Another example of the high cost of free parking in Toowong

Poor economics is at the core of the latest parking dispute in the leafy Brisbane western suburb of Toowong, particularly a misunderstanding about property rights and the lack of a price mechanism for allocating the car parks (see Toowong commuters stopping residents from parking outside their own homes). Local residents are lobbying Brisbane City Council for the creation of a residential parking permit scheme (see image from the Westside News below), which would give local residents priority for parking, as they argue they are being “parked out of their own street by commuters” catching the train at Toowong station. However, the local residents do not own the streets; the Council does. It may seem unfair that local residents cannot park near their homes at all times, but it may also seem unfair if someone cannot find a park in a local street after they have searched in vain for a park at the Commuter Car Park. It is very difficult to judge fairness.

A market solution would be superior. If the Council metered the scarce car parks in the area around Toowong Village, it would be more likely that the car parks would go to those people placing the highest value on them. Alternatively, the Council could sell a limited number of daytime parking permits, which would be available for purchase by both residents and non-residents. The current situation is sub-optimal, and is a good illustration of what UCLA Professor Donald Shoup called The High Cost of Free Parking.

For further discussion of the economics of parking, see my February post:

On-street parking charges a better solution than Harding plan


Toowong residents are lobbying for a residential parking permit zone

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3 Responses to Another example of the high cost of free parking in Toowong

  1. Alistair Robson says:

    My first thought is students! (particularly for UQ). Also, what’s missing from this analysis is where the cars are from. Are they from areas of poor public transport or where the cost of public transport is so high it’s cheaper to drive to Toowong and then commute into the city/uni? I used to live around this area and remember seeing many older cars which would fit the typical student car. The first step would be a survey based on number plates. The state transport agency can do this based on the garage address linked to the number plates. Then if there’s a pattern of particular suburbs the state or local government’s can increase public transport services from Toowong to that area. If these cars are from poorer areas then a Toowong parking tax based on the garage suburb of the car’s owners could be used to derive an equitable rate (one of the 3 E’s we learn in Economics apart from Efficiency and Efficacy). I also wonder whether the problem has been exacerbated by the axing of the free-journeys-after 8 arrangement and other “inefficient’ schemes”. If so then I wonder whether the costs of axing such were fully accounted for?

    • Gene Tunny says:

      Thanks for the comment, Alistair. I’d rather get the price right for parking and help students through the tax-welfare system. I don’t have a problem with people driving to Toowong to catch the train. If parking is properly priced that would send a signal and may encourage investment in multi storey car parks, which hopefully council would approve.

      • Alistair Robson says:

        In a perfect world I’d prefer the tax-welfare system as a 1st best solution too. And that is my first reaction as a trained Economist. Problem is the social security welfare minister prefers “imagination” as a solution rather than providing an adequate rate of Newstart and youth allowance (see guardian article – I’m yet to meet a car park owner who accepts “imagination” as payment for a car park. I think the first step is to see who the cars below to first. A survey of car plates could be done fairly quickly and cheaply. The problem with not helping students, unemployed and the low paid workers who park in those areas through the tax-welfare system and then increasing costs is it does hurt some of the most vulnerable in society (the Equity – 2nd E we learn about in Economics). Is that really what we as Economists want to do? If the commuters have the means to pay for the car parking then by all means yes introduce pricing, but if not we may need to means test a cark park pricing scheme than both introduces prices signals but protects the most vulnerable in Queensland.

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