Easton Parking Meters: Greater Convenience vs. Low Prices

A half-dozen downtown Easton business owners don’t like the idea of going to $1 an hour for curb parking, but they need to give themselves more credit.

Downtown Easton is doing great. And it’s not because of 50 cent/hour parking. It’s because a lot of people have built really good businesses that people like. That’s why more people are coming downtown to spend money. Where to stash the car is at most a secondary concern.

Managing the parking demand is very important though, and the city has a critical responsibility to make sure that more demand for what downtown Easton’s businesses are selling translates into more customers for them, and not maddening traffic congestion.

Mike Fleck gets it half right here:

Council member Michael Fleck said years ago, it was important to have low parking rates to draw people and business to Easton’s struggling downtown. Now that things are better, it’s time to increase the rates to generate revenue, he said.

Mike’s right that higher curb rates won’t deter customers. But the reason to raise rates isn’t to get the money. That’s a nice side effect, since you can spend the money on useful public services like Easton Main St and the Ambassadors, but the main goal has to be demand management.

Now that things are better, city council has a choice between keeping curb rates low and having more traffic congestion, or raising curb rates and having more open curb spaces – that is, more convenient parking.

Everybody wants to have low curb prices *and* have an easy time finding a parking space, but you can’t have both. You have to choose. My view is that the convenient parking choice is always better.

What really frustrates customers about paid parking isn’t the amount of money, it’s the inconvenience. Finding quarters, driving around the block 5 times looking for a space. If the city can get rid of those problems – and it easily can – it’s worth the annoyance of higher curb prices.

Comments

  1. John says:

    So downtown Easton is working well, businesses are doing well, and everyone is happy about the progress made. and the direction of the town And even you admit it’s not a money grab (which shocks the crap out of me).

    Perfect time to change things!

    What if you fuck it up and it negatively impacts businesses? It took years to get downtown Easton to be on the upswing (more years than you’re alive there Junior) If people get comfortable going somewhere else it’ll get years to get them back.

    Stop thinking you always have to do something. Sometimes the best action is to not do anything.

    • Jon Geeting says:

      Believe me, I would love for city council to have nothing to do with setting the parking rates. The ideal is for them to pick a vacancy target (85%, or 1-2 spaces open on every block) and then let an algorithm adjust the prices automatically to hit that target. The issue of parking pricing should be completely non-political and totally separate from revenue considerations. It is very important not to overprice or underprice.

  2. Jon Geeting says:

    Also John, as a business owner how would you respond if, all of a sudden, people started wanting more of a product you were selling, but you were not able to quickly scale up production? You’d raise your prices right?

    • John says:

      It’s not that clear cut, there are many other factors in play. Just a few are: What’s the economy like and what are its short term prospects? What are the barriers to entry to my business – what competition can crop up and how quickly/easily? What competition already exists? What’s my downside risk if I ramp up prices and lose business – how can I regain lost business, how long will it take, and what will it cost to do so?

      Easton isn’t unique or special enough to think that it’s immune to pricing. There are great restaurants and stores all over the Lehigh Valley, and consumer habits can change very easily.

      This plan will make it more expensive to go to Easton. You have to be very careful with any such change as consumer behaviors can change on a whim, including for just a few dollars.

      If it were my decision, the last thing you want to do when the economy is still weak is make something more expensive for consumers, especially when you have a choice (not a money grab). Easton is working well, leave it alone for awhile.

  3. Jon Geeting says:

    It’s a little more clear cut since Easton has a monopoly on curb parking. The barriers to entry in the curb parking space market are extremely high.

    And actually, the city’s plan has been to introduce competition from the parking garage by having the parking garage undercut curb meters on price, and steal away “customers” who are in the market to rent a parking space for longer.

    John, you know I’m right about the economics here. You just don’t want to admit it because you think that if a business owner has a different view than me, they’re automatically right since I don’t own a business.

    But in this case my argument is more persuasive – the thing that’s more likely to put people off about Easton is the annoyance of cruising around for parking, not paying $1/hr which is the going rate for curb parking pretty much everywhere.

    • John says:

      You’re missing my point – it’s not parking that has the monopoly or competition, it’s whether Easton is.

      What I’m saying is that if you increase a customer’s cost to go to Easton then you provide that customer an incentive to go somewhere else.

      We both agree that right now Easton is working, and you’re willing to risk that. I’m not, especially in this economy.

      I do think that you don’t understand how tough it is to run a business successfully. The first thing any business owner does is try to lessen risk anywhere they can because there’s so much risk everywhere else. What you want to do increases their risk, but you can’t comprehend that because you’ve never signed your entire life away to chase your dream.

      Put yourself in their shoes – it’s working now, and you want to change it. What if you’re wrong and customers go to Palmer or Bethlehem instead of Easton, and they don’t come back? You possibly destroy their lives if you’re wrong. But you? You just move on, doesn’t cost you a nickel. Not too fair, is it?

      That’s why I listen to these people. They have the most at risk – and if they’re successful Easton is successful.

      • Jon Geeting says:

        Easton’s businesses are doing well because they’re good businesses, not because of the parking prices. People will grumble at first, but they will get used to the higher rates. For every person who doesn’t want to go to Easton because of curb parking prices there are two more who will appreciate that it’s more convenient to find a space. There are zero examples of a city raising its parking rates 50 cents and putting a bunch of shops out of business. That’s just paranoid nonsense.

  4. John says:

    50 cents / $1 PER HOUR. Jeez, correcting you when you’re wrong on facts is turning out to be a full time job. Again, please read entire articles, not just headlines and the captions beneath pictures.

    You also continue to not listen to what I’m saying. You hit an Easton restaurant or a bar patron with $3-$5 in parking fees they didn’t have before, that empty lot or available street parking out in the burbs looks a lot better than it did.

    Your penchant for gambling with someone else’s money is getting to be a pain. Please write about NYC for awhile, you can do an expose on Bloomberg fucking over people who are freezing/starving. I’m sure you have first hand knowledge given all the time you’re spending helping those poor people out.

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  1. [...] to the Voters? Keystone Politics: Michael Nutter Should Veto City Council’s Zoning Code Changes Jon Geeting: Easton Parking Meters: Greater Convenience vs. Low Prices This entry was posted on Friday, [...]

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