Friday, July 16, 2010

Cap & Trade Parking Permits

Parking, like carbon and sulphur dioxide, is dramatically underpriced. And, just like CO2, the status quo is incredibly resistant to change, despite the many large environmental externalities. In Boston (and in Cambridge), residents can park for $0 (and $8) per year, while at the same time it costs as much as $3000 a year to rent off-street garage parking. One open air parking space in Boston sold for $250,000 a few years ago. That’s $2000 per square foot!

Every time these cities (and every city) talk about raising the price of residential permits, political firestorms ensue and we end up with no change. No change means as many as one-third of the cars parked on-street aren’t driven in any given week and residents happily drive within the city instead of walking, biking or taking transit because – well, they have a car! And can park it for free!

A friend has been thinking about this problem for years, trying to come up with a market mechanism that would fix the situation. And suddenly, my environmental brain crossed with my transportation policy brain and voila – cap & trade parking! What if:

Starting today, the city issues no more parking permits and those with parking permits were allowed to sell or trade them. Suddenly, the reality that those permits are worth a heck of a lot more than $8 a year is no longer contested. People who rarely drive will have to decide whether it is worth it to them to keep owning that car, or to sell the permit for wherever the market sets the price. Today in both Cambridge and Boston, parking permits allow parking only in certain specified zones. The parking permits would transfer along those same lines. In some neighborhoods, the permits would like fetch $500/year, in others, as much as $3000.

The city could decide to buy some of these permits themselves, and retire them, reducing the number of cars residing in Cambridge, or providing them at reduced cost to new-to-the-city low income families.

What would this plan accomplish? Two things:

It lets permits get to market rate without politicians having to cast votes. It lets every car-owning resident participate in this new market. It gives the city a way to cap and then reduce the number of parking permits issued in the city. Permit ownership could continue to have an annual price payable to the city. The price would cover street cleaning and road repair, as well as perhaps an annual incentive to residents who don’t own a car, or to buy residents turning 16 a bicycle for their birthday. In Cambridge, a $25 annual parking permit fee would result in about $1 million a year.

It would also reduce the number of cars parking in Cambridge, and therefore the amount of driving that gets done in Cambridge. It would or could turn Cambridge into a city of residents that would rather walk or bike for local trips (which is most of people’s trips) and provide the political demand for the bike, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure that supports this way of life.

What do you think? I need some economists to weigh in.

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Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mom (age 84) Not Driving #3

For the uninitiated, my mom totaled her car about a year ago, and gave it up. I've written a few updates (1) and (2) about her progress creating a new non-driving life.

Today's email from my mom (who lives in Florida):

I had a wonderful day...I went to my Yoga class and my yoga teacher brought me home. She said she admires me as most people would throw their arms up and say "my life is ruined as I can't drive." Instead I have met so many more people because I don't drive.

To-night coming home from Glady's [a shut-in friend who lives 1 mile away that she visits daily by walking there and back], I met the people that restored a junk house and have not moved in yet. I had given them some sweet potato plant and they put the sod on their yard. He was working out and I went up his drive way to say hello, and he said he wife Amanda wasn't feeling well and he wanted me to go in and cheer her up. I guess she has cancer as she has no hair and had a bandana around her head. She also has two dogs that came in with me. I miss my dog so much that I gave them a lot of attention and made friends with them. Then they had a chair or two chairs in the room that has the view and I sat down and we had a fun visit. When I left the man said they go to the grocery store twice a week and would be glad to take me. I felt that I had cheered the woman up some and made friends with the dogs so it was very nice.

And on the way up to Glady's I met two woman I already knew, one is a fireman lady and is 34 years old and the other is a 61 year old beautiful lady whose house reminds me of mine and the two of them will bike over and see me one day. Tomorrow I get a ride to church and then to a party at 7.30. The guests will come here after to see the fireworks.

