Senate bills aren’t exactly considered stimulating reading material, but I think California’s SB 518 is riveting! Why? The “make drivers pay up for parking” bill lays out in vivid detail all the hidden costs of free parking! Check out this tidbit:

On a congested street, eliminating just 10 percent of vehicles can result in free-flowing traffic. The existence of “free” parking is a significant factor that encourages vehicle trips. At employment sites, employer-paid parking increases rates of driving by as much as 22 percent. Conversely, employee-paid parking reduces rates of driving by the same amount.
Written by state senator Alan Lowenthal (D-Long Beach), SB 518 just passed in the senate earlier this week, as the L.A. Times reports. If it becomes law, cities and counties would get financial incentives to make make parkers pay, both on the street and in government-owned lots, as well as to loosen parking requirements for businesses.

As most MNN readers know, free parking isn’t actually free. A whole book — The High Cost of Free Parking — has been dedicated to exploring this topic. In addition to the environmental costs of the driving free parking encourages, we’ve got real economic costs. When short-sighted business owners might argue that getting rid of free parking will hurt their bottom line, providing parking can actually be an onerous financial burden on many businesses. As SB 518 points out:

The high cost of land, construction, and maintenance to provide free parking adds significantly to the cost of economic development, making many housing and commercial developments, especially those on infill or transit-oriented sites, financially infeasible and hindering economic development strategies.
And of course, many of the costs of “free” parking are actually paid for by taxpayers and consumers — regardless of whether or not they drive! From SB 518:
Moreover, when parking is provided free to the user, these costs are hidden elsewhere in the cost of doing business. Free parking at stores is paid for by all customers in higher prices for goods, including those customers who do not drive.
Even right now, de-car-ing already can save you a lot of money on gas, insurance, and maintenance fees. But imagine if your bill was also $5 less every time you biked over to shop at Whole Foods — because the shoppers who decided to drive 3 blocks had to pay $5 for parking instead of getting free valet.

Imagine if bars weren’t required by law to provide a whole lot of parking to drinkers who probably shouldn’t be driving when leaving the bar anyway. Maybe then drinks would get cheaper — and we’d have fewer drunk driving accidents!

Or imagine if your rent was $200 less a month because you didn’t have to pay for the parking spot you don’t use. Even if your apartment doesn’t come with a spot, if you’re car free, you’re helping to pay for street parking — which is free in most neighborhoods. Imagine how much you’d save if neighborhood street parking wasn’t free, and if parking permits reflected the true cost of street parking.

That’s the idea behind SB 518 — and I hope you’ll now encourage your assemblymembers to support it so it becomes law. I highly recommend reading the bill as leisure reading — It’s entertaining and refreshing!

If SB 510 makes you feel hopeful, you’ll be glad to know that more local initiatives in the L.A. area are poised to make parking more expensive too. Santa Monica decided recently to make parkers pay higher prices at city-owned parking lots. And L.A.’s looking into privatizing 10 public parking garages — a move that’s likely to make parking more expensive.

Driving — or driving badly — is also getting more expensive. The LA Times reports that tickets for parking and moving violation are getting pricier, as are traffic school fees. All those pay-more-to-drive moves in L.A. are intended to help close up its budget shortfall. If we can balancing the budget by discourage driving, I’m all for it!

I was so encouraged by the news of SB 518 passing in the senate that I finally went to the library and checked out The High Cost of Free Parking — a book I’d put off reading, despite the fact that I’m a proud Shoupista, because at 752 pages (605 minus the backmatter), the thing’s enormous. I’m proud to say I did not drive to the library and take advantage of the city’s free 2-hour parking lots! I call walking home toting this tome in my reusable bag my exercise for the day –

Free parking isn't free
A bill in California wants to make drivers pay for parking, so greener travelers aren't subsidizing Hummer drivers.