The lines are drawn

Sometimes you cherish the easy questions. “Do Americans have the right to free parking?” Well, no: nobody, I suggest, properly has a right to anything that anyone else has to pay for.

Still, there are those who remain unpersuaded by this argument:

In Los Angeles, activists have been organizing for months under the banner of The Los Angeles Parking Freedom Initiative. They argue that the city takes advantage of its citizens to ameliorate its budget problems. The Los Angeles Times reports that an average L.A. parking ticket costs $68, and that money secured from parking fines has grown from about $110 million in 2003 to almost $161 million this year. Activists are now seeking to cap non-public safety related parking fines at $23.

Activists in Keene, New Hampshire, are fighting for more than just a decreased financial penalty; they want parking fines eliminated altogether. Although there is free parking in Keene after 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and all day on Sunday [pdf], libertarian activists involved in the Free Keene campaign are not satisfied. To demonstrate their discontent, they are feeding expired meters before tickets can be issued, and have allegedly prevented the city from issuing more than 4,000 parking tickets since 2009. They also have taken to harassing parking enforcement officers.

What the hell kind of “libertarian” thinks parking at a meter they do not own is a “right”?

A Washington Post (!) reporter actually seems to understand some of this:

The ostensible policy goal of parking tickets isn’t really to generate municipal revenue — it’s to manage the supply of a public asset. If parking is plentiful and cheap, people will use tons of it. If the cost of violating parking regulations is low on top of that, the city has even less leverage over how curb space should be used for the public good. Maybe a cheap parking spot feels good for the individual parker, but a city overrun by parking — where there’s little incentive to invest in alternative transportation, among other things — probably doesn’t feel like somewhere you’d want to live.

Of course, once you’ve seen some Family Truckster on stilts making six passes through the lot at Lowe’s looking for a space within 50 feet of the building, you begin to despair. Or at least I do.


  1. okie1701 »

    6 July 2014 · 7:07 am

    This question has bothered me for some time. I still can’t find an answer I’m happy with. The argument gets so circular that I get lost.
    I agree that meters and fines are really for managing public resources rather than revenue. I’d rather the gov’t not do that. Public street paid for by public dollars. I also don’t think some parking should be reserved for “special journalist” here.

    It’s either a public throughway or it isn’t. Pick one.

    And yet? Someone using a public space more than someone else might expect to pay more. Then I get angry with myself and just wish the gov’t wasn’t involved and then…
    See? It’s really circles…evil damn circles…and ellipses.

    I don’t know. I moved away. Kind of miss it though.

  2. Francis W. Porretto »

    6 July 2014 · 10:54 am

    There are problems of this sort attached to any and every sort of public — i.e., State managed and de facto State owned — asset or facility. with some you can see how the philosophical problems would dissolve were the asset privatized, but that sometimes gives rise to another problem: a general perception of a “shortage” of some good. The problem gets stiffer when you consider nonexcludable goods — i.e., goods whose owner cannot, by their nature, keep others from enjoying them just as he does. That invokes the “free rider” problem, which can grow intense when the good in question is widely desired but expensive.

    The best approach I know of – which might not be the best approach available, but it’s the one I like best — is to restrict the State to owning only goods that are 1) nonexcludable; and: 2) in the nature of “overhead:” i.e., something we want to exist not for its own sake but because not having it would expose the nation to damage or an unpleasant degree of risk. Examples: the armed forces; a criminal justice system; a diplomatic apparatus; urban roads. These make the best public goods because they’re generally conceded to be social necessities, but no individual would want to own them for capital or consumption purposes.

    Note that with few exceptions, the Constitution’s grants of authority to the federal government are for the provision of such public goods. (Yes, the Founding Fathers were pretty smart guys.) Though they’re expensive, when the cost is spread over a whole nation the burden on each citizen is relatively slight. That allowed the early United States to avoid both internal and direct taxes, funding the federal government entirely from imposts and excises — a sharp contrast to our present situation.

  3. Charles Pergiel »

    6 July 2014 · 1:04 pm

    Cities should be built on top of automated parking garages. All parking is in the great socialist-capitalist parking machine. Nobody gets to park on the street. Fees for parking come out of the your license plate tax, which would cost nine zillion dollars a year.

  4. fillyjonk »

    6 July 2014 · 4:23 pm

    I’ve seen the Family Truckster doing a fair impression of The Flying Dutchman.

    I regularly see parking-spot vultures: those people who sit, blocking the entire lane, while a family with a month’s groceries and three children who must be buckled into safety seats slowly loads up.

    And then I’ve seen the a-holes in nearly-new pickups who, by some freak of good fortune, find two spots close to the store that are adjacent, and they park in BOTH of them. So their truck doesn’t get dinged. I will admit that on more than one 100+ degree day, as I trekked past them from the spot I took in Outer Mongolia, I was really seriously tempted to see if “keying” a car caused as much damage as claimed. (No, I didn’t, because I believe enough in “what goes around comes around” not to want to tempt Fate.)

    Of course, these are all free commercial lots. Perhaps what is free is lightly valued by those who get it?

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