One concern people have with the idea of higher street parking fees is the burden this would place on the poor. This kind of worry is, I think, often overstated — middle class people underestimate the extent to which poor people do less driving than the middle class and are in fact the primary victims of driving-oriented public policy.

But another point I would make about this is that a great many of things we would like to do to help poor cost money. And so to do them, you need to find ways to secure revenue. And revenue-enhancing measure is going to be politically difficult to pass and is going to cause some hardships. One consequence of this is that it’s good to look at revenue measures that also accomplish other policy objectives. Auctioning carbon permits will help avert catastrophic climate change and raise funds that can be used to, among other things, further help the cause. Charging market rates at parking meters alleviates parking shortages and reduces idling, thereby reducing emissions and congestion. Congestion pricing for roads reduces traffic jams. Unlike many other kinds of taxes, these car-related are measures that will increase economic efficiency and boost growth.

As an illustration, the DC Council is going to consider a bill to raise parking meter fees and use the money to continue funding the important and effective “housing first” anti-homelessness program that, otherwise, will get the axe due to the economic downturn. The increased fees would probably be useful on their own terms even if the money was just buried in mines because of its beneficial impact on the parking/traffic situation, but the fact that the revenue can actually be put to use on crucial social services further bolsters the case for the step.