Free pizza = free parking

Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra, Pizza Hut.

Imagine if the City of Yarra set up a stall on each street, each day, to give away free pizza. Many people would like it. Many parents would stop at a stall near their child’s school to pick up some free pizza for the school lunch. Many commuters would stop at a stall near their work to get a free slice of pizza for a snack. At the end of the work day, many residents would stop at a stall near their homes to obtain free pizza for dinner. 

After several years of such a free pizza service, many people would become accustomed to it, even saying that they needed it. “I can’t afford to purchase pizza from the pizza restaurant” they would say, or “my family and my lifestyle rely on free pizza near my home”. 

As more people chose to live in Yarra, more people would take up the offer of free pizza, and stalls would start to run out of stock. As more people attempted to get in early so as not to miss out, the pizza would start to run out at an earlier time each day. People who arrived after the pizza had run out would complain, saying “Yarra needs to improve the pizza service”. Some would even say that “council is a disgrace” or “councillors need to be sacked and replaced with people who can ensure we have enough free pizza”. 

Council would attempt to manage the demand for free pizza by introducing restrictions, such as “if you’ve had two slices, you need to move on”, or “at the end of the work day only local residents are eligible for free pizza”. Even if some people did move on, and council could arrange some extra pizza deliveries to each stall during the day, these extra stocks would still quickly get snapped up.

If some residents suggested that council shouldn’t be giving pizza away for free, or that if council was going to offer a pizza service, it should at least be charging the same price as the nearby pizza restaurant, then the people who had become accustomed to free pizza would complain, saying that “people need free pizza”. Possibly, some people on medium or high incomes would say “if council stopped offering free pizza, it would harm people on low incomes”.

Free pizza is like free parking — if you give it away for free then you’ll never have enough to go around. Offering parking for free means that bays are occupied quickly, which doesn’t help people who need to drive and park, including people on low incomes. Each free parking bay undercuts operators of private off-street parking, so they have no solid business model to justify expanding their service. 

The solution is simple — stop giving parking away for free. Start managing parking using demand responsive pricing, so that there’s generally always a couple of empty parking bays on each street. Parking won’t run out, and people who need to drive and park will be able to do so. 

Published 1st June 2021

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