How is Parking like a Sandwich?

This is why we can't have nice cities.

Imagine, just for a moment, that you live in an apartment building that offers a special lunch deal. Every morning the landlords put out a tray of 100 sandwiches for their tenants. They're darn good sandwiches -- each one costs $10 to make. Yet the landlords offer a discount, so that hungry tenants can buy a sandwich for just $3. If you don't want a sandwich, you don't pay anything. But if you do want a sandwich, you get a bargain! Neat, right? [...]

The economics of this crazy system quickly spiral out of control. The landlords lose $7 per day on each of the 60 sandwiches they sell. And they also lose $10 on each of the 40 sandwiches that go to waste. That adds up to $820 in losses on sandwiches each day. Spreading those losses across 80 tenants, the building will need to recoup $300 per month from each tenant just to break even on its below-cost sandwich giveaway. [...]

In fact, she finds, most local governments require building owners to prepare expensive sandwiches for their tenants. Some local rules only call for two sandwiches for every three tenants, others require one sandwich per tenant, and some actually require two sandwiches for every tenant. Moving to a different building could mean paying a little more than $10 a day for unwanted sandwiches, or maybe a little less. But no matter where you live, you'll still pay for sandwiches you don't eat.

Previously, previously, previously, previously.

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25 Responses:

  1. Misha says:

    Well I guess I'm a glutton then because I need three sandwiches, though I live in a suburb and I only get one guaranteed sandwich at my apartment. There is a pool of free sandwiches in the back and I manage to snag one often. The third sandwich is courtesy of family.

    The main thing (aside from high rent) really stopping me from moving to the city (where I work) is that I need three sandwiches. I'd be doing a favor to everyone as then I'd use public transit or use my motorcycle (1/4 of a sandwich? Less?). I need one car for myself for whenever, my wife needs one car for herself for whenever, and I'm glutonous so I have a second sandwich for myself for my fun car.

    Yes there's ZipCar but I cannot get over the convenience of having my own customized personal transit vehicles. Maybe it's my South Bay upbringing. Everyone has a car. I have two because I have one for the race track.

    I feel you on paying for stuff you don't get utilize. But don't we all pay for something we don't specifically want in the form of taxes?

    Just my two cents. You have some interesting points and some people will say I just need to change my life, but it's kind of easier said than done to tell someone to give up one of their passions / hobbies.

    • mike says:

      I can not tell if you are seriously defending parking subsidies or parodying a defender of parking subsidies.

      • Misha says:

        Not defending or trying to parody one. Just telling how it is. I'll gladly pay $30 for three sandwiches instead of $9. It's not fair for the rest of tenants to subsidize my parking especially if they don't want any.

        But I am making a tangential point that there are things that are subsidized one way or another by the governments that people don't like. Look at what just happened in Michigan with the "rape insurance" bill. Pretty messed up. I don't like that religious institutions don't have to pay taxes -- I feel that them not paying taxes takes away from everyone, including people who don't support them.

        But, coming back to parking, please let me pay for my own fucking sandwich, OK? I rent a sandwich in San Francisco Mon-Fri and it costs me $280 / month, which is actually not that expensive of all parking sandwiches in San Francisco. Or so I've convinced myself over the years...

  2. Jef Poskanzer says:

    Hungry now.

  3. The best part is all those wasted sandwiches mean less meat and cheese availability for non-sandwich usage, so the rest of us are also paying more for our non-sandwich meals!

  4. Even better, very often when someone proposes building a new set of apartments, the immediate neighbors of the location (and, this being San Francisco, people who live across town as well) will immediately band together and insist to their elected representatives that the building should not be built unless it gives more sandwiches to its tenants. During the biggest housing crunch in living memory, people will be blocked from bringing new units to market unless they convince their neighbors that they are providing an acceptable number of sandwiches.

    I love this city, but it's going to drive me insane.

  5. Mike says:

    When I lived in (a rather boring residential part of) SF, I, my GF, and our landlord who lived upstairs had to share one sandwich, which was leased to us, and my GF used because she had the larger sandwich appetite.

    I wanted to avoid eating sandwiches entirely, but the nearest Zipcar was at least 2 miles away in a more yuppified part of the city, and so I continued to own an appetite for sandwiches, even though I was eating burritos daily. Since I still had an appetite for sandwiches, the city required me to eat a sandwich twice weekly (and then regurgitate it.)

    Which is part of why I don't live in the city anymore.

