Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Aargh! Another city wants to regulate parking prices?

I reported before that cities in Indonesia, China and Vietnam regulate the prices of private parking facilities. Now Chennai, the largest city in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu, is also considering price controls on private-sector parking.

Oh dear. I hope they think very carefully first. Can someone please refer Chennai's politicians to my previous post on this issue?

I am not a fan of this policy (to put it mildly). Parking price controls are a bad idea. I don't want to beat about the bush about that. They are profoundly counter-productive. Consider these points:
  • All of India's large cities claim to have a severe parking shortage. 
  • The low investment returns on parking space prompt some building owners to divert parking to other uses. 
  • Rising private-sector parking prices are precisely what is needed to get a better balance between supply and demand. 
  • Some basic needs might warrant for price controls in some situations (this is another debate!). But it is a huge stretch to claim parking is a basic need, especially in a place like India. 
  • Services based on natural monopolies do usually need price regulation. But parking is usually NOT a natural monopoly. (As I said in my previous post on this topic.)
  • So why on earth would you want to cap those prices? [Could it be anything to do with the reluctance to take effective control of on-street parking? Yes, of course! But in that case focus more energy there, not on fake solutions like controlling off-street parking prices.]

Most of the (so-called) arguments for price controls are incredibly feeble.

Many seem to consist of little more than complaints over rising prices. Local motorists and politicians are shocked (shocked!) that shopping malls and private recreation centres in the city have been "charging Rs 10 and 20 per hour for a two-wheeler and Rs 50 and 60 per hour for a car." US$1 is about Rs45 currently.  The news item from Chennai quotes breathless exclamations about the 'fleecing' of customers:
"Initially, the parking fee for two-wheelers at a shopping mall on Radhakrishnan Salai was Rs 5. All of a sudden it was increased to Rs 10. It is high time they were regulated," said PN Peter of Adyar.
I gather that Radhakrishnan Salai is one of Chennai's busiest and swankiest shopping streets.

Nevertheless, there is at least ONE substantive argument for price regulation which I see popping up (with slight variations) in many countries and which raises some important issues. I don't agree with it but it does deserve some detailed discussion (in another post soon).

The argument has to do with the ways in which parking is usually NOT counted as part of floor space which planners allow in a development and is usually NOT subject to the full force of property taxes. These issues may seem a little dry but they are important. If you want to understand parking policy choices you are going to have to grapple with some of the esoteric planning rules which govern parking and property taxes.

More on this argument some other time.

By the way, I hope this post does not come across badly as an outsider lecturing Indians on how to run their cities. [This blog lectures everyone! Not just Indian cities.]  For an Indian perspective on parking policy from a blog that is well worth following, see the latest post from India Lives in Her Cities Too.
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Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Tell me what you want from Reinventing Parking (taking stock)

Tell me what you want from Reinventing Parking (taking stock)
It is one month since I launched Reinventing Parking and now seems like a good moment to take stock of how the blog is going.

If you are new here, scroll to the bottom of this post to explore some of the popular posts so far. Otherwise, read on.

This blog has a purpose which is not just about getting a large audience (so you won't find funny 'parking fail' videos here ... or not very often anyway). But of course I am pleased that the audience is growing steadily with over 200 subscribers so far.
Nevertheless, it is time to ASK YOU what you want from this blog.
  • Is the blog relevant to your location? I can't write about every specific place every week but I hope most readers will find something of interest even in items from other continents. Am I correct? How could I make it more relevant to you? What are the burning parking issues where you are?
  • What parking policy questions are you most curious about? Have I tackled them yet? Please suggest topics for me to cover (or to find a guest blogger to cover).
  • Why do you care about parking? (I assume you do or you wouldn't be reading)
  • Tell me who you are via comment or email. Am I reaching urban planners or transport planners in government, municipalities or in private practice? Are most of you researchers or students? Are Reinventing Parking readers in non-profits or community organisations? Are you in the for-profit parking industries? Are you activists?
  • Thanks to everyone who has already sent me tip-offs for events, publications, new studies and news items to cover. Please keep them coming.
  • Thanks to everyone who has commented. But there aren't very many of you yet! Tell me what I am doing right and what I am doing wrong by commenting on this post or emailing me (see the link at the top-right on the home page).

