In the past Market Urbanism has been lukewarm on parking “privatization” (Adam on Chicago and me on LA), but I’m becoming more and more convinced that it’s a bad idea. To start off with, these “privatizations” are actually private contracting schemes – the “owners” are barely even allowed to set their own prices, nevermind decide to use their land for, *gasp* something other than parking. The possible benefit from the market urbanism perspective is that they seem to be accompanied by the raising of parking prices, but the potential pitfalls are actually quite large. Yonah Freemark explains, in a commentary on NJ Transit’s plan to “privatize” its parking lots:
Moreover, the privatization of parking management prevents the agency from engaging in what is perhaps the most promising use of that resource: Redeveloping it into transit-oriented developments. In places like the San Francisco Bay Area, former transit parking lots have been successfully morphed into neighborhoods where people live in close proximity to public transportation and therefore use it frequently. Will the privatization deal make such projects impossible?
My only quibble with Yonah (and just about everybody) is that the market’s contribution to urbanism is maligned and neglected enough as it is – do we really have to associate yet another sprawl-inducing policy intervention with “privatization”? But beyond that, he’s got a point – rather than taking on entrenched suburban interests, we’re just adding another layer of government dependents, this time of the monied corporate variety (bidders include KKR, Morgan Stanley, Carlyle, and JP Morgan). The land on which transit parking lots sit is uniquely positioned to be converted into dense development, and the only thing worse than sitting on the land would be for the agencies to sign away their rights to change that within the foreseeable future.
The good news, however, is in the link he supplies: the number of transit agencies choosing to develop their parking lots appears to be higher than the number of those who are entrenching them with private contractors. The TODs that go up are considerably more managed and insider-dominated than I would like – few upzonings take place without a specific person in mind. But then again, even around the turn of the century, when private urban mass transit and development was at its pinnacle, corruption and favoritism dogged the deals.