After his shift at his limo company ended one night this year, Arben Elezi called his wife to tell her he would be home as soon as he found a parking spot. Hours later, she called him, frantic — he was still not back. He told her to look out the window of their Upper West Side apartment.
Mr. Elezi had searched fruitlessly for a spot for so many hours that he had fallen asleep, double parked, out front.
“It is a daily struggle to find parking,” Mr. Elezi said on a recent morning as he guarded his 2002 Mercedes against parking tickets during alternate side parking hours on Riverside Drive. “It takes away a lot of the quality of life.”
New Yorkers have long groused about finding — and paying for — places to leave their cars. But now, inflation, the housing crisis and post-pandemic aftershocks have made what was already an urban blood sport nearly untenable. Drivers who find themselves priced out of expensive-as-rent garages are forced to hunt for parking spots increasingly crowded out by dumpsters, dining sheds, bike lanes and a glut of cars. This past fiscal year, the police issued 8.4 million tickets, one of the highest totals on record.
No, you’re not imagining it: Parking in New York City is worse than ever.
Topping the list of reasons is the sheer number of cars: There are over 2.2 million registered in New York City, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, and many more that drive into the city each day from elsewhere. Many of them are now vying for the city’s roughly three million free parking spots.
Competing for space by the curb are delivery hubs, bikes and dining sheds, which have chewed away at an estimated 8,000 of the city’s free street side parking spaces. There are now about 2,000 CitiBike bicycle rental docks, and counting. A study of the feasibility of installing rat-resistant garbage dumpsters by the Department of Sanitation showed such containers could claim another 150,000 spaces if implemented.
There is also a peculiarly New York parking conundrum: So much of the city’s street parking is free (and meter parking is relatively cheap) that drivers park and just stay put, said Rachel Weinberger, the director of research strategy at Regional Plan Association; cars are not incentivized to budge. This month, the city will roll out higher meter prices, beginning in Manhattan, to induce turnover. “It helps people share better,” Ms. Weinberger, said.
All this parking trouble comes at a time when there is an active effort to shrink the number of cars in New York because they contribute so much to climate change. Transit and environmental advocates argue that parking in the city — in garages and on public streets — should be expensive, partly as an incentive to keep people from driving in the first place.
For those desperately in search of a place to leave their cars, the pain is felt citywide. But its apex is perennially car-stuffed Manhattan, where garage parking is the most expensive in the country — on average $441 per month — according to a recent study of nearly 40 big U.S. cities by FINN, a subscription car leasing company. (That’s about what you’d pay for 20 months of parking in Tulsa, Okla., the country’s cheapest, according to the findings.) The Upper West Side’s garages are the most expensive of all, it found, averaging $650 a month.
On top of all that, with city real estate at a premium, many parking garages have vanished, scooped up by developers and converted into apartments. The scarcity appears to have driven up garage prices, drivers say; many even have wait-lists.
In the Bronx, Abdoulaye Kabre, 45, an Instacart deliveryman, found the holy grail last year: a $200-per-month garage space right near his house. A friend was moving out of town and bequeathed her spot to him. Before that, he said, some nights when he couldn’t find a street spot, he slept in his car. “You don’t have a choice,” Mr. Kabre said.
And there may soon be even fewer off-street options: Mayor Eric Adams recently introduced a plan to address the city’s affordable housing crisis that included easing a requirement that all new developments include parking.
City Hall was quick to stress that parking is not under attack; rather, the use of curbs has evolved in recent years. “This is a vision where local businesses can access goods and welcome customers, where those who need to park cars can do so, and where the majority of New Yorkers and vast majority of Manhattanites who do not own personal cars can take advantage of the largest public bike share and the best public transit system in the nation,” said a spokesman for the mayor’s office, Charles Kretchmer Lutvak.
Every so often, Dutch Benendez, 56, who said he is a disabled veteran and works as a street vendor, drives his cherry red Chevrolet HHR into garages near where he lives on West 85th Street. “I’ll pretend I’m looking for a spot just to see what the prices are,” he says. He inevitably drives right back out. On West 90th Street at a garage run by SP Plus Corporation, for example, parking a midsize car costs $844.77 a month — with tax, that’s $1,000 — about half of Mr. Benendez’s monthly earnings, he said.
Hunting for spots, or waiting out alternate side parking — when drivers must move their cars to make way for street cleaners or risk a ticket — has frequently made him late for work, he said. Often, he can only find parking 30 blocks away from his home. “Sometimes I take the bus home from where I’ve found a spot,” Mr. Benendez said.
This past year, the New York State Senate floated a proposal for residential parking permits in New York City, a plan that would essentially set aside certain parking spots for people who live in the neighborhood. It is a perennial topic of discussion that may gain more traction as congestion pricing — charging steep fees to commuters driving into certain parts of the city — becomes a reality. That’s because some fear that commuters will park on streets outside of the congestion zones, gobbling up more of a precious resource.
“Anybody can park for free on our New York City streets,” said Renee Baruch, a retired corporate lawyer who started a lobbying group, NYC Resident Parking, to push for the permits. “Which is bizarre.”
Some New Yorkers, like Malcolm Fox, 58, have done the math and figured that getting a $65 alternate side parking ticket every so often is far cheaper than garaging a car where he lives on the Upper West Side. Balancing life and parking means Mr. Fox finds about two orange slips under his windshield a month, he said, when he doesn’t have time to move his BMW for the street sweeper.
“I take it all in my stride, because it’s cheap to park in New York for just 120 or so dollars,” Mr. Fox said. “It’s an easy choice to make.”
That calculus may be why the police wrote a flurry of parking tickets this past fiscal year, summonses that could total over $724 million, according to an analysis of Department of Finance data by the New York City Comptroller’s office.
But not everyone is paying up: In 2021, the total amount of money in outstanding parking tickets increased by one-third — drivers owe a total of $911 million — according to data from the Comptroller’s annual report; the next year it rose by more than 20 percent, to $1.1 billion. The number of new fines increased by 15 percent each year of those years, the report said.
In June, Lincoln Restler, a New York City councilman and Democrat from Brooklyn, introduced legislation that ratchets up the penalty for each subsequent ticket; more than three strikes a year could result in a tow.
The councilman does not have a car, he said. “But I am sympathetic to everybody who struggles with it.”