Tacoma Urbanist

Aug. 18, 2008 at 12:01am

Can Tacoma Implement Market Rate Parking Right?

Yesterday, the News Tribune published a story on Tacoma attempting to enter the 20th century on parking management downtown:

The recommendation – not yet fully drafted, but destined to be completed and presented to the city in the next few weeks – comes from a 50-member downtown panel appointed by City Manager Eric Anderson. The committee has studied downtown parking since early this year.

Kudos to the panel for putting in so much volunteer work.  It will be interesting to see what the 50 member panel comes up with and whether they are able to adopt "best practices" for parking management.  No doubt many people are talking to them with one suggestion or another. 

Best Part of Article:

“What we’re hoping for is street parking that’s 85 percent utilized,” said Campbell. Parking rates should not be so expensive that they deter customers from coming downtown, but expensive enough to make serial parking downtown by full-time workers unattractive.

With 15 percent of the on-street spots available on average, open street parking spots will be available enough that customers won’t have to spend long periods circling the blocks hunting for an open space.

Comment: Campbell has a good quote.  Professor Shoup, the authority on parking, states it a little differently in that the "price should be set at the lowest price possible to obtain a 15 percent occupancy."  Free if necessary.

Worst Quote (photo caption)

Tacoma city planners are revising their approach to downtown parking. A new proposal would do away with free parking and add payment kiosks on each block.

Comment: A significant overstatement on the necessity of pay stations.  Parking should remain free if there is already 15 percent or great vacancy rate such as on much of Market, Tacoma Avenue and other streets.

Portland Parking Connection and Nexus to Tacoma

In discussing Portland, the Tribune article explained:


They then eliminated free parking both on the streets and in garages. Employers who formerly had provided free parking to employees ended that practice and began charging market rates.

Comment: It is appropriate to charge market rates for parking as Portland does and which is an accepted practice in parking management.  However, Portland has a far greater parking demand that Tacoma so it is inappropriate to borrow the rate charged from Portland.

The Right End Result : Multi Price Zones Based On Demand

Based on the various demands for parking in downtown Olympia, they have set up four zones, two of which there is a charge and two of which are free and time limited.

If an accurate parking occupancy rate of downtown is taken in Tacoma, we will no doubt find that most of downtown streets already have more than 15 percent vacancy.  Thus, no parking meters are appropriate.  Parking should remain free.

Areas around the UWT and the Pierce County County Courthouse may have sufficient demand where charging something is necessary.  Thus, if implemented appropriately, Tacoma should have a number of free zones and areas where there is a charge for parking, but no more than necessary.

Overall Comment

Parking rates, if any, need to be based exclusively on parking demand in the immediate area, not revenue demands of the city or other political calculus.  If done right, visitors, downtown workers and merchants will all benefit.

The panel looks to be making some good progress.  We will see how their final report looks. The issue is going to progress well if there is community agreement on charging the rate as closely as possible to have a 15 percent vacancy and no more. 

The city needs to have a ready mechanism to increases or decrease the parking rate when appropriate.

Tacoma is going to need a good consultant that is listened to in order to implement best practices.

As parking guru Professor Shoup explains, its not that difficult:

For more information see:

Tribune Op Ed on setting parking rates

comments [10]  |  posted under Tacoma


by fredo on 8/18/2008 @ 10:57am
I don't think people will mind paying for parking but it would be good if the pay station would accept debit/credit cards. Many people don't carry cash any more.

OTOH, merchants and restaurants downtown must realize that some prospective customers will be turned off by the prospect of paying for parking and will just shop or dine where the parking is free. This trade off is sort of crap shoot for the businesses involved.

by Erik on 8/18/2008 @ 11:04am
OTOH, merchants and restaurants downtown must realize that some prospective customers will be turned off by the prospect of paying for parking and will just shop or dine where the parking is free.

That's shows the importance of setting the right price Fredo. If the price is set right, 85 percent of the spaces will remain occupied. Only one car can be in every space.

by fredo on 8/18/2008 @ 11:47am
Some current and regular customers of downtown businesses will be turned off by the prospect of paying any amount, however reasonable or insubstantial. Those customers will not be attracted by the targeted 15% vacancy rate. It is that group of customers which will stop shopping downtown when paid parking is instituted. We don't know if this is small group or a large group of customers. However, once the pay stations go in, it will be hard to go back to free parking should the merchants feel remorseful.

by tacoma1 on 8/18/2008 @ 1:45pm
Here is another interesting link with UCLA Urban Planning Professor Dr. Donald Shoup regarding: "The High Cost of Free Parking." One point that he makes is that the revenue collected could and should be spent in the business district that it is collected from. Once that money is reinvested in the local business community, people want to come to the area to shop, people have enough available parking, and the businesses support the parking fees.


by fredo on 8/18/2008 @ 8:06pm
The Urbanist has started a very timely topic here and the subject is of great importance to Tacoma's development. I'm a little surprised there isn't more discussion taking place.

I'm convinced we should try market rate pricing to address the parking problems not only in the downtown area but along the 6th Ave.corridor where disputes over parking routinely result in shouting matches.

by NineInchNachos on 8/18/2008 @ 8:51pm
the urbanist has a long, obsessed history with parking.


by Erik on 8/18/2008 @ 8:53pm
I'm convinced we should try market rate pricing to address the parking problems not only in the downtown area but along the 6th Ave.corridor where disputes over parking routinely result in shouting matches.

Yeah. 6th Avenue parking management is pretty sad.

The city stops all parking monitoring and enforcement at 6:00 p.m. when the demand for parking is peaking.

One is allowed to park continuously from 4:00 p.m. Friday to 10:00 a.m. Monday on 6th Avenue itself making the area a de facto camping ground even through the peak parking demand periods are on Friday and Saturday night.

Other cities have enforcement to 8:00 p.m. or even later which would certainly help 6th Avenue area.

Thus, much of the 6th Avenue problem is lack of normal monitoring and management at peak periods.

The North End Neighborhood Council recommended monitoring on 6th Avenue of parking until 10:00 p.m.


by Erik on 8/18/2008 @ 9:09pm
the urbanist has a long, obsessed history with parking.

Tacoman have no alternative but to look at the city's mishaps re: land use and parking garages and parking lots:

Thanks RR. However, you could have linked to my document archive:


by NineInchNachos on 8/18/2008 @ 9:17pm
yes your document archive or manuscript museum is something all feed tacomans can be proud of

by FunkomaVintage on 8/19/2008 @ 9:39am
um, I hate to be the only one in Tacoma that will say that Tacoma is so cool, that two Flipping Hour of "free" parking isn't enough to do all the fun stuff one wants to do in downtown. Lunch and shopping, and an art museum requires more time than 2 quickie hours. I hear this complaint all the time from my customers!!
If the city wants everyone to bus/train/bike/walk in to the downtown core, it really needs to tell folks there's free parking near the Dome fer instance, and then bus or train in. Some of us can't always public trans in.....we have more than a backpack and a bottle of water when we go to work. But I do get real sick of the prissy middle management office worker driving his SUV in to town. What ....no buses in Puyallup??
And why didn't City Boss Eric ask me any questions? If anyone has had an opinion about Tacoma for um, decades, it's ME! Oh wait.....capitalism is supposed to make money on parking longer than an hour.....tell that to the Parking Witch.