1 Crazy Tip for Paying Less Rent: Become a Car

It’s a story as old as combustion engines. A city seeking to fund public services and reduce traffic votes to raise the price of parking—effectively imposing an indirect tax on vehicle ownership—and before you can say “car pool lane,” all mother-loving hell breaks loose.

This is the situation playing out right now in Wellington, New Zealand, where motorists are up in arms about a 35% increase in the price of resident parking permits, claiming the fee is so onerous that it is actually against the law.

Kiwi legalities aside, the decision to charge more for parking is hardly unfair, as our colleague, Wellington native Oliver Bruce, explained last week in an interview:

“We currently don’t price our car parking appropriate to the land use… You can get a car parking spot through the residents’ parking [program] for $1.37 a week, for something that’s 10 square meters. A room to rent anywhere in Wellington is $240 a week for exactly the same thing. That’s a 175x difference.”

Oliver’s point about land use got us thinking. Inch for inch, where does the price of parking accurately reflect the cost of housing?

The NYT has calculated the average monthly rent per square foot in the ten most expensive cities worldwide. Using data from ParkMe, we can measure parking prices per square foot in nine of the same metropolitan areas. (ParkMe did not have sufficient data on the tenth city on the list, Singapore.)

For comparability, we searched ParkMe’s listings for the monthly prices at the five parking lots and structures closest to City Hall in each city, then averaged those prices and calculated the cost per square foot, assuming the typical parking spot is 130 square feet. (Hat tip to City Observatory for inspiring this methodology.)

What we found was depressing, if not exactly surprising. (Key findings below, data visualization above.)

Asphalt is the cheapest form of real estate. In terms of space allocated, renting a house is more expensive than parking a car in seven out of the nine cities.

Maybe your landlord will drop your rent by a fifth if you register as motor vehicle. Across the board, the average price per square foot of renting was 18% higher than parking ($4.55 versus $3.75).

San Francisco leads in livability for… automobiles. SF has the widest gap, with a square foot of housing ($4.75) going for almost twice as much as the same amount of parking ($2.61).

Try the subway instead. The only city on the list where parking is significantly more expensive than renting is New York. On average, drivers in the Big Apple pay a 27% premium for space to store their metal boxes.

The price is (sometimes) right. Hong Kong comes the closest to pricing parking “correctly” relative to the cost of living. There, the average rental goes for $4.67 a square foot compared to $4.77 for a parking spot, a difference of 2% more for car storage.

Lastly, it’s important to note that, by limiting our search to off-street parking in the downtown core, near City Hall, our methodology almost certainly overestimates the price of parking. Many of these cities offer cheaper or even free parking, either on-street and in less dense areas.

All of which is to say that parking is priced unreasonably low compared to renting in many major cities—and if anything these numbers are probably toogenerous to cars.