Parking Permits for the Carfree

Like many other Cambridge residents, we recently had to renew our parking permit. Yes, we get a parking permit, but it’s a temporary pass which we let visitors use, since our condo has only residential street parking available.

This year the rates went up to $20, which is no problem. I’m happy to pay for the privilege of having visitors park near my home, and I think the City of Cambridge should be compensated for the fact that my visitors are bringing a car into the city.

But there’s one small problem. Residents who are parking a car in Cambridge all the time also pay $20 for a parking pass. Not only do car owners pay the same amount that we do as a carfree family, but they get a visitor parking pass for thrown in for free!

Don’t get me wrong. I know that lots of Cambridge residents need their cars, and need someplace to park them. But those cars use space and city resources, and they create pollution that the city must cope with. Car owners should compensate the city fairly for the benefit of parking a car on the street every single day of the year. I honestly don’t know what that fair compensation should be, but I’m quite confident it should be more than the compensation I provide the city for the few days a year in which I have a visitor with a car parked on the street.

If you are a Cambridge resident, consider dropping a line to one of our fine city councilors letting them know that we should be encouraging people to reduce car dependence, and that car owners should pay more for their parking passes than the carfree. And with that off my chest, maybe I’ll start trying to figure out why people who buy brand new electric vehicles get a tax credit, but I don’t get anything for not buying a car at all.

About Angela

Angela is an associate professor of mathematics and enjoys writing, reading, and talking to people about her bike. She's the proud mother of two cute kids, H and R.
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9 Responses to Parking Permits for the Carfree

  1. Sheila says:

    Just found your site. Excellent points in this post. I have to admit I’m usually fuming on a daily basis about how our society provides more incentives to drive than to take mass transit or walk/cycle. It’s quite ridiculous we’re still talking about obesity and health issues in our society while continueing to implement policies at the local and national levels that actually incentivize unhealthy (for us and the environment) habits. Don’t even get me started on the discrimination/unbalanced incentives you touch on in your post – completely inane!!

    In the end, I have to convince myself it will eventually change because of blogs like this where these obvious conflicts are discussed, with people taking efforts to change their own habits (thus challenging the status quo) and with changes in government/policy/law.

    Thanks for your blog and all you do to make a difference!

  2. Leslie says:

    I think this is handled in the excise tax that car owners pay to the city.

  3. Angela says:

    @Sheila — Thanks for the mutual outrage! It’s easy to get worked up by all the subsidization of cars. Mass transit get subsidized as well, of course, but not at nearly the same rate.

    @Leslie — I’ve just been talking to some folks about this actually, so I had to go and do a little digging about the excise tax. I can’t find anything that discusses the purpose of the tax, but it does in Massachusetts go into the local town’s coffers. It’s $25 per year on every $1000 of value, where they use market value of car and then decrease that value over time, maxing out at 10% of current market value after 5 years. It’s a useful step, but I’m not convinced it’s the same thing. The info I’ve found about it talks about it being “tangible personal property tax” which would make the tax more about the property, and less about the impact of the car. The tax is also based on the valuation of the vehicle, which also says to me that it is not about mitigating the impact of the car, but about taxing the value of the property. On the other hand, this does feel a bit like a “sin” tax as in the tax on alcohol, but I’m honestly not really sure what those taxes are for either (except for simply raising money). I think the excise tax can be a help to a community in terms of dealing with cars, but I think that in communities like Cambridge with limited parking resources, we should also be charging for actual usage.

  4. Leslie says:

    Gasoline taxes address the usage issue and I would agree with you if you were to assert that gasoline taxes be higher. Massachusetts already has relatively high gasoline taxes compared to other states.

    The reasoning behind having excise taxes based on the value of the car is an attempt to make it more progressive because, in theory, wealthier people own more expensive cars. The problem with this is that (with the exception of high performance race cars) it’s older cars with lower valuations that contribute the most to air pollution. Then we get into a debate about whether we should be imposing lower taxes on people who can buy more expensive, newer, and lower emissions vehicles. The way the government seems to be addressing it is to have a more progressive tax on all cars and then create incentives (like cash for clunkers) for car owners to own smaller and more fuel efficient cars.

    So, in summary, we have a fee to park (per car), we have a tax for owning a car (per car based on assessed market value), and we have a tax on gasoline usage. There are also tax incentives and car insurance incentives in Massachusetts that I haven’t touched upon for public transportation usage. I agree with you in your premise but think it’s worth pointing out what’s already being done because it’s not as though we are starting from a point of nothing.

  5. Layla says:

    Yeah, I guess the gov is just lobbied up with the pro-consumption ppl (aka big money), yikes!!

    Sheila – great point & I hope it’s true too!! :)

    A&D, that’s odd about the parking permits – so both you and your visitors then have to pay? They pay each time? (I remember our family parking over at Granny’s many times, she had the remotes and had to pay for those yearly – or was it a one-off? otherwise it was free.) And people who use it every day don’t pay any extra… I think it’s a ‘Wild West’ out there, each town/city for themselves (at least here in Slovenia, possibly worldwide). Will be interesting to read about any developments!

    Just found you over at Rowdy Kittens, you’re greatly inspiring!! :)

  6. Mark says:

    When I lived in Cambridge (also car-free), I was outraged by how cheap parking permits are. Unfortunately the only people who really seem to care about it are car-owners, and they want to keep it as cheap as possible. So it’s a real battle anytime there’s a suggestion of raising the rates.

    Ironically, the low cost of the permit makes it more likely that people will keep cars in Cambridge when really they should sell them and use Zipcar. Even more ironically there’s a constituency in Cambridge that’s trying to keep Zipcar out of neighborhoods because people rent their off street space to Zipcar and then rely on on street parking. It’s a form of arbitrage that’s made possible by the insanely cheap cost of on-street parking.

    MIT did something really innovative in in the late 1990′s. They informed parkers that they would raise rates 10% every year for as long as it takes to solve the parking problem (solve meaning the price of parking gets so high that people take the T, ride a bike, or walk to campus). Ten percent doesn’t seem like much– but essentially it ensures that the rates go up, and people don’t complain much and most importantly, they know it’s coming every year.

  7. Rob says:

    Excise taxes and gasoline taxes hit people who store their cars in private driveways. Consider, owning a private driveway has it’s own cost (i.e. monthly mortgage). The point about renting private spaces to ZipCar and using street parking is equally appalling.

    The only line of defense against “Resident Only” parking is the annual parking permit. What do Harvard, Lesley, and MIT charge for parking in their lots? I think $300 would be fair, with special waivers for low-income families who rely on cars. I also like the “increase 10% per year until the problem is solved” suggestion.

    Anyway, when I lived in Cambridge (in 2009), with a car, it was infuriating that there were frequently no parking spaces close to my apartment because they oversell their precious parking passes. Can you explain that one? It seems NOBODY is happy with the way things are currently structured.

  8. Rob says:

    Just a thought… if the city *did* gather $300 for each resident parking permit every year they would build up a good-sizes budget to buy bikes for the low-income families whose welfare needs to be protected. Or maybe they could fund a really amazing “bicycle sharing” program (bikes parked around the city are free for 30-minutes as long as you drop them off at another bike-sharing station when you’re done with them).

  9. Brisbenjamin says:

    I’ve started ranting about this in my home city of Brisbane. I argue with people who say that because I don’t bay rego i shouldn’t be able to use the roads. I’m not sure what the situation is in your state but here annual road expenditure is 13Bil of which 1Bil is from road tax. the rest is paid for by people like you and me out of regular taxes… grrrrrr

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