Please share the word about Reinventing Parking!
  • If you enjoy Reinventing Parking or find it useful, please stop to think of two or three people you know who might also benefit from it. Send them a message to tell them!
  • By the way, if your contacts are in China, the site may be blocked to them. But you can invite them to subscribe by email with this link:
  • Do you have a blog or website on a related topic (eg urban planning, architecture, urbanism, urban transport, sustainable cities, public transport, etc)? Please link to me! I will try to reciprocate (if your site meets my guidelines) and link to at least your parking-related posts or sections.  Many thanks to the bloggers who have already linked here. Thanks especially to those who have written warm recommendations. Examples include: Human Transit, Market Urbanism, PCI Parking blog, Streetsblog Network, PT's parking blog and others.
  • I tweet on urban transport issues, with a strong emphasis on parking. So follow me on twitter and retweet me when I hit the spot for you.

Footway parking was a popular post. This example is in Manila.
The following posts have been particularly popular so far. If you are a new reader, they might be a good place to start:

PS. I am about to leave for a two-week holiday to see family and friends in Australia, so posting may  be a little lighter and briefer than usual. (But look out for the first guest post, coming soon from Carlos Pardo of Colombia, who will share his insights on Bogotá's dramatic parking reforms under Mayor Enrique Peñalosa in the late 1990s.)
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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Provoked by PARK(ing) Day

Provoked by PARK(ing) Day
Friday's International PARK(ing) Day for 2010 was 'provoking' in more ways than one.

PARK(ing) Day came to Hangzhou, China for the first time this year. Photo from helina lass at Park(ing)Day Hangzhou 2010

It has been declared a great success by its global organisers. I agree. I love this event for the way it makes people think again about something they usually take for granted - on-street parking space

What is International PARK(ing) Day anyway?
PARK(ing) Day is a annual open-source global event where citizens, artists and activists collaborate to temporarily transform metered parking spaces into “PARK(ing)” spaces: temporary public places. The project began in 2005 when Rebar, a San Francisco art and design studio, converted a single metered parking space into a temporary public park in downtown San Francisco. Since 2005, PARK(ing) Day has evolved into a global movement, with organizations and individuals (operating independently of Rebar but following an established set of guidelines) creating new forms of temporary public space in urban contexts around the world. The mission of PARK(ing) Day is to call attention to the need for more urban open space, to generate critical debate around how public space is created and allocated, and to improve the quality of urban human habitat … at least until the meter runs out!
These days, most PARK(ing) Day events have official permission. Nevertheless, a number faced problems with local bureaucracies, for example in Berlin and Brussels.

But why should special permission be necessary? This may seem a 'stupid question' but it made me stop and think. Keep reading for more reflections on PARK(ing) Day that start with this stupid question.

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Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Puzzling policy: price controls on private-sector parking

Puzzling policy: price controls on private-sector parking
Would it surprise you to know that some cities control the price of parking even for private-sector off-street parking operations? 

Beijing, Guangzhou, Hanoi and Jakarta do control parking prices, so I assume the practice is common throughout China, Indonesia and Vietnam.

The parking operator at this shopping centre in Jakarta was exceeding the regulated prices late in 2009. The official rates specified Rp2000 (US20c or so) for the first hour and Rp1000 for each subsequent hour.
Controlling private sector parking prices seems highly unusual to me. Surely most cities around the world allow such parking to have market prices? Am I wrong? Can you tell me of any other places that regulate parking fees charged by private-sector parking operators? Please use the comments to let me know.

Such a policy seems unwise.
  • The politics of parking pricing is difficult enough for public-sector parking. On-street parking pricing and state-run hospital parking prices seem especially controversial. Why add to your troubles by also trying to control private-sector parking?
  • The usual economists' arguments against price controls apply here. With regulated prices we inevitably suppress supply, inflate demand and throw away the information value of market prices.
  • In certain cases, such as airport parking, there may be a monopoly problem so that high parking prices are a sign of market failure, which could justify regulation. But within urban areas this is rarely the case. In neighbourhoods with commercial parking, there is usually competition.
  • Finally, in China, Vietnam and Indonesia, private car owners tend to be high-income people. Why does an elite group need to be protected from market prices?

I am assuming that the price controls keep the prices lower than the market would. But is it true? 
  • I am pretty sure of this for Hanoi, where there are many complaints of saturated parking and of high black-market parking prices, suggesting official prices are much too low.
  • In Jakarta in late 2009, many parking lots were charging slightly higher than the official rates. This actually prompted enforcement action in February 2010. Clearly, if parking prices were deregulated in Jakarta they would generally be higher than they are now under the strict price controls. There has recently been talk of a parking price revision in Jakarta but deregulation of parking prices is not yet on the radar.
  • In 2008 Guangzhou’s price controls become more restrictive than before, provoking complaints from the private parking industry. In Guangzhou our study found most prices were at the city-decreed price level but some were below it. So maybe the official rates in Guangzhou are not yet too different from market prices.

