Tacoma Urbanist

Sep. 2, 2010 at 12:44am

Will the City of Tacoma Be Able and Willing to Get Parking Rates Right?

With pay stations going in around Tacoma, the question remains whether the City of Tacoma will be willing to adjust the price of parking so as to benefit rather than harm downtown Tacoma.

If the price is set too low for parking there will be no parking spaces available.  If the price is set too high causing a greater vacancy than 15 percent (one out of 7 spaces empty), potential shoppers and other visitors will be driven out of downtown Tacoma harming the city. If there is already a 15 percent vacancy in an area, the price of parking should be free.

Will the City of Tacoma take the recommendations of Dr. Shoup and remove the counterproductive time limitation for parking?


Parking meters were removed in the 1970s in Tacoma because it was perceived that the demand was too weak for parking price charged and the meters were driving people out of downtown.


In areas where demand is weak and significant parking vacancies occur, will the city reduce the price of parking in the area of weak demand as recommended by Dr. Shoup or will the city collect whatever money it can for the benefit of the city treasury oblivious to the consequences?

Current demand for Parking downtown

The area around UWT certainly has sufficient demand for parking.  However, the north portion of Pacific Avenue and streets such as 7th Avenue already have a greater vacancies than 15 percent downtown.

Time Limits

Unfortunately, the city erroneously choose to go against the best practices for parking management as discussed by Professor Donald Shoup:

DS: The other thing I think that San Francisco is doing and that Redwood City did and that Ventura has done is eliminate any time limits on the meters. They removed the time limits and they rely on pricing to create turnover and vacancies and this has been the most popular part of the policy in Redwood City. People now don't have to worry -- a driver and three friends want to go for dinner some place and they park -- they don't have to worry that they have to get back to their meter in an hour or two hours. Whatever they're doing, they don't feel like they're pushed around so much by the city.  It still creates a lot of turnover because the price is higher, but the user is more in control of their life than when somebody who manages meters says you can only stay here for an hour or two hours.

Imposing time limits shows that the City simply did not trust or understand a market based approach to managing parking spaces. A 2 hour time limit places a scarlet letter of sorts on visitors downtown making them abandon downtown even with available empty spots available to avoid being ticketed.


I predict that at 75 cents per hour, the south side of downtown will benefit and the north end of downtown Tacoma will experience vacancies far higher than 15 percent much of the day.  If the city does not quickly lower the price of parking in the north end of downtown Tacoma to compensate for the weaker demand, businesses will soon be detrimentally effected.

What is your prediction of what will happen when the pay stations come online?

Here is Professor Shoup's video on the correct setting of parking rates:

comments [12]  |  posted under Tacoma


by Erik on 9/2/2010 @ 1:18am
Many more articles by Dr. Shoup can be found here:


by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/2/2010 @ 1:29am
If people don't want to come to downtown when it has free parking why would they want to come when the city starts charging for parking? Is downtown a more magical place when you have to pay to park on the street? Will people think, "gee, they are charging for parking, people must really think this area is cool"?

by L.S.Erhardt on 9/2/2010 @ 1:43am
Cost implies value.

While I don't think that the city will properly implement parking rates, I'm not 100% sold or turned off to paid parking.

If something is free, most people associate no or lesser value. If it's too high, people feel ripped off. If something is priced at what seems to be perceived as "fair", they will pay with little ill regard.

How this will play out will be determined by how willing the city is to think for once.
Meanwhile, I'll be parking at the T-Dome station for free and riding the bLink for free as well.
I'm cheap.

by dolly varden on 9/2/2010 @ 7:54am
I'm with you on lifting the time restrictions. And yes CS, I do think there's a little bit of a cool factor to have pay stations like real cities have.

Meanwhile, I'll keep biking and walking downtown and leaving my car at home most of the time.

by Crenshaw Sepulveda on 9/2/2010 @ 9:41am
Maybe I'll chain my bike to one of the parking stations. Not many places to park a bike downtown.

by dolly varden on 9/2/2010 @ 10:39am
Yeah, I kind of missed the meters in Seattle when they were replaced with pay stations, which are too big for u-locks...

by Erik on 9/2/2010 @ 12:02pm
One more parking meeting:

Learn more about the status of on-street parking pay stations system in at a public meeting today, Sept. 2 starting at 5 p.m. at the Pantages Theater (9th Street and Broadway in Studio 2. To reach the studio, walk past the box office and take the silver elevator to the second floor.). This is the last public meeting before the pay stations are operational on Sept. 20, 2010.


by Erik on 9/2/2010 @ 4:36pm
Cutting edge coverage in the Volcano:

The Tacoma Urbanist asks, "Will the City of Tacoma be able and willing to get parking rates right?" Will a price raise the perceived value of downtown? We'll see.


by Erik on 9/2/2010 @ 4:39pm
Now the BIA Blog weighs in:

When paid on-street parking starts in downtown Tacoma on September 20th downtown employees and other drivers looking to park for stays longer than 2 hours should consider parking in an off-street garage or lot.


by The Jinxmedic on 9/3/2010 @ 10:06am

by california on 9/3/2010 @ 11:08am
Oh jeez I'll never forget the year I paid $1,500.00 in parking tx in San Francisco. The job had a satellite office there and I don't naturally stop and take a break every 1 hr. and 50 min. to feed the meter. Fool for work. Bugger.

by jenyum on 9/3/2010 @ 1:57pm
It's hard to find un-reserved paid parking lots in Tacoma. I see the map the BIA provided, but in practice you could go for blocks and not find a lot that doesn't say "reserved" in all available spaces. Sometimes they are almost entirely empty, every time I go by. (Like the one next to Smooth & Juicy)