In the past, Market Urbanism has not been very pleased with municipal parking privatization schemes. While we are pro-privatization in theory, in practice, many of the schemes turn out to be seriously deficient in market credentials. For one, true privatization would mean giving the “owners” full rights to the land, including some sort of development rights. In addition to the option of leaving the land as parking, the “owners” should be allowed to use the space for other uses, like a parklet or maybe even opening it up to food trucks and small farmers’ markets. Or perhaps when they redevelop the property, they could extend the building a few more feet onto the sidewalk and make up the lost sidewalk space in what is now the parking space.
Parking privatization schemes, however, allow for none of that. So the only redeeming quality is that they are politically palatable ways of raising woefully underpriced on-street parking prices. But as the Queens Gazette reports, New York won’t even get this benefit if Bloomberg’s plan is successful:
The plan is similar to one established in Chicago in 2008 with one exception. Unlike the Chicago system, parking fees in New York City would remain in strict control of city officials. “In no way would officials give up the right to establish parking rates in New York City,” officials said.
So if the owners aren’t allowed to do anything but park cars in the spots, and they don’t even have the right to raise prices, then what exactly does the “privatization” do? Well, for one it gives the city an lump-sum check – essentially the net present value of the revenues of the space. This is really just a form of borrowing – while they’ll be getting more money now, they get less money later. But perhaps even more insidious is the addition of more stakeholders to the car-oriented status quo. I wrote the following about NJ Transit’s parking privatization plan, but it applies just as well to NYC’s on-street parking:
[R]ather than taking on entrenched suburban interests, we’re just adding another layer of government dependents, this time of the monied corporate variety (bidders include KKR, Morgan Stanley, Carlyle, and JP Morgan). The land on which transit parking lots sit is uniquely positioned to be converted into dense development, and the only thing worse than sitting on the land would be for the agencies to sign away their rights to change that within the foreseeable future.