Bottom line: Not driving has improved her social life and happiness.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Tapping End User Content (2.0) for Speed & Scale

In the spring I gave a number of talks on how web 2.0 should really be talked about as 2.0 -- platforms for participation that invite and enable end-users to add their own content. Letting people tap into their own excess capacity is particularly potent because it is so low cost. And the platforms mean that this small and local content can be scaled to national and international proportions and influence.


IF you can get the platform right.

The video is a 4 minute edited synopsis of a 20 minute talk I gave at Columbia Unviersity a number of weeks ago for their Brite conference (Brands, Innovation, Technology). I reference chatroullette and couch surfing, both excellent examples of the phenomenon. does an excellent job of this as well.

Related blog posts of mine:
How Sharing Increases Innovation
Thinking about Scarcity & Abundance

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

I want my PMV! Car-like Motorcycle-like Safe-definitely

Here’s the question: if you currently drive a car to work and for errands, would you prefer to drive a motorcycle-carlike vehicle that is one-quarter of a car? That is, one-quarter the cost, one-quarter the fuel consumption (easily 100 miles to the gallon), requires one-quarter the space to park at one-quarter the cost of regular parking, and pay one-quarter the cost of tolls.

OK, it’s true that its top speed might be 30 mph, with an average speed of 20 mph. But what if you could be traveling only with other lightweight vehicles traveling at similar speeds. [The average speed of cars is most cities is between 10-15 mph. In suburban areas you might be adding 5 minutes to your trip.]

Are you saying yes? Are you focused on the one-quarter the price part? And one-quarter the space to park?

I have this theory that lots of Americans would choose this option. And even more if they access to a second car, owned by them or shared nearby, that they could use on the small percentage of trips where they need a bigger and faster car.

Last week I got to ride (not drive) in one of GM’s eight EN-Vs (electric networked vehicles, pronounced “envy” – what an excellent name).[Video with the trend/business explanation; video with the EN-V/people dance performance]. It was enormously fun. My guess is that this vehicle will not be sold for ¼ the price of their regular cars, but some models could be. So I wondered:

Why would people switch? Because
 63% percent of all trips (and 75% of all work commute) they take are already alone in their car
 they would reduce the 18% of their income they spend on their car today
 they would not be beholden to price spikes in fossil fuels
 they want to find parking everywhere
 they want to be in the uncongested lane

Why do people not do it today?

 Well they do, particularly in Asia
 Here in America none of us relish the idea of going up against truck traffic, SUVs, or regular cars
 Motorcycles, as we know them, are scary (for some) to drive, you get wet and cold, and they are incredibly dangerous (60 times the fatality rates of regular cars – because of speed and the going head to head with much heavier vehicles).

Personal motorized vehicles would address an enormous number of problems associated with today’s cars: cost, congestion, pollution, CO2 emissions, parking. And I think consumer’s would choose them, based on cost, convenience, reliability, autonomy.

The problem lies with the extreme difficulty of enabling transitions. Two suggestions to get us there:
1.Take some lanes or some roads and make them accessible only to light weight and low speed vehicles (bikes too could travel these lanes, and we could split current lanes in half and get as many as 4 times the vehicles (and people traveling) in the same amount of space). These lanes could be used starting today by bicycles, motorized and electric bikes and small motorcycles. Think of all the people who would buy these vehicles and switch to these lanes if we gave them a lane of traffic.

2. Change the regulatory and safety requirements for these vehicles in line with the lesser accident risk. This would mean a lower cost to introduce new types of vehicles that meet the qualifications. And maybe even no driver’s license (!). In Europe today there are small engine electric vehicles that people can drive to get to work when their license is revoked. And in the US, we similarly don’t require licenses for small engine motorcycles.

Are you ready? What do you think? Would you switch?

And for the record, in dense metropolitan areas, it would still be faster to walk shorter distances, and take transit in dedicated lanes or rails, and never ever have to worry about parking.

See here for photos of lots of microcars
And here to take a virtual tour of the microcar museum.

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