Worst Cities for Parking Your Car - NerdWallet

Worst Cities for Parking Your Car


There’s nothing worse than spending your precious time finding a parking spot only to fork over a small fortune to park your car for a few hours. Not only can searching for parking be stressful, but paying for parking can be a big strain on your wallet as well. Parking is one of the main reasons a lot of people ditch the car if there’s good public transportation in their city.  

NerdWallet took a look at parking in cities all over the country and is giving you a snapshot at the 10 worst cities to find parking. These cities are ranked as the worst because of their high parking costs and high vehicle theft rates. Whether it’s spending big in Honolulu or losing your car in Oakland, we’ve got the things you’re going to want to look out for in each of the worst cities for parking — as well as some tips for how to find the best spots.

Our analysis examines the following variables:

1. Price of parking: We included the price of parking for daily parking as well as monthly parking lot costs. Parking costs can eat up huge chunks of your budget. They also offer insight into how difficult it is to find parking in a city.

2. Motor vehicle theft: You shouldn’t have to worry about your car after you’ve parked it. We factored in the likelihood your car would be stolen. It also acts as a proxy for safety after you’ve parked your car.


  • Chicago is the worst city for parking — and also the most controversial. Parking prices skyrocketed in 2009 after the city made a deal for a group of investors, organized by Morgan Stanley, to operate its meters for 75 years.
  • Though you’ll probably enjoy Hawaii’s capital, Honolulu is an extremely expensive city to park in; it’ll run you $42 a day.
  • There are a lot of car thefts in Oakland — 124.59% more per capita than the national average.

1. Chicago, Ill.

This city is known for its parking woes—especially the controversial privatization of the parking meters, which led to a dramatic increase in parking fees in 2009. A consortium called Chicago Parking Meters LLC operates the meters. You’ll drop $35 a day to park in the city and $289 per month. The city lists the fines you’ll receive for various parking violations on their website. 

This spring, Chicago will test its new ParkChicago app, which allows drivers to pay for parking via an app rather than a meter. There are various websites that help you find the cheapest parking in the city. Chicago is one of the cities supported by SpotHero.com, which helps you find parking and prepay. However, if you want to ditch driving altogether, the city has multiple public transportation options. Bus and “L” riders will soon be able to use their phones to pay for rides.

Unfortunately, Chicago also has 33.4% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average. And if you get a citation, you must contest it within seven days of receiving it or pay the fine online.

2. Oakland, Calif.

Be extra careful when you park in Oakland because the city has 124.59% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average. It’ll cost you $15.50 a day to park in Oakland or $195 a month for parking. However, Oakland has tried to make paying for parking a little easier; the meters allow drivers to pay for parking using the city’s Parkmobile app. For a complete list of Oakland’s parking offenses and fines, check out the city’s website.

If you’re sick of driving, Oakland and the Bay Area have access to Bay Area Rapid Transit, a public transit and subway system. People can pay to park at BART stations and take trains to places around the Bay Area. The BART website provides a convenient fare calculator to help you know how much a trip will cost you. There are stations throughout Oakland and even service to Oakland International Airport.

3. San Francisco, Calif.

The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency owns various lots and garages around the city. To ease the burden of finding parking in San Francisco, SFMTA created SFpark, an organization that matches drivers with parking spaces at various rates. Drivers can see where spots are available and how much they’ll have to pay online, though the median price to park is $29 a day and $375 a month. On the bright side, the city has 5.53% fewer motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average.

The SFMTA provides a how-to page explaining how to park legally in the city. If after reading the page you still manage to get a citation, you can conveniently pay it online. Some of the city’s rules include a 72-hour maximum if no other signs are posted and prohibited parking on certain sides of the road during weekly street sweeping. If you choose to contest a citation, you must do it within 21 days of receiving it. The form for contesting a citation can be found online and must be mailed to the SFMTA Customer Service Center.

4. New York City, N.Y.

In the Big Apple, you should be very careful to make sure you’re not parking illegally as New York City is extremely strict about illegal parking. In fact, the entire city is a tow-away zone, according to the state’s vehicle and traffic laws. This means that any car parked illegally may be towed.

Owning a car in New York is expensive enough, so you definitely don’t want to park illegally and have to pay towing costs and citations. After all, it costs $32 a day and $547.50 a month to park in New York. However, if you do need to pay a citation, you can simply visit New York City’s website. And if you have to have a car, you can use ParkMe or ParkWhiz, free apps that helps New Yorkers find available spots for their cars.

5. Boston, Mass. 

Boston is one of the cities served by the Parker app, which provides information about spots and garages in the area. It costs $33.50 a day and $405 a month to park in the city. If you’re visiting the city, try going on a Sunday — parking meters are free that day.

