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If Big 3 Get Bailout, Charge More At Parking Meters!

Wednesday, 3 Dec 2008 | 4:21 PM ET
Parking Meter
Source: J.L. Sanchez
Parking Meter

Yesterday we learned that the windy city wants to lease its parking meters to a private company that would raise daytime hourly parking rates in downtown Chicago from $3 now to $6.50 by 2012.Sound exorbitant? I think it sounds awesome.

This could be the best thing to come out of the many local budget crises we're starting to see across the country, at least for city dwellers like me. America's cities have been giving drivers a free ride for too long when it comes to cheap parking. It's politically difficult to raise meter rates because drivers feel entitled to their parking spaces, but the need to balance municipal budgets is giving cities the cover they need to finally force drivers to pay for the space they're taking up.

Consider the costs of cheap parking. It causes congestion as more people drive into cities, making life miserable for pedestrians like me, and it causes more people to use publicly owned spots, making life difficult for drivers looking for somewhere convenient to park. If we actually let market forces, instead of politics, determine the price of parking, you can bet it would be much higher than it is now. Fewer people would commute to cities in cars and more would use mass transportation. That means less pollution and less congestion, making it easier to get around.

But at the end of the day, this is about fairness. People driving in from the suburbs will complain that it's unfair to them to make parking more expensive. I say they've been pushing us around for too long, and by us I mean everyone who lives in a city and doesn't own a darned car. Raising the price of parking will let us reclaim our neighborhoods. It might even eventually cause cities to have fewer parking spaces, wastes of perfectly good urban real estate in my opinion, and more stores and homes.

Members of my generation are less likely to own cars and more likely to live in cities. This is great for us. In New York, where I live, Mayor Bloomberg wants to double the price of street parking in midtown and downtown Manhattan from $1 to $2 an hour. Hey, if they're already paying $3 in Chicago, we should be charging at least $4 in New York.

For too long our political system, at every level, has irrationally favored everything related to automobiles, from the way we prioritize our transportation spending, to state laws that protect car dealerships, to the bailout that GM , Ford and Chrysler seem likely to get from Congress. This is similar to how the government favors homeowners over renters, for no better reason than that home and car ownership are supposed to be part of the American dream.

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I've said before that if I didn't think it would cause a depression, we should let the Big Three die. I still think we might as well let one or two of them go as there's no reason to bail out all of Detroit. But if the automakers do get a bailout, I want this country to stop subsidizing auto-buyers at the expense of pedestrians and cyclists. Charging more for parking is a great start.

Questions? Comments? Send them to millennialmoney@cnbc.com

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