The True Cost of Free Parking in Tel Aviv

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(Parking at Rabin Square and pool of water in the parking lot.)

People who live in Israel and who have to negotiate its roads might not feel that they have arrived in Gan Eden (“Eden”). As the standard of living increases on a yearly basis, so does the number of cars and parking lots. Any of our readers try and find a parking spot in north Tel Aviv on any given day of the week? You can circle for an hour and still be at a loss as to where to park – even for a fee.

The Porter School of Environmental Studies at Tel Aviv University recently held a conference to address their concerns about mushrooming parking lots in Israeli cities: “How much parking do we need in Israel’s major cities?” they ask.

“How long do we spend searching for a space to park? What are the costs of “free” parking? Is it time to start charging drivers a price that reflects the real cost of their parking place?”

Car drivers still enjoy free parking in many countries around the world. In the USA, for example, drivers park for free on 99% of all their car trips. Israel is certainly no exception to the rule. Even in Tel Aviv, the city with the highest demand for parking, most drivers still park for free or in exchange for an exceptionally small fee.Drivers may park for free, but is parking truly free?

As the saying goes, there is no such thing as a “free lunch.” And so it is with parking. The cost of parking is simply hidden – it has been transferred from the driver of the car to the general public.

When parking is free, we all want to use it. With free parking, car use goes up, and with it all the negative impacts in terms of search time, traffic congestion, environmental pollution, and road safety. Studies have shown that in some neighborhoods 74% of all car traffic consists of drivers searching for a parking place!

What are the solutions? So far, there is little agreement among experts or the public at large. Various suggestions have included limiting parking spaces or placing a tax on parking spaces around the city. While the solutions may still provide free parking, each of them comes with a cost. At the conference, both the academic world and the Tel Aviv Municipality presented approaches to escaping the parking deadlock.

As far as we are concerned, it’s better to ditch the car and take the bus or a moneet shirut.

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