Underpricing produces shortages: That's one of the most fundamental rules of economics, and it's as true for parking as it is for any other product.
Officials with the Town of Islip are right to start adding parking meters to some free spots in downtown Bay Shore, because doing so is one of the best ways to free up parking and increase turnover. Freeing up spots will be a huge advantage both for business owners and their potential customers who may be staying away because open spaces are scarce or who may give up in frustration after circling around, especially on summer weekends.
The plan makes sense. Only about 40 percent of downtown spots will be metered, the rest will remain free. The money will go to the upkeep of the town's municipal parking lots, necessary because the town is facing an $11.3 million deficit.
Study after study, including the aptly named tome "The High Cost of Free Parking" by UCLA professor Donald Shoup, have made the point that free, unmetered spots encourage anyone who works or lives nearby to park and not move their cars all day, or for days on end. That severely limits the spaces available to shoppers, diners and business customers. The answer is meters, which raise revenue and push long-term parkers to other lots or garages.
This has worked in Long Island's most vital and energetic downtowns: Huntington, Northport, Babylon, Port Jefferson and Port Washington spring to mind. Patchogue, too, installed meters in January.
Several Bay Shore business owners are circulating petitions fighting the meters. Perhaps their employees use the spots all day long, or they may sincerely believe potential shoppers will balk at paying for parking. They're off base. Meters free up parking and that's good for downtowns and the businesses and customers that support them.