What if express shipping operated like most parking?

Imagine you head to nearest express shipping office Monday morning to send off a package. When you ask the woman at the counter for their prices you are thrilled to hear “All packages ship free.” Well that’s splendid. You have two packages to ship. You tell Ms. Express that you need one package shipped next day and the other shipped ground. To your surprise she responds, “I’m sorry, all packages ship free.” What on earth does she mean? She patiently explains that some get tagged Next Day and others get tagged Ground depending on when they go through the sorter but she doesn’t select how packages get tagged. In fact on really busy days they just go around a carousel until there is an opening in the sorter. But all packages ship free. You explain to Ms. Express that one package is extremely urgent, it absolutely must arrive for your mother’s birthday and the other, a gag gift to a friend in Colorado, isn’t urgent at all. Can she please make sure the former goes out first. She says that’s impossible.

Then it occurs to you, of course, “I don’t care if the package ships free, please let me know what the prices are for next day shipping.” To this she explains that company policy forbids sorting packages by price, and oblivious to your exasperation reiterates, “all packages ship free.”

Parking on JFK Street in Cambridge MA

Cambridge MA

This is essentially how most cities and towns manage their parking supply. The parking spot–or the average under-priced parking meter–on Main Street doesn’t know if you are running late for a job interview or if you are half an hour early to a lunch date. If you are heading to an empty street where there are plenty of free parking spaces, then this is not a big deal, but if this is a busy, popular destination, then you may have to spend considerable time searching for a space and then hoof it some unknown distance to your destination.

Properly priced parking, which guarantees that there will usually be a space open on every block, can solve the problem. If the most desirable parking spaces are priced higher, then on the evening when your wife will have your head if you’re late, again, for a dinner reservation, you can ante up for the premium parking spot steps from the restaurant door. On the day when it would actually be nice to spend some time with your son on the way to little league you can park a little farther away, at lower cost, and walk an extra ten minutes to the ballpark his hand in yours.

Further Reading:
The High Cost of Free Parking by Donald Shoup
For a preview of the book check out this article.
See also http://sfpark.org/

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