today. If you love the smell of urine try the city hall stop. By the way I am not renewing my subscription for Philadelphia magazine. Becoming too elitist. All should be able to enjoy the city, not just the rich.

    • ohnonononono

      You took the subway to jury duty ONCE and you claim that you would have been MURDERED if it weren’t for the lucky chance that a cop happened to get into the car? You realize thousands of people take the el and subway every day without incident, right?

      • denalai

        See response below.

    • Dude

      No one has been murdered on SEPTA.

      • denalai

        Well Dude, you might want to check on that. Look back a few years. And assaults are quite common. See how many times someone approaches you asking for money also. Subway is not a safe environment. Period.

        • DTurner

          Funny, you could say the same thing about driving…

          • Denalai

            No I could not.

          • DTurner

            More people die in cars than on transit (by simple numbers and by VMT), that’s a pretty simple fact.

        • Dude

          Assaults are not common. If you have to “look back a few years” that goes to show how UNLIKELY being murdered on SEPTA is. If SEPTA was a dangerous system, you wouldn’t need to look back more than a few weeks.

    • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

      the presence of black people does not mean you’re going to get murdered

      • Denalai

        Aren’t you clever trying to make me look like a racist when your the one that brings up race. Look to yourself for the timber in your eye.

        • http://chrissmari.org ChrissMari

          I LOVE how racists go out of their way to not mention race in racists comments so that when they get called out on their racism they can say “*you’re* the one who mentioned race first, not me!!!” hahaha So predictable.

    • Michel Saewert

      If everyone is supposed to be able to enjoy the city, not just the rich, then why attack public transit? Transit is one of the main things that makes all cities affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people. The density of both residents and destinations (workplaces, shopping, attractions, etc.) allows transit to take advantage of economies of scale and offer people who would otherwise be unable to own a car (and therefore unable to move around in our auto-dominated society) and gives them freedom of mobility for a greatly reduced cost. You can’t get that anywhere else.

      If you don’t like the current level of service offered by SEPTA, then you are not alone. But instead of complaining and swearing it off, we need to advocate for better service, which includes patrols & security.

      • Denalai

        You advocate, I am 65 and I have done my advocating – anti-war, civil rights. I rode the old PTC system. SEPTA is an improvement and they try, but this city just doesn’t work, except for the well-to-do with influence and the poor and immigrants. Mayor is too busy crying and advocating for city schools, immigrants, and gays. I have ridden public transit in Seattle, San Francisco, new York, and they are far safer than Philly. Where I live, the police literally don’t come out when you call. I have complained from the deputy mayor on down. Sorry to sound so negative, but after all these years, those who chose not to leave the city deserve better.

  • Atombird

    This is America, bro. Like it or not, having a car defines independence and moving around to wherever you need to be. Plus, real Philadelphians always know “where the spots are” everywhere downtown. .

  • Bob

    Yes, make the parking spots so only the rich people can afford them. And don’t open up City Council’s free spots or anything.

    Buddy, not everyone lives close to the center of town. PT is expensive, inconvenient, and inconsistent. Clean that up first and your utopian dreams may be realized. Stop picking on the working individuals, concentrate of the power people instead. It’s more admirable when you do that.

  • medford_resident

    Melissa McFeeters, enjoy this job. You’re unlikely to do any better with that sort of intelligence.

    • dude seriously

      Hey Captain Condescension! Ms. McFeeters is the illustrator. The other great thing that riding public transit has over driving & parking is that you can safely work on your reading comprehension while doing it.

      • Medford_resident

        Oh my bad!
        A drawer of cartoons even had a bigger upside!
        Would you like a job reading all of the idiot stories that come thru my news feed to comprehend it for me?
        I’m sure I can pay you more than you’re currently making at your latest dead end job

        • dude seriously

          Thanks for the offer, but it sounds like drivers like you should probably start saving every penny you can.

          • Medford_resident

            Never fear, I can pay for both you and parking with lunch money

  • hape2b

    Spare me with the notion that we need to charge more $ to park in this city. It is such a bunch of BS. This is one of the reasons that I pay that $5 bridge toll and shop in NJ instead of spending my money shopping in center city. I’m tired of urine smelling subways, buses that stink and are unpredictable. Often they pass right by stops and leave passengers waiting even when the bus isn’t full. Parking should be affordable for everyone not just a select group of people. I also don’t like wasting time … people who have to rely on PT lose a lot of valuable time. Unless you are unemployed, you miss a lot of family time waiting for trains and buses. North Philly street parking is cheap – it should be the same everywhere.

