As "The High Price of Free Parking" taught us, a policy of free and unlimited parking comes with many serious drawbacks. For one, by making parking free, more driving is encouraged, which is especially troublesome in a city known for its endless gridlock. At any given point, how many tens of thousands of drivers are circling the block, looking for an elusive empty space?
The other downside has come with the way the market has responded - with extortion.
Every day before dawn, dozens of men appear in the Mexican capital's hip Condesa neighborhood and block off parking spaces along entire streets using water jugs, cardboard boxes, buckets, crates and even blocks of cement. As visitors start arriving for the district's restaurants, organic food stores, boutiques and art galleries, the men collect 20 to 40 pesos ($1.50-$3), remove the obstructions and let drivers park.
Often the only option is to pay the ad hoc attendants, known as "franeleros" for the rags — "franelas" — they use to signal cars in and out of parking spaces they have commandeered. Not paying could mean returning to a broken windshield wiper, a long key scratch along a door or, in extreme cases, a smashed window. Another option is to leave car and keys with valet parking attendants, who also block spaces for their clients.
So in some cases, parking is not free, but a payment is needed to guarantee the "safety" of your vehicle. It's a practice common in all of Latin America that nobody likes.
The city also says that these parking "assistants" are a security hazard, because they get to know the patterns of locals very well.
Posters plastered throughout Condesa warn that franeleros could be used by criminals because they spend entire days on the same streets, learning the habits of residents.
Change is coming, with the first parking meters having arrived last year, with excellent results.
Authorities laud the success of the machines that were installed in another affluent neighborhood, Polanco, a year ago. "Polanco was the parking lot of the whole city," said Maria Ignacia Moran, a community activist. "Office workers would leave their cars here all day, leaving behind traffic chaos because many of the cars were doubled parked, left on sidewalks. And at times the franeleros even parked them in our driveways."
Traffic in Polanco is now more orderly, open parking spaces can generally be found and franeleros have largely disappeared, at least when the meters are in operation. And money from the meters helps pay for increased police patrols and improved streets, sidewalks and other infrastructure, according to Erwin Crowley, executive director of the city's Public Space Authority.
According to the article, the franeleros are gone because the company who runs the meter has an incentive to make sure their spots aren't being blocked.
Local residents are given a permit, one per household, that allows them to park a single vehicle for free on the street. The charge for everybody else is now about $5 for a day of parking, or about 60 cents an hour.
The meters have had a big effect on traffic. While some commuters have simply begun parking further away, others have switched their mode of transportation.
Crowley said meters have pushed people to find other modes of transportation to Polanco. "Before we had 10,800 cars coming into the district each day. We have cut that to 5,400," he said. Some of those drivers simply started parking in nearby neighborhoods, which have seen an increase in traffic. So authorities have begun installing parking meters there as well.
Naturally, not everybody is a fan of the new meters, as they mean charging for something that has always been free.
Some are even concerned that ugly surface lots have been redeveloped, because it makes things inconvenient.Many are vehemently opposed, hanging banners from balconies to attack meters, saying the streets are public and no one should profit from them. But others hope the plan will cut down on cars from elsewhere. Parking has become so critical that some Condesa residents have seized their own pieces of the street by erecting removable metal bars that jut from curbs in front of their homes.
The parking meters are one of the many new changes that have come to Mexico City in the last decade, including BRT, bikeshare and Sunday streets. These changes have all had big effects on something the city used to be infamous for - air pollution."The main problem is not the franeleros but all the businesses that have opened up and have no parking," said Antonia Romero, 67, who has lived by Parque Mexico for 35 years. "We used to have parking lots, but they have been replaced them with apartment buildings."
This megacity of more than 20 million rang in the New Year with a pleasant revelation: the region registered 248 days in 2012 in which the air quality considered good.New York Times
Mexico City has emerged as an aspiring environmental model citizen in recent years as the left-leaning local government has introduced everything from barter markets for recyclables to bicycle-sharing arrangements to zero emissions bus corridors.
Tanya Müller García, the local environment secretary, presents posters charting the city’s air quality since 1986, when such record-keeping began, to underline how much the air has improved. Index scores topped 200 on a 500-point scale in the early years – bad enough that the local government could close schools and industry. No such scores have been registered since May 2003, while the number of good days steadily climbed from 181 days in 2008 to 211 days in 2011 to last year’s 248.
The parking meters should help clean the air as well. Less people driving (and choosing the subway or bus) obviously means less pollution, but the effects are far reaching, as each vehicle off the road means less congestion, and with that, every single vehicle still on the road pollutes less.
The locals agree. The residents of Condesa and neighboring colonias hit the polls this weekend, and according to preliminary results, the vote was "yes" for meters. The final results are to be published on Thursday.