A Primer on Portland’s Possible Permit Programs

Recently an advisory committee tasked with making advising  City Council on parking management tools for Portland neighborhoods finished up and made a recommendation.Parking Permit Sign

The recommended program design, which passed unanimously, has several key features:

  • Residential permit zones will be drawn around 20 or more contiguous block faces (4000 sq/ft) in residential (R) zones.  Permit zones will not encompass commercial (C) or mixed-use zones (MU).  Many of the higher density apartments with little or no on-site parking are built in commercial or mixed-use zones.
  • Residents in mixed-use or commercial zones may not be able to buy permits. Priority access to permits will be given to residents inside the zones.  Since zones can’t surround C or MU property, residents in those zones may be excluded.
  • The number of permits sold will be limited to less than the number of estimated on-street spaces.  This is fairly novel in permit programs in the USA.  Most permit programs sell 2-5X the number of permits as spaces.  These permits are often pejoratively labeled “hunting licenses.”
  • The price for a permit will include non-administrative fees.  Nearly all permit programs charge a very low rate.  Portland’s area permit programs cost only $0.16/per day ($60/year).  Portland’s permits will probably be more than people are expecting.  For one, selling a limited number permits means the per-capita administrative costs will be higher as fixed costs will be divided among less permits.  Furthermore, the committee recommended that PBOT collect additional money to pay for Transportation Demand Management (think: bike maps, discounts for car share, discounts for bus passes) and small local safety improvements.  At this point (1/2/2016), no one knows how much they will be, any claims to the contrary are false.
  • People with driveways could pay more.  People with multiple cars pay more, too.  Permits will be progressively priced, the second will cost more than the first, etc.  Residents with off-street parking will pay a higher price for their first permit.
  • Neighbors will be able to customize the program. With staff assistance, neighbors and business representatives will decide how many permits to sell, whether to sell any guaranteed permits to residents outside the zone, desired hours of enforcement, and length of visitor hours.
  • Permits will be sold in multiple rounds.  A first round of permit sales will be open to households in the permit zone, plus any others as decided by the permit committee.  It is possible households will be limited to one or two permits in this round.  A second round of sales will be offered which would be open to the wider community, as well as households in the zone seeking additional permits.

Nothing is set in stone with this proposal, but a unanimous committee recommendation is a great first step.  Join PDX Shoupistas to help pass the best policy possible.

12 Responses to “A Primer on Portland’s Possible Permit Programs

  • Brian Posewitz
    1 year ago

    Congratulations on finding unanimity. I’m sure it was a lot of work.

    What is the “Shoupista” logic of a parking permit program that gives residents and businesses in a particular area superior access to the parking in that area? (I admit to not having read the entire Shoup tome but have heard the summary versions.)

    My concern with permit programs (assuming they are limited to some people and not others) is that they perpetuate the idea that some people have a superior claim to the public right of way even though they did not pay any more for it (i.e., the costs are shared across a much larger area). Why not just price the space, give everyone access, and let the market figure out who has the greatest need? For similar reasons, I hate the idea of charging people more if they have a driveway. It seems to just inject a value judgment — that people with driveways are less deserving — into what should be a market-driven resource allocation. (If people without driveways need it more, they will pay more.) Why should someone who paid for off-street parking (which many people seem to want to encourage) have to pay more for access to public property that they paid for on essentially the same basis as someone without a driveway? How does that change the analysis of whether to pay for an off-street parking space in buying a home or renting an apartment (yes, I will have a space, but I will have to pay more for a parking permit)? Will it result in less off-street parking being created?

    Even assuming I have a point in there somewhere, I know these things face a lot of practical/political realities and that one cannot let perfect be the enemy of the good. Just trying to contribute to the discussion. Thanks for your efforts at reform.

    • More good insights and questions Brian.

