Paying Off Incumbents

As Atrios observed yesterday:

Even within dense cities, such as mine, residents push for increased parking requirements for new developments. In isolation, perhaps their demands make sense (though I think often they are self-defeating), but across numerous projects they make the city less pedestrian friendly, ultimately increasing the amount of traffic.

You see this go round and round all the time. In DC, people are afraid that if new developments are allowed that don’t contain vast parking structures, that everyone will own cars anyway and compete with them for underpriced (and therefore scarce) street parking. You can turn around and try to say that the correct solution to this is to stop underpricing street parking, but ultimately people would rather keep their cheap existing parking. I think the solution is to just accept the fact that the interests of people who don’t live in the city but could if more development were allowed are by nature going to be underrepresented in the political process. Then instead of trying to come up with a solution that’s both fair and broadly acceptable, we could just directly buy off the incumbents.

For example, you could drop mandated parking minimums and just say that anyone who applies for a new residential parking permit will need to pay some fee that’s much higher than the fee that applies to anyone who already has an RPP. And you can mandate that the excess revenue generated by the higher RPP fees be used, in the first interest, to finance reductions in RPP fees for incumbent permit holders. You could even make the incumbent RPPs transferable (but one-time only) so that incumbents could directly profit by selling their right to park to a newcomer.


None of that makes much sense on the policy merits. But it ought to be a policy that incumbent permit holders can embrace, and it’s also in the interests of incumbent residents who don’t drive, and it’s better policy than the mandate-ridden status quo. Best of all, over time the silly payoffs will phase out and we’ll be at a new equilibrium with more residents, fewer cars per resident, and less parking scarcity (presumably more cars and more parking overall since even without mandates many developers will want to build parking). Sometimes in the policy world it makes sense to just squarely face the interest group pressures and buy them off rather than trying to find some kind of halfway compromise between doing the right thing and doing nothing.