Wednesday, July 6, 2011

DC To Fleece Car Sharers, Continue Heavily Subsidizing Car Owners

Zipcars Live HereAs Clayton Lane reports at, DC has decided to auction car sharing spaces in an effort to maximize revenue from car sharing companies. Which would be fine, if it was also auctioning the rest of the spaces. Imagine how much a street spot in Adams Morgan would go for?

But DC will continue to practically give away residential parking tags (first tag $15; second tag literally free), with the net result being a major subsidy  for more privately-owned cars clogging the streets of DC:
Carsharing should be treated as a public good, even more than the on-street parking that it occupies. Each shared vehicle replaces about 14 private cars, according to comprehensive national research by the University of California, Berkeley. Plus, after joining, members drive about 44 percent fewer miles, according to the average result of ten North American impact studies. Other research shows that carsharing members consume less gas, reduce their carbon emissions by nearly 1 ton per year, walk and bike more, and spend more dollars locally.

DDOT, rather than levy a 20 percent tax on carsharing members whose behavior benefits the neighborhood, should keep carsharing affordable and instead tax private car use – the main source of congestion and many environmental problems. DDOT could raise the same revenue with a painless $2 annual fee for all residential parking tags. Or it could simply charge $100 annually for each household’s second car. Or implement smart meters, which vary prices based on real-time demand, ensuring that around 15 percent of commercial on-street parking spaces remain available. In downtown Redwood City, Calif., smart meters generate $1 million of additional revenue each year for safer, cleaner sidewalks.

In fact, Donald Shoup, in his seminal book, “The High Cost of Free Parking,” estimates the market value of on-street spaces in central Los Angeles at $31,000 each – more valuable than the vehicles parked in them. Subsidizing car ownership with free parking distorts the market, encouraging more people to own and drive cars.
Matt Yglesias rightly calls this a car-sharing tax.

But let's be honest: This is about politics, not policy. Who do you think has more political clout in DC, people who car share or people who can afford multiple cars? Better to indirectly charge car sharers, who are more likely to be young & transient anyway, by gouging the upstart car sharing companies. No DC politician wants to tick off multiple car owners, who are much more likely to write campaign checks with whatever they haven't forked over to Lexus.
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