The Infrastructurist has a discussion of whether parking prices in the city should be raised in order to encourage less driving and therefore, less congestion.
While this may be an interesting argument, my research into several suburbs showed that they solved this problem without much argument back in the 1950s and 1960s. As suburban downtowns faced more competition from strip malls and large shopping centers, downtown business owners argued that city-owned parking meters were driving away customers. Why would a person go to the trouble of shopping in a suburban downtown when free parking was plentiful at shopping centers? Within a few years, these suburbs removed their parking meters in an effort to improve local business.The possible business gains far outweighed the possibility of some municipal revenues from the parking meters.
When I first encountered these debates, they seemed a bit strange – were people really avoiding suburban downtowns just because of some small parking fee? Even if downtown parking were free, it seems that suburban residents would (and did) tend to choose shopping centers anyway, for reasons that outweighed parking concerns. (Of course, there is a lot of complaining about finding close shopping spaces at the mall – but, at least those spots are free. However, one could make an argument that they are not free as the parking costs get passed along through the business rents and leases and to higher prices for consumers.)
I left reading about these debates thinking that the parking meters were a last straw that suburban downtowns tried desperately to grab at to attract shoppers. Ultimately, many suburban communities were unsuccessful and the parking meters played a limited role.