Officially sanctioned parking prices in Guangzhou.
Why do these cities control parking prices? I heard several different answers. None of them seemed persuasive to me but they are obviously carrying the day locally. They are interesting enough for some detailed discussion, which I will tackle some other time.
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Monday, September 13, 2010

Hospital parking charges - a learning moment?

It looks like English hospitals will keep charging fees for parking after all.

The United Kingdom's new Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has announced a probable reversal of the plan (by the previous Labour government) to stop hospitals in England charging for car parking:
In 2009 Labour Health Secretary Andy Burnham promised to scrap the fees, which raise about £110m a year. But the Department of Health has now said the idea to scrap car parking charges was not properly funded. A Department of Health source said it was not a U-turn, because the current government had never committed itself. Health minister Simon Burns said: "For a long time we have been unconvinced that Labour's car parking idea was properly funded and practical.
This seems a good decision to me. But it isn't a popular one. The public reaction so far in England has been hostile.

Will the Coalition government explain persuasively why this is a good policy? If it can, then this could be a good learning moment in parking policy. I don't have high hopes on that but let me explain why I think this is a good decision. I am refining and building on my earlier comment on this (in August).

Hospitals and the UK's National Health Service have a clear mission - health, not parking.  I don't see how this mission can be stretched far enough to justify using the health budget to subsidize all hospital parking.

However, some might say, 'but hospitals can't properly fulfill their mission if getting to them is a hardship for too many people!' It is not a bad point. NewsTechnica, gets at this with a (spoof!) quote in a funny post, "NHS budget in parking-led recovery":
“The NHS remains free at the point of contact,” said health minister Simon Burns. “But we didn’t say anything about getting to the point of contact.”

But I would argue that wanting free parking for everyone who visits a hospital is stretching this logic too far!
  • It DOES make sense for access to hospitals to be a central issue in hospital location decisions. But since it is impossible to have a hospital on every corner, there will always be some costs involved in getting to them. Parking is just one of those costs.

  • Does it make sense for the health budget to pay for ALL transport costs in accessing a hospital? Obviously not.

  • On the other hand, it does seem reasonable to help some people with some of their transport costs to hospitals. Using health funding for the hospital transport costs of people who really need it could be seen as serving a health objective more than a transport objective. There is no clear cut line between the two but a line has to be drawn.

  • So, by all means do give a reasonable travel allowance to those who really need it, such as long-term or needy patients and their families who visit them.
  • If such an allowance is well-targetted and if the sum given in each case is about the same as the parking charges that would be incurred, then this should be much cheaper than free parking for all.

  • It should also be consistent and mode-neutral. Don't just give free parking to the needy ones who have cars and give nothing to other needy folk who don't drive! Better to give all the deserving cases a travel allowance, which can be used towards any transport costs, not just parking charges. What is so special about parking that it must be subsidized when other transport costs are not. 

Have I convinced you? Or do you still think hospital parking should just be free?

Don't forget that this is a government that is committed to deep spending cuts. Adding some new poorly-targetted subsidies for parking would be a weird thing for such a government to do, while simultaneously cutting important public services?  

Parking is never 'free'. The only question is who faces the costs.
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Friday, September 10, 2010

Walkway parking - a problem almost everywhere?

Walkway parking - a problem almost everywhere?
Parked vehicles on pedestrian facilities are a serious problem in many cities around the world. Are they a problem where you live?

This post will not be a carefully thought-out treatise on this subject. I will merely offer a series of brief examples and photographs. This post is about highlighting the issue and showing that it afflicts several continents. Today I am not trying to analyse or solve it. Those tasks will have to wait.

Seoul has not cracked this problem.

A quick search in various world languages (using Google Translate) suggests this is an issue in many countries! Try clicking one of the searches below.
Translated results for sidewalk parking
Translated query

acera de aparcamiento

stationnement trottoir
1,110,000 results
وقوف السيارات على الرصيف

Chinese (Simplified)  

Estacionamento calçada

[Update: Fixed the French language search term]

Many Chinese cities have rampant parking on walkways. This was a key issue highlighted by ITDP's report on parking in the Daoli district of Harbin in China.

