The politics of parking meters

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Patrick Emerson PhD ,
OSU Economist
Oregon Economics Blog

One of the most important lessons economists try and teach new economics students is that costs are both monetary and non-monetary and that in economics costs include opportunity costs: the value of the next best thing you give up by choosing a certain economic activity.

I was reminded of this when I read Beth Slovic’s article in The Oregonian about the proposal to bring parking meters to the NW shopping district of NE 21st and 23rd.  I was surprised at the local merchants apparent conviction that this would lead to fewer customers.

I am not convinced. I, for one, used to live at NW 23rd and Glisan prior to the gentrification of the neighborhood, when it was one of the only thriving neighborhood shopping districts and a real treat of a place to live (not that it isn’t now just that back then – circa 1990 – it was a no-brainer to live there as a young 20-something with access to Escape fro NY Pizza, the Mission Theatre, Cinema 21, the Blue Moon, Coffee People and so on).

I almost never go there anymore, in fact I have a hard time remembering the last time I spent time in the neighborhood.  The reason is parking.  It is a nightmare and I really don’t feel like driving around for 20 minutes looking for a spot.  So I would happily pay a few bucks for easier access to parking and would be more likely to shop there if I knew that parking would be easier to find.

So for me the opportunity cost of searching for a free parking spot outweighs the cost of metered parking.  I suspect that, especially given the up-scale shopping featured in the neighborhood, the typical out of neighborhood shopper is similar to me in this respect.  I would be curious, therefore, to know where the merchants get their data.  I have no idea if my generalization is correct but I am suspicious of claims of a big negative impact.