The Curious Economics of Bike Parking

The WSJ’s Ralph Gardner, a hesitant city cyclist, writes:

Last year, the city passed a bill that went into effect several months ago requiring commercial garages with space for 100 or more cars to also set aside places for bicycles. The ratio is 10 spaces for the first 100 cars. After November 11, 2011, garages with only 50 spaces will also have to allow bicycles.

Sounds great. except for one thing: The law allows the market to set the going rate. My garage is charging—no joke—$175 plus 8.875% tax. That’s almost $200 a month to stow a bike! You probably won’t be surprised to hear it has no takers. As one attendant observed, “You can buy a new bike” for that amount.

Well, yeah, but on some bikes that price wouldn’t cover a single pedal. But in any case, perhaps not surprisingly, there seem to be few to no takers for $200 a month bike parking. The first question that came to my mind was why it was so expensive (when presumably you could fit upwards of a dozen bikes in a standard car spot), and then, secondly, why garages would charge such a high amount if no one seemed willing to pay it. Wouldn’t it better to make half (or anything above) the theoretical profit than no profit at all? I don’t know how these garages are set up, but if parking that bike means having to have an attendant park and retrieve it for you, I suppose the garages want to make sure the transaction costs are covered — i.e., if they charged cyclists ten bucks a month but then had to send attendants in search of bikes (when they could be retrieving more lucrative cars). In other words, do they essentially charge that much to not have to deal with the aggravation of dealing with parked bikes? But maybe the attendants don’t always have to fetch bikes; aren’t there some garages where the bikes are right within view? Do the city regulations on garages having to have a certain number of spots stipulate where and in what form those spots have to be?

This entry was posted on Tuesday, June 15th, 2010 at 5:40 pm and is filed under Bicycles. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

23 Responses to “The Curious Economics of Bike Parking”

  1. Colin Says:

    Sounds like they want the scheme to fail – if they can show there is no demand for bike parking then the requirement to provide bike parking might be repealed. Why would they want that? Anti-bike sentiment and general resistance to change.

  2. Steve Bonds Says:

    This reminds me of the story of the LEED Gold building at Yale which had its bike storage and showers permanently locked since they just had to build them to get the LEED certification– not actually use them!

  3. Brent Says:

    If there are no takers, then it can’t be the “going rate.” There’s probably some other motivation going on there — like being able to convert the space back to a car parking spot after some time period in which the building manager can show there were no takers.

  4. Josh R Says:

    In the article he gives the going rate in the same garage for a car as about $750 a month, which works out to about four times what they’re charging for a bike. Figure enough storage space to move around and not ding up the bikes while getting them in and out, a four to one ratio sounds about right. Not fun to pay that much to store a bike, but it is New York.

  5. mike chalkley Says:

    Why doesn’t the city provide more spaces? Or insist on a smaller number of spaces in the garages but make them free?

  6. Kevin Love Says:

    It looks to me like pure anti-cycling bigotry.

    Can you imagine a law in the Jim Crow era US South that said business owners had to allow black people into their business, but could charge them whatever price they wanted? What do you think would happen?

    Charging a high price is a great way for bigots to keep out the people they don’t like.

  7. Charlie Says:

    If no one is using the bike parking, it’s not market price. Sounds to me like the garage owners just didn’t want to provide it in the first place.

  8. vmgillen Says:

    Nothing like a “requirement” to make commercial entities nuts-o. Before this regulation went into efect I was able to park my bike for free at an Edison lot… I’m surprised Mr. Gardner made no mention of the City’s new bike parking mandate for office and residential buildings!

  9. David Says:

    If they set the price such that there are no takers, how would anyone ever know if they didn’t really “set aside” any spaces for bikes? Sounds like they’ve found a loophole and are exploiting it.

  10. Jim PE Says:

    Josh R, the standard size for a parking bay is 9′ wide by 18′ long. You can get more than 4 bikes in that area.

    Also, bike parking could utilize the awkward little areas where a vehicle can’t park, potentially generating more revenue at no loss.

  11. Dave in KY Says:

    Bike parking is not something joe average can guess and get right.

  12. Don Says:

    Well we don’t know how many spots they took away from the parked cars.

    However, if I/we assume that they took away two spots.

    2 x $750.00 = $1500.00

    $1500 / 10 bicycles = $150.00.

    Add in a $25 “The hell with this law” service charge AND you have $175.00.

    But with that said, I don’t see why they would use two spots. If the attendants are “parking” the bicycles, and I was the owner of a parking garage, I would just mount hooks along the walls and hang em.

  13. BicyclesOnly Says:

    I think the key problem is lack of enforcement of the facilities requirements of the law. the law requires regulated garages to set aside a space measuring 6′ X 3′ X 3′ for each bike, to give each bike a secure rack to which at least one wheel and frame can be secured, and the protect each bike parking space meeting these specs with some form of barrier that will prevent cars from hitting them. This bike parking facility at the Met (which, by the way, is free) comes the closest to meeting the requirements, although there is no physical barrier to keep cars out. (In a valet-only parking facility, a locked room may be an adequate substitute for a rack.)

    If the garage owners were installing bike parking facilities meeting these specifications, the space devoted to those facilities would be as a practical matter unavailable for car parking. In theory, the garage owners would have an incentive to lower their prices in order to generate at least some income from the space devoted to bike parking.