Pavement parking is common in many of China's cities. This is in Guangzhou, which is actually better than most.

San Francisco's problem with sidewalk parking has prompted a wonderful blog: the San Francisco Department of Sidewalk Parking. The last post was from January 2010 but the site has numerous examples and some interesting analysis of the problem.


Wednesday, September 8, 2010

How not to privatize your parking meters (insight from the Urbanophile)

If you don't yet have a firm opinion on City of Chicago's recent parking meter lease, the Urbanophile (Aaron Renn) has an August post which will help.

After reading it you may not agree with everything he says but you will understand the fundamental issues that are at stake. He argues that it is inherently risky to effectively 'lock in' one particular policy arrangement for a significant part of the urban public realm for 75 years!

Now he has followed up with a critique of the very similar contract in Indianapolis that soon goes to its city council for approval. He sees the Indy deal as even worse than Chicago's.

For those in a hurry, here are some key quotes from the Urbanophile's discussion of the Chicago deal
... even if Chicago didn’t extract the last penny of value out of the parking meters, so what? It’s highly unlikely you are going to win huge in every deal. In fact, the more of them you do – and Chicago has done several – the more likely you’ll encounter a loser...

I’ve long said that most of the critiques of the Chicago parking meter lease are overblown... But even so, this deal, and any deal like it, contains serious fatal flaws.

The main problem with the parking meter lease is that it locks the city into a particular policy structure on parking for the next 75 years. In order to get someone to pay $1 billion up front, you have to give them certainty as to the quantity, location, hours, and rates of the meters. All of these matters are thus written into the contract. In effect, Chicago has irrevocably set public policy with regards to parking for the next 75 years.

This might not matter for something like a toll road ...

But with on street parking it is very, very different. Parking spots are the curb lane of your streets. Your streets are the primary public space in your city. They are intimately connected with everything that happens in the city, which is one reason parking policy is so politically controversial. ... The city of Chicago has ceded a portion of its urban planning powers to a private company. ...

The other tragedy is that Chicago has locked itself into a parking policy at just the moment that we’re on the cusp of a revolution in on-street parking management. ... dynamic congestion pricing is coming to parking. ...

We have no idea what the world is going to be like 5, 10, 25 years down the road, much less 50 or 75. Anything that locks cities into a particular policy framework for the long term for areas where there isn’t a strong track record of success poses a high risk. I would strongly advocate that cities avoid entering into long term on-street parking leases until successful models have been developed and have proven themselves through shorter term, successful contracts.
The Urbanophile is even more scathing of the Indianapolis contract (as currently written). Go take a look
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Monday, September 6, 2010

Conventional parking policy has not one but TWO challengers (and they are very different)

Conventional parking policy has not one but TWO challengers (and they are very different)
This post is especially relevant to a key goal of this blog, which is to help you to clarify the nature of parking policy choices faced by your community.

I argued recently that Donald Shoup's parking ideas point towards a market-oriented approach to parking supply policy. I said it offers much more than just a nifty way to price on-street parking efficiently.

Now here is the key point I want to make today. Such a market-based approach is NOT, repeat NOT, the same thing as the 'parking management' philosophy on parking.

Both of them do present a challenge to the conventional, supply-oriented approach but they are completely different from each other. Parking reformers need to get this straight I think. Parking management thinking sees parking as a TOOL of wider policy. This is actually in stark contrast with 'letting prices do the planning' as suggested by Prof Shoup. 

Parking management in action?

Yet, if you have been following American parking policy debates lately, you may have the impression that parking supply policy comes in only TWO basic varieties.

For example, Todd Litman talks of two 'parking paradigms'. Todd's book is a fantastic resource on parking policy. But I think he errs when he paints a simple dichotomy between the 'old paradigm' (the conventional suburban approach with its excessive parking requirements) and a 'new paradigm' (a reformist approach in which parking supply is emphatically not the only solution to parking problems).


Parking reformers have focused so much on opposing the 'old paradigm' that many of us have failed to notice that there are actually (at least) two very different alternatives to the conventional approach to parking. Some of us have been pushing one, some have been urging the other. Much confusion has resulted.

Let me spell out in more detail below the three broad approaches to parking supply policy as I see them. I first explained these in a paper for Transport Reviews (journal paywall version; earlier pre-print version PDF).

The three approaches (dare I say 'paradigms'?) are: 

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Singapore public-sector parking (part 3): pricing solutions for HDB parking problems?

