smart spending

Pain in the lot: Pare growing parking fees

Parking meter
Highlights
  • Parking costs are increasing at public and private lots and meters.
  • Walking, carpooling and ride-sharing are ways to cut parking costs.
  • Working at home saves the cost of parking at an office or other job site.

Parking costs are on the rise across the U.S. from beaches in Rhode Island to airports in Hawaii. At the same time, high unemployment rates and economic stagnation have forced more people to adopt frugal living habits. Together, these trends mean saving money on vehicle parking fees is, for many, in vogue and a necessity.

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Whether they use parking meters or parking lots, hospitals, colleges, sports stadiums, shopping malls, office buildings and even public transit stops are jacking up their rates, sometimes by substantial percentages, judging from online news reports. In particular, municipal parking lots are prone to rate increases as city governments grapple with reduced revenues and political difficulties in raising taxes.

Hikes in parking fees are sometimes sold to the public as a benefit, the argument being that pricier parking encourages turnover and opens up spaces for people who want to park. That may be true, but it's a bitter pill for drivers facing those fatter parking rates.

Parking in major U.S. employment centers is downright cheap compared with costs in such foreign cities as Sydney, London, Tokyo, Vienna and Amsterdam. Parking fees at prime garages in these cities could top $50 per day, according to a June 2011 survey of 156 central business districts' parking rates by Colliers International, a commercial real estate company in Seattle.

But drivers in some U.S. financial districts pay steep parking fees as well. The Colliers survey found the national average for daily rates is $16.12. Parking fees in larger cities ranged from $41 in New York-midtown to $32 in Chicago and $26 in San Diego and San Francisco. Second-tier cities have business-district daily parking rates of $10 to $25, according to the study. See the top 10 most expensive cities for parking fees in Bankrate's feature, "10 cities with the highest parking fees."

Search for free parking

The most obvious alternatives to paying for a parking space include walking, riding a bicycle or even skateboarding from point A to point B, though all of those options involve more time and effort to get to one's destination. Driving around in search of cheaper parking fees also entails a trade-off of time and fuel.

Kathy Virgallito, regional director of partnerships at Apprisen Financial Advocates, a consumer credit counseling service in Columbus, Ohio, says parking farther away and walking to a destination is not only good exercise but saves money. "The furthest spots are typically the cheapest," she says.

Virgallito gives these additional ways to save on parking rates.

Carpool with a friend or co-worker, and split or share the parking fees. "Many companies have a ride-sharing bulletin board that helps people find like-minded co-workers who live near them," she says.

Create a personal park-and-ride system. Meet a co-worker in a safe location such as a public parking lot, travel together from that point onward and divvy up the parking cost. When choosing a meet-up lot, be sure to check for towing signs.

Take advantage of parking lot early-bird discounts. "Many downtown offices start work at 9 a.m.," Virgallito says. "Start your day at 8, and you can avoid the rush hour and get an optimal spot for less or even free."

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