Monday, August 23, 2010

Be cautious about Park-and-Ride, especially in dense areas

Monday, August 23, 2010

Park-and-ride was the focus for two posts at Reinventing Urban Transport in May 2010. They questioned the wisdom of spending large sums of taxpayers' money to subsidize parking at urban mass transit stations, especially in places with high property prices. 

The two posts were:  Is park-and-ride a bad idea? and More on park-and-ride in dense parts of Asian cities

Below I have put the two posts together into one and edited a little.

Park-and-ride facility at Chatuchak, Bangkok
(This one is free-of-charge. And notice the institutionalised double-parking arrangement?)

The idea that car parking should be provided at mass transit stations has taken root in Asia.

The team that helped me investigate parking policy in Asian cities in 2009/2010 found active park-and-ride programs in Bangkok, Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Seoul, Singapore and Taipei. Park-and-ride facilities have been debated in Ahmedabad and Jakarta for their BRT systems. Delhi wasn't in our study but park-and-ride at Delhi Metro stations has been a hot topic there too.

Interestingly, we found no government-sponsored park-and-ride in the Tokyo region, although there are private parking lots used in this way (without public subsidy) in the outer reaches of the metropolitan area.

I doubt the wisdom of building park-and-ride in dense parts of Asia's cities.

That statement may shock some readers. Park-and-ride seems to have a halo of virtue and is rarely questioned. After all, doesn't it entice motorists onto public transport who might otherwise drive into congested city cores?

But ask yourself, is this the most cost-effective way to get people into public transport?

Bangkok MRT park-and-ride structure at Lad Prao (above) and its dense urban context (below)

Is parking really the best use of space near high-capacity, high-frequency mass transit systems being built in these cities? Is this the best use of precious public funds?

In many Asian cities park-and-ride is widely assumed to be a good thing almost by definition. This is a mistake.

Proposals for park-and-ride facilities in dense urban contexts should be subject to more scrutiny. 

The opportunity cost of space near mass transit stations is high. In dense Asian cities it is especially high.

In such contexts it is easy to think of strategies that are almost certainly more effective, less costly and more space-efficient than car parking for commuters:
  • complementary bus service, including feeder buses
  • bicycle park-and-ride [these we do find in Tokyo!]
  • motorcycle-based park-and-ride, and
  • excellent pedestrian environments and links around stations.
I am wary of park-and-ride. I think Asia's planners should be sceptical too.

One exception? 

However, I can think of one kind of high-density neighbourhood which might be suitable for automobile park-and-ride. If a station area is overwhelmingly residential then park-and-ride can exploit the complementary timing of demand for home-based parking and park-and-ride parking. In other words, park-and-ride might be a cost-effective daytime use of residential parking that would otherwise have low-occupancy in those hours. This kind of park-and-ride would not need expensive purpose-specific facilities. Singapore’s park-and-ride program seems to be an example. Many of its park-and-ride site being located in its HDB public housing estates and are not specially-built as park-and-ride facilities.

Some clarifications
I responded to comments on the points above (some on the sustran-discuss list) as follows.

1. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when such facilities are within the dense urban fabric (such as 'inner city' areas).

It is in these dense areas that the opportunity cost of space is highest. Most of the other uses of station-vicinity space will do much more to build public transport ridership than P&R.

Many mass transit systems in developing Asia are, for now, limited to these dense/mixed-use areas. In most cases, they don't yet extend out into the newest 'suburban areas'. P&R seems least defensible in these high-density locations with high property prices. Yet it is still being implemented in various dense urban localities in Asia.

The photos of Bangkok above are examples. These are in locations that are now considered to be [relatively] inner-urban. They are not in a low-density suburban context.

2. My objection to park-and-ride is strongest when it involves a large subsidy from government or from the public transport company's budget.

P&R in dense areas with high property prices involves a very large subsidy (even if it is not obvious as in cases where government already owns the land).

[BTW, This objection actually applies to almost all of the parking (not just P&R parking) that local governments are trying to provide in Asian cities. That's another issue!]

These are extremely regressive subsidies in cities with low car ownership rates. For example, why should general taxpayers and the majority of passengers cross-subsidise the parking of the wealthy minority who drive to the stations of the Delhi Metro?

3. Park-and-ride is aimed at objectives which could be achieved more effectively by other means.

This is about making the best use of the TDM budget or the public transport budget (which need to be used wisely). It is certainly good to reduce Central Business District traffic and to get middle-class motorists into public transport. But it seems obvious that we could get more traffic reduction per dollar spent with various other initiatives than with P&R subsidies. [Has anyone seen serious analysis of this?]

Remember, I am still talking about dense areas for now. In such areas we can expect any (well-governed) city to be able to foster good bus-based transport to complement mass transit, to have plentiful taxi service (2-wheel, 3-wheel, or 4-wheel), and to have high-quality pedestrian environments. [Safe bicycle space seems harder but most of us do expect that too.]

Mumbai came up in the sustran-discuss debate as a case where these conditions do not yet exist. But they should be the priorities. They help everyone. The P&R strategy accepts defeat on these and undermines ever achieving them. For example, in Mumbai is it really so hard to imagine small premium buses (with premium fares comparable to autorickshaw prices perhaps) bringing middle-class people to stations of the Metro when it opens?

4. Objecting to subsidised park-and-ride is not the same as saying there will not be any parking near mass transit stations.

But it does mean there would be no government-subsidized parking near the station.

A final thought:

If we stop subsidising parking at stations would drivers really just drive to their city centre jobs? I guess some would. But city centre parking is (or should be) very expensive [again that is another story!]. And mass transit is usually faster for commutes to CBD jobs in large congested cities. Mass transit stations are still pretty attractive even without P&R.

I suspect that Asian entrepreneurship can handle this challenge (if regulations allow). Taxis, auto-rickshaws and pedicabs already serve rail stations of course (even if imperfectly). In some cities, minibus businesses serve stations well. I wonder if valet-parking businesses might even arise just as they do in busy restaurant districts. They might store the vehicles at lower-cost parking opportunities nearby (but beyond the expensive station-vicinity itself).

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