      The main reason to be willing to compromise on the exclusivity (and Shoup said as much in his Op-Ed a few years ago) is to prevent further minimum parking requirements. Perhaps we can, eventually, roll back the minimums we, perhaps foolishly, enacted in 2013. Many of us (I think you included) argued that permits, rather than minimums, would be a better solution then.

      I certainly think a market rate where all may park and all must pay is the right solution, and maybe we can get there, but there was no chance of that coming out of the committee. My hope is, through the work of this group, that we can convince the city and enough of our neighbors that we will get what we pay for. If we have cheap permits, the inequitable system might lead to some more on-site parking, and maybe less car ownership, but all the permits will always be sold and we’ll still see crowding. If we pay closer to market rates, people will get rid of, or store away, rarely used cars, freeing supply.

      Regarding driveways, remember that a driveway takes up a space on-street. That’s the main logic, I think, behind that suggestion. If your curb-cut is taking a space that could be permitted, it counts as a space. You don’t have to pay for it monthly, so you’re still coming out on top. If your driveway is unusable, then you should be able to re-curb it and get a permit at the cheaper price.

  • Brian Posewitz
    1 year ago

    Thanks. Good points (especially about the curb-cut taking a space, which had not occurred to me).

  • As I read these comments all I can think of is: we could charge folks with driveways for the curb cut – equal to 1 space. if they wanted to stop using it as a driveway then they could stop paying. I’m not sure the politics is right but this was the conclusion I got from your comment.

    A seperate idea would be to allow folks to rent a space on the street (a dedicated space just for them 24/7) for a (substantially higher) fee. This would discourage folks from building new driveways

    • Allan, I think you’re correct in that the politics wouldn’t be good on that, even though it is fair. It will be hard enough to get the price reasonable (and by that I mean high) as it is. I think the higher price for the first permit for them is a step in the right direction, at least it encourages actually using your driveway, if you have one.

      I doubt we’ll see a ton of private driveways built, in most of the city there just isn’t enough true congestion to justify it. Some folks might look into it, but it’s not cheap and even if the cost of a permit is a couple hundred a year, it will take a while to pay back the construction and come out ahead. By then we’ll have robot cars, right?

  • wow, what a terrible concept. This is like saying only landowners can vote. Sorry renters, you have no rights. If you can’t afford a house, then no car for you. The only fair program is one where everyone pays the same based on expected demand.

    This is not a great first step. In terms of equity, this is actually worse than requiring parking minimums. This will essentially force parking minimums and it will make buildings in small commercial lots useless. I DID NOT REALIZE THIS SITE HAD SUCH GOALS: EXTREME NIMBY. I’m very disappointed in the Shoupistas — this goes against everything I though you guys were about. Public resources should be public and accessed through a completely fair system, not handed out to small groups of nearby residents to set rules in any way they like.

    • I agree with you 100%, Patrick, that the most fair program would be one where we use a uniform price auction to find the right price for permits and sell them at that rate (with discounts for low income folks, most likely). This blog and organization have advocated for that policy, I told City Council as much, in person, on December 13th.

      On the other hand, parking is not a human right and to compare the inability to get a cheap parking permit to being denied the right to vote is quite an exaggeration. Parking is not a 1st rate need for humans who live in the neighborhoods which would most benefit from permits. Grandfathering in permits for people who live there and then allowing new residents to decide whether they can make it w/o an on-street space is reasonable, although admittedly not as good as an auction.

      I disagree that eliminating minimums and adding permits will be worse than having parking minimums. The goal of a permit program (even one that sells cheap permits) is to counter neighborhood arguments against the new developments. Developers will determine if they can attract tenants without parking and our bet is that, increasingly they will be able to.

      If you still think the Portland Shoupistas are NIMBY, well I don’t know what else to say. We are a progress based organization, which means sometimes we’re going to have to accept compromises. Plenty of people think that these incremental steps are radical and put up a fierce opposition. If you can organize a more effective effort to enact better reforms, please get to work and we will gladly join in!

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