In Boston, you can register for ticket notifications, so you can get reminders when you receive a ticket and when you have to pay. You can also appeal a ticket in person, by mail or online. The city’s Department of Transportation keeps the public updated about projects for street improvement through the website Boston Complete Streets.

6. Honolulu, Hawaii

It costs $42 a day and $230 a month to park in Honolulu. If you receive a ticket, you must respond to it within 21 days, either by paying or contesting the ticket in writing or in a hearing. In 2012, Honolulu added 340 smart meters, allowing drivers to pay with Visa or MasterCard in addition to paying with coins. 

7. Washington, D.C.

D.C. officers are avid ticketers, as the city collected $92.6 million in parking fines in 2011. (Take note that the highest ticketed time is during the National Cherry Blossom Festival.) If you wind up with a citation, you can pay it online. Do it as soon as possible, too, because if you don’t pay your fine within 30 days, your fine will double. It costs $19 a day and $270 a month to park in the city. D.C. is served by the ParkMobile Android app as well as Parking Panda. You can also search for spots and lots on Best Parking. The city provides a map of garages online, and the site DC Parking helps people learn more about the best places to park in different neighborhoods in the city. Washington, D.C., has 60.17% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average.

8. Seattle, Wash.

If you park outside in Seattle, your car will probably get rained on, so make sure to cover your convertible. It’s also important to know that Seattle follows a 72-hour maximum parking time limit if no other signs are posted. If you receive a ticket, you can pay it in person or online or contest it by requesting a hearing. It costs $27 a day and $285 a month to park in the city. The Seattle city government provides a service called e-Park that helps drivers locate available parking spaces, lots or garages. You can also pay for your spot by phone. The city has 10.32% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average.

Seattle also offers the Link Light Rail service. Although the service is expanding, it currently only runs from the airport to downtown Seattle (with multiple stops in between). Fares range from $2 to $2.75 for adults, and people can use ORCA cards to pay.

9. Philadelphia, Pa.

It costs $25.50 a day and $313.25 a month to park in Philadelphia. Make sure you don’t let those tickets pile up; parking enforcement officers will boot cars that have accumulated three unpaid parking tickets. The city offers explanations and fine amounts for all the various parking citations it issues. The Philadelphia Parking Authority offers a parking locator service online that helps drivers find parking, as well as a list of lots and garages. And, while you should always be careful about where you park, the city has 10.13% less motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average.

10. Sacramento, Calif.                                                                            

Sacramento has 67.5% more motor vehicle thefts per capita than the national average, and it costs $15 a day and $145 a month to park in the city. You can pay a ticket online, as well as contest it — as long as it’s within 21 days of the date of issue. The city recently updated its meters in February by adding 4,000 new smart meters that allow drivers to pay with Visa, MasterCard, American Express or Discover cards. 

Data Sources: 

1. Parking garage pricing data was sourced from Collier International’s 2012 Parking Study.  All prices cited are the median unreserved rates.

2. Theft rates are from the FBI’s 2010 data on motor vehicle thefts in each city. We used these to calculate car thefts per capita for each city and an average national rate of car thefts per capita.

Worst Cities for Parking Your Car


City State Daily Parking Rate Monthly Unreserved Parking Rate Motor Vehicle Theft per Capita Compared to National Average Weighted Average
Chicago IL $35.00 $289.00 33.40% 39.01
Oakland CA $15.50 $195.00 124.59% 43.56
San Francisco CA $29.00 $375.00 -5.53% 46.21
New York City NY $32.00 $547.50 -75.47% 46.57
Boston MA $33.50 $405.00 -37.33% 46.71
Honolulu HI $42.00 $230.00 -18.66% 46.72
Washington DC $19.00 $270.00 60.17% 48.38
Seattle WA $27.00 $285.00 10.32% 50.33
Philadelphia PA $25.50 $313.25 -10.13% 53.77
Sacramento CA $15.00 $145.00 67.50% 57.93


Best Cities for Parking Your Car


City State Daily Parking Rate Monthly Unreserved Parking Rate Motor Vehicle Theft per Capita Compared to National Average Weighted Average
Boise ID $12.00 $80.00 -84.70% 93.48
Greenville SC $6.00 $69.70 -46.31% 91.77
Jacksonville FL $8.56 $90.00 -52.46% 89.57
Raleigh NC $10.00 $105.00 -58.93% 88.70
Walnut Creek CA $12.00 $95.00 -52.55% 86.42
Tampa FL $11.00 $125.00 -52.26% 85.37
Charleston SC $14.00 $120.00 -61.40% 84.92
Fort Lauderdale FL $15.00 $78.00 -32.31% 81.09
West Palm Beach FL $16.00 $56.00 -23.49% 79.91
Columbia SC $10.00 $65.00 1.88% 79.51
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