Singapore public-sector parking (part 3): pricing solutions for HDB parking problems?
I was quoted on parking issues in today's Sunday Times (the Sunday edition of Singapore's Straits Times). The article by Jeremy Au Yong is a commentary on the 'think' page: 'For convenient parking, pay more'. The article is behind a paywall for now, sorry, but I hope to be able to post a link later. [UPDATE: OK. Here is a link to the article.]

This post is the third in a series (see one and two). 

The headline of the ST article is a little misleading but it may grab some eyeballs I imagine. It is misleading because performance-based parking pricing is not necessarily only about raising prices.

Jeremy Au Yong''s article discusses the idea of using pricing solutions along the lines of SFPark's demand-responsive parking pricing to address the current 'parking crunch' problems in Singapore's public housing (HDB) estates.

This might seem odd at first glance. The SFPark example and others, such as in Park Slope in New York City, involve demand-responsive pricing for short-term on-street parking. By contrast, HDB parking is off-street and serves mainly residential purposes. Nevertheless, it is an interesting suggestion that is worth thinking about. I am quoted in support of this possibility.

I feel the need to discuss a few points.
  1. It was not mentioned in Mr Au Yong's commentary, but it is for visitor parking that demand-responsive pricing would be most obviously worth a try. Performance-based pricing applied only to visitors should be able to guarantee that residents can find parking when they return home, so long as there are enough parking places for all the season permits. This should help a great deal since many areas have problems because of the overlap between visitor parking and residents' parking in the evening and on weekends.

  2. Au Yong's article focuses on nudging season parking prices so that on a local scale they vary from parking lot to parking lot within a neighbourhood. He suggests that this could shift demand around a little, away from the most crowded carparks towards slightly less convenient ones, within each neighbourhood. I think he is correct that this could probably help in some areas where there is not an absolute shortage but a rather a shortage of very convenient parking spots.

    Mr Au Yong observes for his own home area, Ang Mo Kio, that the nightly parking shortage is rather localised. The most convenient parking lot near his home cluster of HDB blocks is 'perpetually full' while a larger one a little further away is usually half empty, he says. Clearly, somehow pricing the full lot a little higher than the empty one should help redistribute demand a little. The right price difference could emerge from trial and error.

    However, it is important to note that this could be done in a less ambitious way than trying full-blown demand-responsive prices, which might be problematic unless they are part of a wider set of comprehensive reforms (see my point 3 below).

    In localities with this kind of very localised problem, this could simply involve nudging prices of unpopular lots down a little to draw motorists to them and nudging the prices of the most popular lots up a bit to dampen their demand a little. However, the average for an area could remain the same as the standard prices, rather than varying from area to area.

  3. Au Yong's article also suggests that season parking prices could come to vary across the whole of Singapore under such a demand-responsive pricing arrangement. Unfortunately, if we did that we would get some perverse results initially. 
    I think Mr Au Yong makes a mistake when he talked about a 'crowded HDB carpark in town' versus 'a half-empty one in Punggol'. Actually, the current shortages are NOT necessarily in the central areas. My impression is that parking crunches are mostly in estates far from the city-centre, such as Sengkang, Punggol, Tampines, Pasir Ris, Bukit Batok and others.

    If that is true, then the initial results of any shift to making HDB season parking prices more demand-responsive could be a rather odd. Season parking prices would rise in some outer areas and might drop in some inner areas. Strangely, parking could get more expensive in some places with cheap HDB housing and cheaper in some places with expensive HDB flats!

    These perverse effects would arise as a legacy of HDB's current policy of trying to supply enough parking to meet demand in all its estates at uniform prices regardless of the location.

    So it would be problematic to shift only pricing onto a demand-responsive basis without also making supply policy take account of both parking prices and land values.

    Au Yong is right to point out that it is odd that parking prices are the same regardless of land prices and flat prices. Why should parking cost the same in Queenstown or Duxton Pinnacle with their expensive flats as it costs in Yishun or Woodlands, which have cheap flats? But fixing that oddity would require a more radical set of reforms than just a simple change to the pricing mechanism. [I may write about these more radical possibilities some other time.]
In any case, Jeremy Au Yong is probably right to say that nothing along these lines is likely to happen very soon in Singapore. As I mentioned yesterday, residential parking is politically sensitive in most countries and Singapore is no exception.

This neighbourhood in Pasir Ris is one of those said to be facing a parking crunch at night. Notice that HDB has already reserved all of the parking here for season permit holders only at night.
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