Sisyphus aims to tax parking, any day now

This is a pity: a very modest proposed tax on parking lots in Massachusetts disappears from the governor’s budget. A similar thing happened in the early days of Britain’s present coalition government: a few Tories like Phillip Blond recognized that the failure to tax parking represents a big subsidy to big supermarkets; they were quickly smacked down. The same thing happened in the early days of New Labour: John Prescott and Gordon Brown wanted such a tax, but Blair vetoed it – Greg Palast puts it down to political skulduggery, which is to say business as usual.

In many places, while supermarkets are free to fill the streets with cars and cover the ground with asphalt, the customers of small shops pay high prices for on-street parking: in England this is about the only discretionary revenue source for local governments, with predictable results – in my neighborhood, Harringay, in London, a non-resident on-street space is priced at £3 (about $4.80) per hour, 9.5 hours per day, 6 days per week. Allowing for holidays, and assuming full occupancy but ignoring additional charges (fines) for over-staying, this works out to £8,607 ($13,771) per year.

That versus the plan that’s just died in Massachusetts, which might have taxed parking lots with twenty or more spaces at $2 per space per day. A proposal in another borough of London to tax supermarket spaces at a modest rate of £600 (about $900) per year was met by screeds like this and never enacted. Campaigns to save small shops get loud endorsements, but the free ride for supermarket parking is seldom mentioned.

If you think for a moment about the massive external costs of urban road traffic (local air pollution, carbon in the atmosphere, roads unsafe for children or pedestrians & cyclists generally, buses stuck in traffic); the heavy environmental costs of the impermeable surfaces of parking lots themselves; the massive amounts of cement that go into (and thus carbon produced by) the erection of parking structures … taxing retail and commuter parking is a no-brainer.

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