    But that’s not what’s happening. Instead, most garage owners simply post a exorbitant rate at the entrance to the garage without installing any facilities, devote no space to parking, and have incentive to generate bike parking business.

    Cyclists can help the new market in bike parking spaces function by making sure garages install the requisite dedicated bike parking facility. Ask the garage attendant to show you the facility. If it doesn’t satisfy the law, tell the garage owner so, and ask for improvements. If the improvements don’t come, file a complaint with the DCA. (You will need to take a photo or copy down the licensure information of the garage for the DCA online complaint form.)

    The DCA mishandled the first few complaints I filed with them. At one garage, the inspectors simply took the manager’s word for it and concluded that there were “no violations,” even though the garage did not have the requisite dedicated bike parking facility. So I went back and caught the manger admitting his deception on video. The DCA sent the inspector back, a violation was found, and the garage was fined. The dedicated bike parking facility was installed shortly after that.

    Since that episode, I have found that the DCA has appropriately (if slowly) followed up on my complaints against garages lacking dedicated bike parking facilities. As I see it, if I can force five or so garages near where I work to all install dedicated facilities, then at least the new law has a chance of fostering a fair market for bike parking services, at reasonable prices.

    Give it a try!

  14. Jonathan Says:

    The price seems reasonable for valet parking, security, and 24-hour access. Accepting and retrieving your bike for you at your convenience, day or night, at street level, convenient to your home or job, and storing it securely, with your accouterments like bags and lights, and that’s not worth $200 a month? The secure alternative is schlepping the bike into the elevator or up the stairs, and storing it in one’s valuable space in the kitchen or next to the bed, and the unsecure alternative is locking it up to street furniture where it can get damaged by vandals or careless motorists.

  15. MadeInKIM Says:

    Don (comment #11)
    That’s assuming just 5 bikes per parking spot. I think one could squeeze in a few more, especially when considering how tight they park cars in such attendant-retrieving garages.
    However, I agree w/ your last point, in effect, and similar to Jim-PE (comment #9), use some “leftover space” to park bikes where before there was no utilization (or marginal, say a garbage receptacle) of the space.

  16. Bikegirl Says:

    That price is ridiculous and definitely set up to fail.

    Do what I do: pay a doorman in one of those douchey new residential buildings with a bike room to park your bike for you. You can often avail yourself of this even if you live in a non douche place. Those bike rooms can be really empty. The doormen are generally cool about it. Plus, this kind of sneaky barter is just the NYC way.

  17. Brian Says:

    Bike Link in the Bay Area provides numerous secure bike parking facilities. As a card holder, you can use any one of them, they are not reserved. My local train station is my most frequent safe parking spot. Cost? 3 cents per hour. Quite a deal.

  18. Lee Says:

    They prob. want to establish a minimum charge per customer. They were likely terrified of the prospect of dealing with hundreds of people switching to bikes so they only pay $30 a month. Parking garages are expensive to build, especially in NYC, and the financing assumes those costs will be repayed. When they calculated the repayment of financing, they prob. didn’t factor in the possiblility of lots of people switching to bikes. So there is a financial incentive to charge people a lot of money no matter what kind of vehicle it is.

    I think the fact that the guidelines require a 6′x3’x3′ space for each bike is also a part of the problem. That’s terribly inefficient, especially when you are talking about replacing highly lucrative NYC parking garage spaces.

    In the rest of the world it’s not unusual to see on average eighteen bikes parked in the equivalent of one parking space. With folding bikes, the number goes up to 42. Whereas in the US we typically design for more than 8 or 9 bikes per parking space – often far less than that.

    The most efficient way to deal with bikes in a valet/security situation would probably be hanging them all on a wall by a hook to the front rim. You can also build rows of hangars.

  19. MikeOnBike Says:

    6x3x3 sounds like the dimensions of a bike locker. The BikeLink lockers fit two bikes in that space because they have a diagonal wall inside and a door at each end.

  20. Don Says:

    It looks like my estimation is correct.

    The law requires 6 x 3 x 3.

    A large SUV can be in excess of 15′, so I think that it’s easy to assume a typical parking space would be around 6′ wide by 15’+ long.

    So I think they are dividing the lost spaces that they could use for automobiles, and throwing in that $25 “Hell with this law” charge.

  21. Michiel Says:

    a $200 monthly abonnement rate for parking a CAR in an UNDERGROUND parking garage is even expensive!

  22. Jason Says:

    I used to work for the Victorian Government (a state of Australia) we had free bike parking for about 100 bikes in the space of perhaps 3 car parking space. the answer is hooks.

    According to bicycle Victoria’s website there, in a space 20 x 3.9 metres wide you can park 100 bikes. (a corridor 1.5 m wide, two rows of bikes protrude 1.2 metres from walls on each side, bikes at 40 cm spacing) that includes manouevring space. According to this website you’d fit about 4 car spaces with manouevring space in the same area.

  23. David Says:

    Mr. Chalkley, why would you propose that a parking spot in a private, commercial parking garage be free? It’s absolutely reasonable for the garage owners to be allowed to make money on the spots, just as they do for motorized vehicles.
    Bicyclists should be pushing for more public bike lockers, not considering forcing private property owners to make free spaces for bikes.

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