    • ambiguator

      Half of center city residents do not have access to a vehicle.
      The other half have their private vehicle storage subsidized at public expense.

      • hape2b

        Half of residents in Philly do not have vehicles because it is a choice not to have one. Just like refusing to pay the $25 and up fees for parking is a choice.

    • ohnonononono

      Sounds like you should just live in NJ where you shop anyway.

      • hape2b

        Would be thrilled to shop in CC Philly but I am not going to pay more than $20 to do it because of the excessive parking fees. What I find the most amazing by Philadelphians is the support for such practices.

        • Mister Crowley

          Take the train into the City. Why do you need a car to go shopping?

  • Ben Franklin

    Completely agree. It’s a city. If you want to drive and park here, pay the price. Otherwise, take a cab, a train, or a bus.

  • JT

    You are truly an idiot. If anything, the parking rates in Philly are too high. This isn’t NYC or Chicago, so you can’t make that comparison. I don’t think you realize that the high rates in Center City keep a lot of people out of town. Raise meter rates to $5/hr.? I lived in South Philly most of my life and took the subway and el to center city. However, if you want to go to a restaurant at night in town you don’t want to take public transportation if you value your life. I have a feeling that you don’t own a car and probably live in center city and you’re pissed off because the sidewalks aren’t wide enough for outdoor dining. It’s undeniable that Philly is dirty and filthy, but raising parking rates isn’t going to change anything other than causing more people to shop and dine in the burbs.

    • ambiguator

      Right, because fighting traffic on the Schuylkill and burning a few gallons of gas is way better than ponying up an extra couple bucks to park in center city or heaven forbid walk, bike, or transit.

    • Dude

      No one has been killed on public transit in Philly, that’s just false. You sound like one of the whiners.

      • denalai

        You sound like one of the new rich that doesn’t give a damn about the middle class.

        • Dude

          Nah, I grew up middle class. But the fact is, the future of Philly is more transit, less cars.

  • http://sictransitphiladelphia.org/ Michael Noda

    [Locals] accustomed to an emptier Philadelphia [will] wail about the
    inconvenience of parking in a thriving neighborhood. They should be
    ignored.

    NO. They should not be ignored.

    They should be mocked, derided, humiliated, run out of town, and shipped to Phoenix or some other locale whose self-destruction we don’t actually care about.

    Ignoring those who would see the city burn as long as the ashes served their convenience would be the most dangerous thing we could do.

  • Rich-D

    Ask the businesses from South Street to Vine St what would happen, if parking were raised to $5 per hour. Also, it was impossible in South Philly, as in other sections of the city to have one side of the street clear or in the case of small streets, the entire street cleared for mechanical street sweepers. There simply was no place to move all of the vehicles and it hurt the business community. Furthermore, even when streets were cleared of vehicles on the designated days, the Sweepers did not come!

    • ambiguator

      They’d get more foot traffic?

  • Charliefoxtrot

    …..because nothing stimulates a city economy like raising even more barriers to visitors. It always amazes me to see how lefties always think their ever increasing taxation and central planning schemes never have a negative effect on growth, and never seem to quite connect biz failure to their policies. If anything they should slash or eliminate parking and dismantle the corrupt parking authority. Remember this city has the same amount of city workers as 30 years ago with something like a million less people.

    This in a time where shopping malls-an idea created specifically to lure shoppers sick of city parking and congestion-are having trouble competing against the internet.
    But never fear, our Progressive Betters will raise the city sales, wage and business taxes, raise parking fees, and sit back and watch the economic miracle they’ve made!

  • ambiguator

    Wow, some really amazing talent on this thread.
    Must have been linked from philly dot com.

  • McGair Valois

    First Philly Mag disses Wawa now you’re saying we should pay more for parking. Whose city do you represent, anymore?

    • denalai

      Clearly the entitled and rich. Those of us who are the tax base of this city can’t afford to eat at most center city establishments nor enjoy entertainment there. How completely arrogant of this magazine, but how typical.

  • MTL

    I think they should start to enforce permit parking in CC’s neighboring hoods too. CC folk love to park their cars for weeks at a time in S. Philly to avoid having to pay for parking. If permit requirements were stricter and actually enforced, supply/demand would solve the cheap parking problem on its own.

  • SC

    I’ve been saying this for years. It’s a crime how cheap parking is in this city, especially the yearly parking permits. They should cost at least $100/year. And yeah, I have a car in a permited neighborhood, so I’d have to pay that.