Chart of the Day: Parking Prices in US Metros vs. Transit Usage

Via the peerless City Observatory, here’s a new report that measures the relative cost of downtown parking in US metros. (Note: I’m not sure if they used Minneapolis, Saint Paul, or both for this study…)

You can see the chart here, with Minneapolis-Saint Paul highlighted:


Click on image for link to interactive version.

The report’s authors followed up the chart with an admittedly unrefined analysis of the connection between the price of parking and transit usage:

In the United States, the majority of commuters travel alone by private automobile to their place of work.  But in some places–in large cities, and in dense downtowns–more people travel by transit, bicycle or walk to work.  It’s worth asking why more people don’t drive:  after all the cost of car ownership is essentially the same everywhere in the US.  The short answer is that in cities, parking isn’t free. And when parking isn’t free, more people take transit or other modes of transportation.

To see just how strong an explanation that parking prices provide for transit use, we’ve plotted the number of transit trips per capita in each of the largest metropolitan areas against the typical price of a month of parking in the city center.  Each data point represents a single metropolitan area.  There’s a very strong positive correlation between transit rides per capita and parking rates.  Cities with higher parking rates have more transit rides per capita than cities with lower parking rates.  The statistical correlation between the two measures is extremely strong:  the coefficient of determination (R2) is .83, suggesting that parking rates statistically explain 83 percent of the variation in transit use among cities.

Here’s the chart they mention, with the Twin Cities highlighted:


Click on image for the link to the interactive version.

The resulting relationship convinces me that, if we want to begin shifting our cities’ travel patterns, it’s crucial to make paid parking the default expectation in transit-friendly areas. There’s no getting around it, in my opinion. The chart shows that you can’t have it both ways; in other words, you cannot have good transit usage and free parking in urban areas. Or, as Joe Cortwright at City Observatory suggests, “there is much more opportunity to influence travel behavior by pricing than we commonly appreciate […] pricing of parking in some metropolitan areas is doing is correcting for the market failure of not pricing roads.”

Another takeaway for me is that all parking is relative. What constitutes a “parking problem” in different cities, whether parking is expensive and/or difficult, varies tremendously from city to city.  I call this “the Relativity Rule of parking,” that parking is infinitely variable and always depends on local context.

The Relatively Rule comes with something I call the “Complaint Creativity Corollary”, which states that it is always possible to complain about parking, no matter where you are or how cheap and easy it is to store your car. I would bet that even in Oklahoma City, which ranks the lowest on this list (and by funny coincident, the birthplace of the parking meter) people can find ways to complain about parking.

10 thoughts on “Chart of the Day: Parking Prices in US Metros vs. Transit Usage

  1. Steve Brandt

    This suggests that it was Mpls alone: “we looked for parking lots and structures near the City Hall of each of the largest cities in each of the 50 largest metropolitan areas.”

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    Even in the parking candyland’s of suburbia people will complain. The other day some people in the Panera in Vadnais Heights were complaining that they had to park ‘way at the other end of the parking lot’. The ‘other end’ I found out was 3 doors down in front of D&L Liquors. The measurement on Google maps from the front door of Panera to their car is 117′.

    Interestingly they were talking about never achieving their fitbit goals. Well the walk from their car to Panera and back would have given them each about 90 steps. I wonder why achieving their goal is so difficult?

    Perhaps after lunch they planned to drive over to Xperience Fitness (715′ or 305 steps via best walking route) to use the treadmills?

    1. Al DavisonAl Davison

      I’ve always found it kind of odd that people drive to gyms to get exercise because they are rather inactive during their daily work/life routines.

      1. Al DavisonAl Davison

        Many don’t even factor in trying to walk more around their neighborhood or and/workplace, as that can make their lifestyles more active.

        I’ve always figured with the high density of gyms (i.e. I believe there are 2 gyms near me that are about a 10 to 20 min walk from my house), you think more people would be willing to walk or bike to them (at least during fair/good weather).

        1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

          Yes. BUT… 🙂

          – People sometimes or often don’t have safe places to walk or ride.

          – They don’t think about walking or riding (mindshare).

          – The only bikes they have are recreational bikes that aren’t as easy as transportation bikes.

          – They haven’t walked or ridden any distance in so long that they’ve become to overweight or sedentary to think that they can do it.

  3. David MarkleDavid Markle

    The statement, “And when parking isn’t free, more people take transit or other modes of transportation” seems to state a simple cause and effect relationship, which may not be true.

    By the way, Oklahoma City is unbelievably spread out. I once worked part-time for an interstate trucking firm that had a full scale terminal there but simply gave all incoming freight to a local cartage company for delivery; doing it themselves wasn’t worth the time and trouble.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      It has good research to back it up actually. If you ever have the chance, the entire TCRP Report 95, is a good read (like actually, I enjoyed it), but parking fees and their effect on transit ridership is chapter 13, and yes, as prices are implemented and increased for parking, drive alone mode share drops and is picked up primarily by public transit. THAT SAID!!! IF an area does not have adequate transit options, there is no way for people to switch modes, and they will usually just pay for the increase, but if we are relating this to Minneapolis, then this caveat is null.

    1. Joseph TottenJoseph Totten

      The paper expressed inadequate in terms of office parks in the suburbs or areas where only one or two lines can access the area. From Lake Street to downtown, there would be “adequate” transit.

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