Dispute About Parking Stirs Up Trouble In The Ozarks
In case you have not heard, there is trouble brewing at the “Party Capital of the Lake of the Ozarks.” It is a big brouhaha over parking and reminds me of the final scene of Reservoir Dogs, where everyone is pointing a gun at someone else, then they all shoot — and everyone gets shot. There were no winners in that fight, and there are no winners in this one.
This dispute is wonderful — if you happen to be a policy analyst at a free-market think tank who is paid to study such lunacy. For everyone else, the problems that the overall parking predicament has caused near the Shady Gators and Camden on the Lake at 7-Mile Cover has been enormously frustrating.
To review, a Transportation Development District (TDD) was formed in 2008 to operate parking lots in the area for customers of nearby businesses. Businesses that collect the tax and pay into the TDD (Camden on the Lake) got tired of people parking there but going to businesses that do not pay into the TDD, such as the wildly popular Shady Gators. The TDD instituted a parking charge for parking in the lots. Some people refused to pay the parking charge and started parking on the neighborhood streets. Residents complained. The police started writing tickets for parking violations on residential streets nearby. Vandals started removing the “No Parking” signs, thus making it impossible to write tickets. All the while, the TDD did a poor job of filing proper financial reports. With no ability to enforce “No Parking” rules and the continuance of the fee to park in the lots, more and more people parked in the surrounding neighborhood. Total chaos has ensued. Simple enough issue, right?
Every action in this series is understandable, except the vandalism and the late reporting. It is predictable under economic theory, and it is solvable through enforcement of property rights and reliance on market forces. Here are a few key facts to consider. First, there is no right to free parking. Second, you deal with congestion issues either with price or with capacity. Third, other people have property rights, and if you violate them (by parking in a residential area, etc.) you should expect a reaction. Finally, people will attempt to free-ride when possible, but good policy and enforcement of property rights can help make people pay for the goods they chose to consume (i.e.. parking).
To restate the problem: Businesses like Camden on the Lake have an obvious interest in making it easy for customers to patronize them, but they do not want to pay for people to patronize other stores. So the operators of Camden on the Lake started charging customers of Shady Gators, among others, to use the lots. Shady Gators complained, because they were getting the best of all worlds: free customer parking at no cost to them. This is the classic free-rider problem.
What is the solution? First, abandon the TDD and privatize the parking lots. The private sector is fully capable of operating parking systems. The TDD just gives businesses the ability to pay for their lots via taxes instead of their own charges. Second, respect the property rights of residents. Like Chicagoans who live near Wrigley Field and rent out their garages on game days, residents who choose to allow and charge for parking on their property should, of course, be able to do so. But those who do not wish to have business parking in front of their homes should have the “No Parking” restrictions enforced. Third, (and this is the obvious part) allow market forces to come into play and expand parking capacity. If businesses want the same level of customer demand to continue, it will be worth it to them to purchase additional property for parking or build another level on the current lot. If there is a strong demand for parking (and there clearly is) firms and entrepreneurs will meet that demand. The government should neither subsidize, via TDD, nor block, via zoning, the expansion of private parking to serve the customer needs for the 7-Mile Cove.
David Stokes is a policy analyst at the Show-Me Institute, which promotes market solutions for Missouri public policy.