Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A peek at parking in Tokyo (via bicycle-mounted video)

A peek at parking in Tokyo (via bicycle-mounted video)
Something lighter for a holiday season.

Here is some virtual parking tourism via an 8 minute video by Danny Choo of a cycle through inner Tokyo.

There is lots to think about here for anyone curious about cities. Japan's urban landscapes are fascinating, especially their really narrow streets.

But this is a parking policy blog, so where is the parking in this? Watch the video then scroll down for my parking-related comments.

Japanese parking policies are not necessarily ideal. But they ARE very different from anywhere else in the world. And that makes them worthy of much more attention than they are getting.

The camera angle was not ideal for parking tourism. But there are still various parking highlights to notice: 
  • A glimpse of a coin-operated surface micro-lot at 0:02
  • At 0:08 on the right: shuttered shops or garage doors? I am not sure. Maybe a reader of Japanese can tell us?
  • 0:19 by now we have seen many bicycles parked and no on-street cars yet ... and with the narrow streets, where would an on-street car go?
  • 0:25 some ground level garage doors on the right beneath small apartment buildings (or large houses perhaps)
  • 0:29 more parking under apartments. But it looks unlikely that every dwelling in these has parking.
  • 0:44 some parking in the frontage of houses on the left and right here. 
  • Over the next minute or so, various examples of the same patterns of residential parking as we traverse a mainly residential area. We see cars in various nooks and crannies (this cliche is appropriate here - mostly these are small spaces).  I will stop commenting on these now. 
  • At 1:14 another small commercial surface lot on the left, even though we are in mainly residential territory here. I am not sure if this is coin-operated (I think so). 
  • 1:37 and 1:47 the second and third small trucks we have seen parked in the street (presumably making a delivery or for tradespeople on a call out?). Still no on-street cars. And have we seen a moving car yet? I don't think we have!
  • At 2:03 a slightly larger surface lot. Could be leased parking for surrounding residents. A common but ugly feature of the Tokyo landscape (mercifully they are usually small). 
  • 2:09 a sunken parking space under a house on the right. Looks rather steep with a dangerous visibility problem as the car tries to exit?
  • 2:15-2:19 An institution on the left looks like it has lots of bicycle parking. Does it also have underground car parking? I thought I glimpsed an entrance ramp. 
  • 2:39 now we hit a major street and the landscape changes completely - much larger buildings front the larger streets. Unlike in central Tokyo, the buildings here have setbacks. Many of the frontages seem to have parking. This is a pattern also common in China, Korea, Indonesia and many other Asian countries. I am actually a bit surprised to see this in Tokyo. It is hard to see but many of these buildings probably also have underground parking too. 
  • 4:27 Now back on very small streets and coming into a commercial area. Another coin parking lot makes an appearance.
  • 4:50 is that the first passenger car we have seen parked on street? (illegally)
  • 5:00 to 6:10 almost no car parking (or moving cars!) visible throughout a very busy commercial area full of small shops and intense pedestrian and bicycle activity on the narrow streets. 
  • 6:10-6:32 railway level crossing! Why did you take off on the wrong side of the street, Danny? (Japan drives on the left)
  • 7:00 lots of bicycles (and some scooters) parked everywhere but almost no car parking evident in this area, at least on this shopping street.

Did I miss anything? Maybe you saw other noteworthy parking moments? I didn't spot any automated parking towers. Did you?  What are your impressions of this landscape and its parking (or the relative absence of parking)? What do you think of the parking that is there?

If this all seems inexplicable, don't worry. I will offer some slightly more wonkish comments on Tokyo parking in another post shortly. 

By the way, this is inner Tokyo but it is south of the circle of the Yamanote line, so this is outside central Tokyo.

This Google map shows a suggested walking route which may be somewhat similar to the bike ride in the video (I think!). Click though and use Street View if you want a closer look or zoom out to see the wider context.

