Subsidizing Rich and Poor

This article originally appeared in the Weekly Standard.Click here to read the full article.

By Ike Brannon

There is a vintage Corvette parked on the street nearby, a 1977 canary yellow model in perfect condition. The NADA Blue Book says it’s worth around $15,000.

The car is someone’s toy: I know that because it hasn’t been moved for an entire year. I’ve seen the owner visit it a couple of times to rev the engine and give it a sponge bath, but it’s been in the exact same spot since last Christmas.

The Corvette owner and I happen to live in a neighborhood in the middle of Washington, D.C., with a severe parking shortage, the result of a surfeit of nine-story buildings with nominal parking and close proximity to a spate of popular restaurants. The going price for reserved parking spaces in the area is $250 a month.

My neighbor with the Corvette doesn’t bother with a reserved spot in a garage because he’s got a great deal: For a mere $35 a year—the price of a residential permit—he can store his car on the street.

It turns out there are lots of people who are willing to put their cars on the street for $35 a year—way more people than there are spaces for them: By my count over half of the cars currently parked on my block have not been moved in more than two weeks.

As a result it can be almost impossible to find street parking at night or on weekends and fairly difficult at other times as well. On a Friday night about a third of all traffic in our area consists of people trolling the streets, looking for parking, a local politician informed me.

Why doesn’t the government charge more for street parking permits? After all, the D.C. government keeps telling us it needs more revenue and that the wealthy don’t pay their fair share: asking the guy with the Corvette and people like him for $2,000 a year to store their cars on streets owned by the government seems like a good way to extract money from the well-off.