The High Cost of Free Parking

The High Cost of Free Parking is a non-fiction urban planning book by UCLA professor Donald Shoup. It deals with the costs of free parking policies on society. It is structured as a criticism of how parking is planned and regulated, especially the use of parking minimums and off-street parking requirements. It is influenced by Shoup's Georgist philosophy and recommends that parking be built and allocated according to its fair market value. It was originally published in 2005 by the American Planning Association and the Planners Press and a revised edition was released in 2011 also published by Routledge.[1][2]

The High Cost of Free Parking
The High Cost of Free Parking.jpg
AuthorDonald Shoup
CountryUnited States
SubjectFree parking
PublisherAmerican Planning Association, Routledge
Publication date
  • March 1, 2005
  • 2011 (Revised Edition)
Media typePrint (Hardcover)
WebsiteAuthor's Website


The High Cost of Free Parking begins with discussing the history of automobiles and parking and how vehicle ownership rates have steadily increased over time. Shoup argues the parking is a classic tragedy of the commons problem where drivers compete over scarce public parking spaces and consume time and resources searching for them. Shoup then criticizes how the Institute of Transportation Engineers determines parking generation rates, the amount of parking needed for certain land uses, for extrapolating based on limited data and for not accounting for other factors such as public transportation which he argues leads to inaccurate rates. He then goes on to argue that the methods used to determine these rates amount to "pseudoscience" because he says the methods used to determine them appear scientific, but he argues they are often arbitrary. The book goes on to discuss about the cost of constructing and maintaining parking and the differences between public and private parking from a planning perspective. Shoup then delves into a number of case studies from cities around the world. He then discusses the costs of people spending time searching for parking which he terms "cruising". Shoup then recommends some methods by which governments can collect revenue from parking and how it can design parking meters and systems to respond to price signals. Shoup concludes the book by recommending three main reforms which can be made to improve parking policy. He suggests charging fair market prices for curb parking, returning parking revenue to neighborhoods for community investment, and removing the requirements for off-street parking for new development.[3]


The High Cost of Free Parking received generally positive reception. Reviewers generally found the book very comprehensive and practical for planners but also overly long and lacking in political solutions to parking's planning problems. A review by Dr. David S. Levinson, a professor at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities, stated that, "One cannot disagree with many of the proffered solutions as having roles in specific crowded and high-density places, the kind of places most planners prefer. Yet the vast majority of the United States now possesses sufficient free off-street parking to make these solutions irrelevant for decades to come."[4]

Edward Steinfeld in a review for the Journal of Urban Design wrote that, "This is an extraordinary book. An appropriate descriptive subtitle would be 'Everything you really wanted to know about parking but were afraid to ask!' It is a very long book about a small component of the built environment."[5]

Susan Handy in a review for the Journal of Planning Education and Research found the book daunting at first saying that, "this book, at more than 600 pages, is downright intimidating" but said that the book showed her that, "parking is interesting, and it is hugely important." In conclusion, Handy said: "although Shoup often seems overly optimistic about the political feasibility of the changes he proposes, I'm convinced they're worth a try."[6]


  1. ^ Shoup, Donald. "Publications". Archived from the original on 5 May 2017. Retrieved 1 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  2. ^ Shoup, Donald (21 June 2011). "The High Cost of Free Parking, Updated Edition - Amazon Listing". Retrieved 1 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ Shoup, Donald. The High Cost of Free Parking. The American Planning Association. ISBN 1884829988.
  4. ^ Levinson, David (2005). "Review of The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup". Journal of the American Planning Association. 71 (4): 459. Retrieved 15 December 2017. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Steinfeld, Edward (June 2007). "Book Review" (PDF). Journal of Urban Design. 12 (2). Retrieved 27 May 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ Handy, Susan (March 2007). "Reviews" (PDF). Journal of Planning Education and Research: 443. Retrieved 27 May 2018. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)

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