For whatever reason, we’re not built to naturally internalize negative externalities. When riding on a crowded highway, no one (no non-economist, at any rate) curses the government for not making the road more expensive; they demand more capacity — fewer traffic lights, higher speed limits, more lanes, more roads. And when free parking results in no available parking, no one demands market pricing for spots; they ask why the lot’s so small and the garages so scarce, and they get angry about those two new developments that just went in, bringing new residents who unsurprisingly use the valuable, yet free, parking spots when they’re open.
We see a shortage of a public good, and we think more, not more expensive. And as a result, the failure to price public goods appropriately leads to an inefficient use of existing resources, and an inefficient allocation of new resources. We don’t use existing roads well, and we spend too much valuable capital building new roads. We don’t use existing parking well, and we spend too much valuable capital building new parking OR we allow shortage concerns to undermine good investments.
This type of anti-market bias which seems to be the natural default in humans creates unhealthy positive-feedback loops such as the highway -> development -> congestion -> widen/extend highway, etc. loop. But in that light, we should be glad modern society has been able to overcome so many of its anti-market biases such as making profits, charging interest, and trade between strangers. Hopefully, as society adapts to deal with issues of scacity of land, resources, and time, it will overcome the unhealthy biases it needs to shed to sustain growth.
In general, the market price of street parking should be very similar to the market price of garage parking. Since a garage is more secure and protected from the elements, that has certain advantages. But a street spot might be more convenient. So you’d be looking at rough similarity. And in parts of the city where there’s no viable market in garage building, that’s a market signal that parking demand is low and therefore street parking should be very cheap. But where garages are charging a lot, street parking should also be expensive. Among other things, that would reduce the need for new construction to be accompanied by expansive parking garages.
Perhaps more important, it would reduce the tendency for conversations about any new development to become immediately dominated by people’s fear of parking shortages. The whole shortage phenomenon is (as shortages tend to be) a symptom of bad pricing policy. Chicago is a big city with a vibrant downtown and tons of economic activity. Space is limited and expensive. Unless you charge more than a quarter for it, you’ll get shortages.
Still, the privatized meter pricing will remain highly regulated (to satisfy the anti-market bias of political constituents), preventing the full “market price” efficiency to be achieved.