    • You describe this situation, and it appears to me that you have two universes in which can compare: the one you describe, in which you can pay X per month for an extra sandwich, or another one in which you are paying your landlord X for a sandwich to come with the building. The fact that the sandwich comes with the building doesn't actually make it cheaper to provide.

  6. Tom Lord says:

    Yeah, public policy by comically bad analogy. Sounds, uh, great.

    • Nick Lamb says:

      It isn't that comically bad of an analogy though. The idea of homes coming with space to park a car is a local anomaly, one that didn't exist in the 19th century and will most likely be gone before the end of the 21st century, and limited to the urban environments of the developed (and to a lesser extent, developing) world. The sandwich analogy will seem perfectly apt outside of that small part of the world and period of time. My grandparents were the first generation to buy houses with somewhere to put a car, and today's kids are likely the last generation to worry about it.

  7. Edouard says:

    Sandwiches are exactly like parking because they can be created on demand in a few minutes, take only a infestestimal amount of space, and the lack of them in a building in no way has any impact on the sandwiches of those people who live around said building. And parking my car, uh, on the plentiful sandwiches out on street also ensures no-one breaks into my car, or something.

    Also, it makes no sense that landlords have to provide space for your refrigerator. I only eat fresh fruit or dine out at the local cafes and restaurants, and yet I have to pay for refrigerator space. Everyone does. That's crazy. Why don't all you refrigerator owners just keep them on the sidewalk? You pay your taxes, that public space is actually yours.

    Why do you people want to keep on hurting the oppressed wealth creators, instead of letting them cram even more people into less space and offload all responsibility for doing so onto someone else? You're all no better than communists, or worse yet, socialists.

    (Actually, wait on a minute - are you all for or against the analogy in the original post? I guess I should have asked that to start with...)

    • James says:

      How do you feel about only subsidizing vegetarian free-sandwich stands, then? I.e., HOV lanes with exemption stickers for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles? How do you feel about tax credits for mobile vegetarian robot sandwich trucks, i.e., PHEV driverless taxies? How about non-robot mobile vegetarian sandwich trucks which support the aggregate demand of a growing middle class at the expense of having to deal with human drivers?

  8. Aaron says:

    A more thorough discussion of the high cost of free on-street parking:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/15/business/economy/15view.html

    "It’s a classic tale of how subsidies, use restrictions, and price controls can steer an economy in wrong directions. Car owners may not want to hear this, but we have way too much free parking."

  9. Anthony says:

    From the article (which is about Seattle): "For every 100 spots in our sample, about 37 percent remain empty at night, when demand peaks."

    In how many apartment buildings within the city limits of San Francisco is this even close to being true? For that matter, for how many buildings within the city limits of Seattle is this true? The article says that number applies across the Greater Seattle area. Allowing landlords to rent parking independently of apartments will result in greater efficiency - the tenant who prefers sushi to sandwiches doesn't have to pay for sandwiches, and the landlord gets to sell all his sandwiches. (And in San Francisco, those sandwiches are selling for $20 in some places.)

    • jwz says:

      None of these articles I've posted have been saying that building developers shouldn't be allowed to build, rent, sell, bundle -- whatever -- however many parking spaces they want.

      What doesn't make any god damned sense is legally mandated parking minimums. And those are everywhere.

      Most of the people who whine in my blog comments are Dot Com Libertarians, so I'm surprised* that so many of you come down on the side of "government subsidy for the auto industry" instead of "let the market decide".

      * not really surprised

      • Anthony says:

        I gave up being a libertarian purist for Lent. I don't see the legally mandated parking minima in San Francisco* being ridiculous, if the new buildings (built under those regulations) are using all their parking spaces, whether for their occupants or sold on the open market.

        * I don't know what the rules are in other jurisdictions, but anywhere more dense than suburbs with 40 feet of street frontage per unit, requiring some off-street parking provision is not ridiculous on its face.

      • Edouard says:

        Man, I'm not even in the majority of the (admittedly large) subset of whiners on your blog.

        I'm seriously starting to question my ability to ferment a successful Trotskyite revolution by making random comments on the internet...

      • Ronald Pottol says:

        I'd thought San Francisco was, as usual, it's own unique and special madness, such as the anti car people lobbying to reduce the number of spaces in buildings.

        I think things are crazy enough in SF that I don't know what the right way forward is, though I kind of favor less restrictions on building (and thus higher density) and better and more transit.

        All I'm sure of is that I cannot afford to live in SF. My big regret was not figuring out how to move to SF in the early 1980s, and get a death grip on a rent controlled apartment. ;-)

        But I'm not the libertarian that I was.