Portland’s city government is finally taking steps to manage on-street parking, but new permit programs will likely have to be more fair to renters if they’re going to get approval from City Council.
On January 24th, Portland City Council voted to approve a Parking Management Toolkit and directed the Portland Bureau of Transportation (PBOT) to seek out willing neighborhood partners to develop residential parking permit pilots. Once neighborhoods are identified, City Council will need to authorize the parameters of the new permit programs and comments from the commissioners exposed concerns about equity with the city’s current pilot program in NW Portland.
While most residents in NW Portland are currently guaranteed access to permits for as many cars as they own, people living in buildings with 30 or more units may not be able to buy a permit. Only 60% of units in existing buildings can get a permit under the policy and new buildings will be limited to 40% of units. A lawyer for MultifamilyNW (the landlord lobby) argued, earlier this month, that the rationing was discriminatory and potentially unconstitutional.
MultifamilyNW Has A Point
Consider the case of former Tonight Show host Jay Leno. Mr. Leno, currently star of Jay Leno’s Garage owns, by at least one estimate, 169 cars. If Leno purchased a home on NW 22nd Avenue with off-street parking for two vehicles, PBOT would be compelled to sell him permits for the remaining 167 cars for the, relatively low total cost of $2505 per month. With some diligence, Leno could park his cars on 22nd Ave and take up, literally, every on-street parking space between W Burnside and NW Northrup on the avenue.
But if Jay Leno moved into an apartment building with 30 units on NW 22nd Avenue he would have to compete for the 18 permits available for his building. The rest of his cars would have to be garaged at his expense, which in NW Portland would probably cost $100 or more a month.
We Can Do Better
Fortunately, there are lots of good ideas of how to manage on-street parking fairly and equitably, and perhaps City Council will have the courage to let PBOT and it’s volunteer neighborhoods try them out.
The NW Portland permit program, and future permit programs, should limit the number of permits available per household and/or use progressive pricing to discourage permit hoarding. Households seeking a second (or third) permit, or households with off-street parking, would pay a higher price for each additional permit up to the limit.
The city should not pick winners and losers for access to public parking. All residents should have equal access to permits in the neighborhood they live in, regardless of whether they live in an apartment, a commercial zone, or a single family home. The best, and fairest, way to allocate permits (assuming the demand exceeds supply) is to use an auction to distribute permits, specifically a uniform price auction. A uniform price auction asks participants to bid the maximum amount they would be willing to pay for a permit, but all permits are sold at the lowest price which clears the market. Most winning bidders will pay less than their maximum bid. Low income residents can be provided with cash subsidies from the proceeds, which they can use to bid on a permit or use as they otherwise see fit.
An Ounce Of Prevention…
Regardless of the methods chosen for rationing and distribution, it is critical that PBOT and City Council move quickly to develop a program and offer it to the rest of the city’s neighborhoods. Few, if any, other neighborhoods in Portland have parking as congested as NW Portland. Other neighborhoods are unlikely to need to claw back thousands of permits from existing residents. The key is to begin managing parking before it becomes a crisis.
Portland took a step in the right direction this week and it’s important to keep moving.