When the temperature is 20 below, it’s tough to walk several blocks. So if North Dakota lifts its parking meter ban, the downtown merchants could be happy.
But not necessarily.
Why North Dakota Has No Parking Meters
North Dakota is the only state that bans parking meters.
Legend has it that during 1948 a North Dakota businessman was chatting with a friend before depositing his coin into the parking meter when his car was ticketed. Furious, the man sought to ban the meters. He flew around the state to build support, got the issue on the state ballot, and won.
Now legislators have taken the first step toward a reversal. Saying municipalities need local control, they want to eliminate the state ban. Proponents say meters will generate revenue and prevent local workers from dominating downtown parking. The people who disagree say that meters would diminish the number of downtown shoppers.
So far the North Dakota Senate has voted to permit meters. Now the House has to decide.
Our Bottom Line: The Tragedy of the Commons
Actually, there is no such thing as free parking.
When a resource is owned by no one- and therefore everyone–we tend to overuse it. Called the tragedy of the commons, the excessive use of parking spaces creates a cost for all of us. Though not money, that cost includes the time spent looking for a space and the aggravation that certain people are “hogging” the existing spaces. It is also possible that stores lose customers on frigid days because no nearby parking is available.
With parking meters, the costs shift. Yes, there is money spent. But that charge creates the incentive to limit the usage. As a result, stores could enjoy extra business, the municipality gets the revenue, and we spend less time circling the block.
Very soon, we will see which position North Dakota politicians support.
My sources and more: Yesterday’s WSJ story on North Dakota’s parking meters is part of a long history starting in 1935. On the economic side, it takes us to Professor Donald Shoup’s papers on the cost of free parking.