How much does parking really cost (in time, fuel, and frustration)?

By Robbie Webber
INRIX, a company that provides both software and data services in the realm of transportation and mobility, has issued a report on the cost of “parking pain.” Instead of focusing on the cost of a parking spot, the report looks at the time, wasted fuel, and congestion caused by searching for a spot. They also estimated how much drivers waste by paying for more parking time than they need. The study was done for the U.S., UK, and Germany, with separate reports for each country.
Much as roadway congestion can cost money in the form of fuel and lost time, trying to find a parking spot is among the perils of urban driving. In a famous study, parking guru Donald Shoup tried to estimate how much traffic in a downtown area was caused by people cruising for parking. The INRIX study updates this by assigning numbers to the time wasted looking for parking and the additional meter-plugging drivers do to make sure they don’t run out of time and get a ticket.
In the U.S., INRIX estimates that 3.6 billion hours and 1.7 billion gallons of fuel are used looking for parking, cumulatively costing $72.7 billion. In addition, they estimate that drivers overpay for parking, i.e., pay for more time than they need, by $20.4 billion. Surprisingly, parking fines only cost $2.6 billion.
As a solution to this parking pain, INRIX suggests better information and technology allowing drivers to see parking availability in real time and even reserve a spot in advance. They also surveyed drivers about which services they most wanted to relieve parking pain.

  • 90% want real-time parking availability
  • 88% want to search for the cheapest or closest parking spots
  • 87% want to be able to navigate directly to the parking spot
  • 80% want to be able to reserve a spot in advance
  • 71% want to be able to pay in advance
  • 74% want this technology integrated into their navigation system

Not coincidentally, INRIX provides some of these services and is working with car companies to offer the technologies in new cars.
The study also found that more than half of drivers were less likely to drive if they knew that parking was not available, while 71 percent of motorists were more likely to drive if they knew that parking was available. This supports research such as that by SSTI Associate Researcher Chris McCahill and others showing that abundant parking increases driving.
Trying to find parking is undoubtedly stressful and wastes time and fuel. But researchers have come to a variety of conclusions about how to relieve that stress and avoid waste. One tactic is to simply not drive to locations with difficult parking circumstances, and some of the cities that have the highest parking pain also have the strongest transit systems. San Francisco followed Donald Shoup’s advice and priced their downtown parking so that there were always on-street spaces available and provided information on how to find the best balance between cost and convenience. The INRIX report also suggests that encouraging high turnover will support local businesses, and properly priced parking encourages this turnover. Other cities have chosen to build more parking to try to satisfy the demands of drivers. With the abundance of apps and increasing real-time information, it is becoming easier to do some research before starting the drive to decide on an appropriate trade-off between time, cost, and convenience.
Robbie Webber is a Senior Associate at SSTI.