04 September 2010

I estimated that the subsidy for off-street parking [in the US] in 2002 was between $127 billion and $374 billion, or between 1.2 percent and 3.6 percent of the gross domestic product. In comparison, in 2002 the federal government spent $231 billion for Medicare and $349 billion for national defense. Donald Shoup, Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free, 1 September
How do we get ourselves into this sort of mess? Bureaucracy and the big corporations have their own agenda. When it comes to parking, it takes the form of mandated parking spaces for new buildings, residential and commercial. To the vast majority of us who are turned off by the whole policymaking process, minimum parking requirements sound sensible, at first hearing. (So too, did subsidies to 'family' farms, many decades ago.) The end result is the apotheosis of the car; subsidies from the poor (who have no, or minimal access, to cars) to the rich, and an aesthetic and environmental calamity.

One thing that outcome-based policy would do right from the start is bring into question such superficially appealing notions as minimum parking requirements. By focusing on ends, rather than means, Social Policy Bonds would lead to a total reappraisal of transport and town planning policy - and one in which ordinary people could participate. Is easy transport a means to an end, or an end in itself? What exactly are town planners trying to achieve? Are ordinary people consulted? Perhaps we'd all be better off if government at all levels were to target the minimal well-being of all its citizens rather than (inadvertently, perhaps, and surreptitiously, almost always) the agenda of big corporations.

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