Lyft v. parking

I seem to be on a safe streets, anti-car roll this week so I’ll keep rolling. This article quotes a Lyft spokesman and drivers about how people are using ride sharing services to avoid having to deal with parking.

“They say, ‘I can’t afford to park down there,’” Gregory Goodman said. “And if they end up parking down there they end up with a $75 ticket.”

Lyft Philly GM Andrew Woolf confirmed that a significant portion of Lyft’s business comes from people who don’t want to park their cars. This has become a trend for commuters elsewhere, too, so much so that office landlords in New Jersey are beginning to offer Lyft and Uber subsidies.

Much of the time, these trips to avoid parking are to the airport or SEPTA stations, but Lyft is used for far more routine parking jobs.

I think this is slightly missing the point. The point of transportation is to get where you need to go, when you need to go there, at a reasonable financial price. People in relatively compact cities have always had more options in this regard than everyone else – walking, biking, public transportation, and taxis. On any given day, someone may decide one of these options is cheaper and/or more convenient than driving and parking their private vehicle. Others are going to decide that having a private vehicle is no longer worth the trouble (count me in this camp, since 2004). But Uber and Lyft are game changing because they are a much better option in many cases than these older options, and in less dense communities they are providing the first viable alternative to private vehicles that people have ever had access to. So people are making their choices.

Like I said, I haven’t owned a private vehicle since 2004. But I used to rent cars and use share cars (the kind you sign out and drive yourself) frequently, but lately I hardly ever do either of these things. I take Uber and Lyft instead. Here in Philadelphia, our public transportation agency is set to raise fares yet again to a minimum of $2.50, and they need to be careful because Uber Pool and the Lyft equivalent (I forget what it’s called) are going to be competitive for some rides. So it could be the beginnings of a public transportation death spiral. What they need to do, of course, is adopt the Uber Pool type technology to public transportation, and offer flexible routes and timing. All is not quite perfect in corporate Uber land, of course, and public transportation agencies could actually take advantage of this if they are smart and flexible enough. But I wouldn’t put my money on that.

There is still an irony when we talk about parking. Gradually, fewer private cars will mean less parking demand and less competition for the parking spaces we have already built, or that we will continue to build through misguided policies in some places. That will mean less angst about parking and actually provide some counter-incentive to giving up your private vehicle, so at some point it will settle into some kind of equilibrium, at least until the next technological disruption or in a few progressive places that realize they can use all that land for something better than parking.

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