Big government thinks parking hikes will shrink your waistline

Posted: December 14, 2012 in Federal, Government, New York, Parking, State
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Officials in Britain’s National Institute of Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) as well as local governments and businesses are considering raising parking rates in an attempt to force people to walk more and get more exercise. The goal is to curb the rising obesity rates in Britain’s population which have increased nearly fourfold over the past 30 years to 24% as of 2009. Still, the UK pales in comparison to the US which still holds the number one spot for fattest asses on the planet with a whopping 36% obesity rate. NHS research has shown that Britons are walking less and less, which is one of many contributing factors to the rising UK obesity rate (McDonald’s is undoubtedly taking a top spot on that list of causes though).

So how do you get people walking more? Apparently, NICE decided to go with “Make them!” as an answer. The idea is that by raising parking rates they will effectively price people out of driving unless absolutely necessary. On paper, this could almost make sense. After all, many cities are adopting demand-based electronic parking meters that change prices based on availability, raising rates as available parking fills up so that there’s almost always open parking in a given area. The success of using a free-market system like this for parking to meet both consumer and municipal goals (convenient parking and positive revenue flow respectively) has been well researched and documented; in fact, nearby San Francisco has implementing this system with great success as part of a case study run by Professor David Shoup (and as all you Shoupistas know he is THE authority on parking systems and economics). And there’s no denying that folks aren’t getting enough physical activity these days. But once you look beyond the surface, the gaping holes in this idea become clear.

The first logical fallacy in this plan is the idea that many people are CHOOSING to drive rather than NEEDING to drive. It’s the same type of thing that happens when celebrities talk about how everyone can take a little time out of there day for yoga or a workout or a colon cleansing or whatever, they have no concept of how much easier having an army of servants and personal assistants and personal trainers and nannies make the minutia of life, and how much harder it is to find not just the time but the mental energy and motivation to put some time into yourself during the day. It’s the same thing for many people that are driving, particularly those who are working class. It’s been proven that the poorer you are, the farther away you’ll be from fresh sources of food such as a grocery store; for example, there are no actual grocery stores within the city limits of Detroit! So there really is no other option for many working class folks than to drive to get their groceries. Same goes for a lot of other everyday things; a significant amount of people have to pay their bills in cash for instance, or don’t have buses that can take their kids home, or are working two jobs and simply don’t have the time to walk somewhere. For these folks, who don’t have the luxury to forgo driving as part of their day to day routine, this parking hike is going to place an undue burden on them, essentially just making it more expensive for the less affluent to go through their day.

This will also hurt businesses anywhere a policy like this is in place. When a parking market system is used to raise or lower parking rates so that there is always available parking in a commercial area, this benefits everyone. Businesses make more money because their customers can always find parking to reach them, and customers are only looking at paying a little more for convenient parking if it’s a busy day. By contrast, the NICE plan of essentially pricing people out of parking so that they have to walk will leave numerous empty spaces in front of businesses that won’t get filled, thereby driving away customers that might have shopped there. Which ironically will lead to people shopping at home online more, and only increase their lack of physical activity. And of course on top of all of that, the truly obese will hardly be affected by this at all because they’ll still have access to convenient handicap parking and rascal’s waiting for them at the entrance of the grocery store.

So at the end of the day, all this policy would do is make life harder and more expensive for the working class while having virtually no effect on the wealthy or those who are desperately in need of more exercise. And let’s not forget that all these parking rate revenues go into government coffers, making this yet another way that big government is trying to pay it’s bills by taking money out of the back pocket of the working class. But hey, what are they supposed to do, actually provide basic nutritional education to children in school and revamp the school lunch program to have healthier, balanced meals?

Now, those of you reading this who are stateside like myself may be thinking “Why should I care about the British nanny state?” Well let me tell you why. As you may or may not know, New York city mayor Michael Bloomberg passed a ban on sodas larger than 16 oz a little while ago, in the interest of combating obesity. Some have been calling for Mayor Bloomberg to implement a similar parking program in the projects of New York, both by raising rates and literally eliminating some parking spaces in the projects and reducing the number of NYCHA issued parking permits. So we could be seeing these same misguided, nanny-state policies coming to the U.S. because apparently government, not willpower and motivation, is the solution to too many people being fat and lazy. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely think that Americans are way too fat and need to exercise more, but that will take a concerted, across the board effort that addresses the many root causes of the obesity epidemic in this country, not by trying to price our waistlines into shrinking at the meter.


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