View Larger Map


Friday, December 21, 2012

Challenging cultural expectations towards parking

Challenging cultural expectations towards parking
[This is a guest post by Stuart Donovan from Auckland, New Zealand]

In my work as a consultant transport planner I quickly realised that the topic of parking falls into the same category as sex, money, and religion – it’s just one of those topics you should avoid bringing up in the course of polite conversation, lest you wish to offend your hosts.

The reason being is that while many cities tend to have an over-supply of under-priced parking, most inhabitants of those cities believe exactly the opposite, i.e. that there is never enough parking. 

Challenging this belief is tough work because it runs up against some deep-seated cultural expectations for abundant free parking to be available whenever and wherever you go. A large part of this cultural expectation stems from the assumption that as cities grow they will be able to continue to provide similar levels of parking as they have had in the past. Deeper analysis suggests this assumption is invalid because both economic and geometric realities are likely to prevent cities from expanding their parking at the same rate as they grow.

First consider off-street parking. Here we find that as cities grow their land values tend to increase and thereby squeeze out space-intensive activities, as is most evident in cities like Singapore, Hong Kong, and New York. The economic reality is that as cities grow they can provide less parking because of the increasing scarcity, and hence value, of land. 

Now consider on-street parking. Here we find that beyond a certain initial level of development the street network on which on-street parking relies is unable to be expanded, even as the city intensifies and grows vertically. Moreover, a range of competing uses for that kerb space emerge, such as bus stops, which limit the degree to which more on-street parking can be provided.

For these two reasons, the supply of off- and on-street parking will always struggle to keep pace with the rate that cities grow. And of course combining constrained supply with growing demand will lead almost inexorably to higher prices. This relationship is the main reason why larger cities tend to command higher parking prices, other factors remaining equal. 

What this means is that the future is not like the past, insofar as the availability of parking is concerned. Of course, people can find lots of clever ways to squeeze parking – such as underground parking and car-stackers. But these responses are more expensive than more traditional forms of parking. 

But nor do these alternatives change the underlying economic and geometric drivers of increased parking scarcity. Residents and business need to understand that it’s unlikely that as their city grows that it will provide the same level of parking that it has in the past. The times they are changing.

But change can be tough. And it’s for this reason that during the 1950s many cities around the world tried to subvert the underlying economic and geometric drivers of increased parking scarcity. 

They did this by implementing regulations that required new developments to provide large amounts of off-street parking. The goal was to link the provision of parking to individual developments, so that residents could almost always drive somewhere and park for free.

Research by the likes of Donald Shoup and Todd Litman, amongst others, has catalogued the numerous unintended negative impacts of minimum parking requirements. Put simply, minimum parking requirements mean that the direct cost of parking is covered by developers, instead of drivers. In this way the costs of providing parking are subsumed elsewhere in the economy and simply become a tax on development. The primary impact of minimum parking requirements was to increase the supply of parking and lower the direct cost of parking for drivers. In this way, minimum parking requirements actually made a difficult problem even more challenging, because – over several decades – they have reinforced people’s cultural expectation for cheap parking whenever and wherever they drive.

In recent decades transport planners have increasingly recognised that parking is a key influence on the travel decisions that people make. Indeed, aside from access to a vehicle, the price and availability of parking is probably the single most important determinant of whether people choose to drive. So if your city suffers from congestion, then the first issue you should tackle is parking policy. 

But what should you do to address parking issues?

The most obvious thing to do is look at your off-street parking policies: Do you really need minimum parking requirements? Why can’t developers determine for themselves how much off-street parking they need to provide? While it will usually be less than what minimum parking requirements stipulate, in most cases it won’t be zero – because many people and businesses (i.e. the market) will continue to demand parking. Many cities around the world are currently progressing plans to remove or reduce (if they’re timid) minimum parking requirements. In London, this recent study found that the removal of minimum parking requirements caused around a 40% drop in the amount of parking provided with new developments.

