Parking Meters - Warming Up to the Idea

Bryan ROctober 31st, 2007
By: Bryan R

(Page 2 of 3)

But as the years went on, parking meters were deemed more an instrument of good than evil. Businesses noted the higher turnover of parking spaces (and therefore more customers) and drivers realized that, for the most part, parking spaces could once again be found. Fervent questions of “constitutionality” fell by the wayside as the legitimacy of the issue was gradually accepted.

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The automotive future?

It’s easy to chuckle about it now, but the question over parking meters was pretty serious stuff at the time. America of the 1930s hadn’t foreseen the automotive future. The road system, which was common, publicly shared property, had been sufficient until the population of the U.S. boomed and car ownership swelled. With overpopulation, the classic “tragedy of the commons” set in.

Tragedy of the commons, a phrase popularized in the late '60s by ecologist Garrett Hardin, describes the struggle over “goods” that are held by the common public i.e. they don’t belong to any one person or group. Examples include our air, water falling from the sky, and fish stocks in international waters. For instance, fish stocks all over the world are in decline because they are over harvested. Since fishing in international waters is incredibly hard to police, regulate, or bring to court if a conflict arises, some fishing fleets knowingly over exploit fish stocks because it generates more profits and because they hold the attitude of ‘if I don’t do it, someone else certainly will " so why shouldn’t I be the one who profits?”.

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The tragedy over our common air?

To the laissez-faire, free market economist, the obvious answer is to privatize everything " no commons, no tragedy. However, even the most ardent free market economist must acknowledge the realistic infeasibility of privatizing international waters, the air we breath, the water that falls from the sky… or the public streets we all use everyday.

Instead, just like in Oklahoma City, when the commons is under threat the simplest solution might be for the community to band together and mutually agree to preserve and sustainably utilize the resource (street parking in this case). This meant a little inconvenience for all in the form of parking fees, but it helped rein in abusive and reckless uses of the public space. And although no one likes paying the meter, most of us see the big picture benefit of having them around.

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