Fewer cities, however, have made much progress with how they manage on-street parking. Until recently San Francisco was the only city that had really forged ahead with major on-street parking reforms, under the measured encouragement of Donald Shoup and aided by a federal transport research grant. San Francisco’s approach to on-street parking reforms is brilliant in its simplicity: They recognised that time-limits were a relatively inefficient way of managing demand, especially in areas where pay parking also applied. Instead, San Francisco removed time-limits in most places that were covered by pay parking. In these areas prices are now the primary demand management tool: If demand goes up then rates go up, and vice versa.[1]

My home city of Auckland has recently followed a similar line to San Francisco, by removing all time-limits from on-streetcar-parks the city centre and instead relying on prices to manage demand. One of Auckland’s interesting tweaks is the implementation of a free 10 minute grace period, which is intended to replace the need for dedicated taxi and loading zones (drop off/pick up). Basically, the grace period means that every space in the city becomes a potential drop off / pick up space, so long as you don’t park for longer than 10 minutes.

One of the less obvious benefits of the approach taken by Auckland and San Francisco is that they’ve set out an agreed policy process for setting parking prices. That is, they have developed a transparent way to set prices in response to demand. 

Not only is this fair, but it also reduces opportunities for interference in the setting of parking prices. Now it’s not so easy for individual residents or businesses to demand lower prices on their particular street. While people can seek to change the policy itself (indeed that is their democratic right) in doing so they are at least required to engage with broader questions such as: How would this change in policy impact on my ability to park across the entire city centre?

Through targeted changes to parking policies, namely removing minimum parking prices and relying on prices (set by policy) to manage demand, cities worldwide can start to unwind some of the unhealthy cultural expectations that have built up around parking over the last few decades.

[1] If you’re interested in learning more about San Francisco’s trail-blazing approach to on-street parking policy try visiting the SFpark website. 

*** Stuart Donovan is a Transport Engineer and Economist and is Regional Manager, New Zealand for MRCagney, which provides transport and planning consulting services to public and private sector clients throughout the Asia-Pacific region.  The views expressed in this article are his alone; they do not necessarily represent the views of MRCagney, its employees, and/or its clients. ***
1 comment

Monday, December 10, 2012

Awful Injustice in Parking

Awful Injustice in Parking
Misguided parking policy is harmful and unjust.

No surprise there, you may say. There is no shortage of complaints about parking prices ("unfair!") and about how difficult it is to find parking. We hear the same thing all over the world, whether in Sydney, San Francisco, Singapore, Moscow, Delhi , Jakarta, Beijing, Sao Paolo, Lagos or Nairobi.

Sorry to be unsympathetic. But complaints like those are a problem. They are fuel for the never-ending push for more parking and cheaper parking.

So what? 

It is a problem because the push for cheap parking and more parking is a cause of terrible injustice in many cities.

Injustice? Surely I am exaggerating? 

I don't think so. I am arguing that the supply-obsessed conventional approach to parking policy starves cities of funds for crucial services.  And I am arguing that this a big deal.

It might not be a life and death matter in Los Angeles or Melbourne or Paris where motorists are cynical about parking revenue raising, as if revenue for local governments is a bad thing.

But in Dhaka or Dakar making the local government too cash strapped absolutely can put lives on the line.

If a local government can't afford to create a safe and healthy environment, in part because of underpriced and subsidized parking, then that really matters.

It really matters if parking profligacy undermines the budgets of sanitation systems, water supply, garbage collection, street cleaning, street maintenance, drainage works, flood mitigation, health and safety enforcement, and many more. In some cities, parking policy even undermines basic education and primary health services.

So I mean it. Misguided, 'conventional', parking policy is creating real tragedy and injustice, especially in cities and towns across the global South. 

But almost no-one notices this side of parking injustice. By contrast with the woes of motorists, there is almost no protest.

Most of the people harmed by conventional parking policy don't own a private vehicle. Most of them don't know that parking policy has hurt them.

Now parking is just part of a wider story here. Parking subsidies are just one of many poorly targeted or regressive subsidies. The poor in developing cities often pay premium prices to water vendors while the rich enjoy subsidized piped water. Fuel subsidies are 'eaten' mostly by high-income people, while the costs of the subsidy starve the health, education and infrastructure budgets of funds.

But aren't parking revenue and spending just small change?

Maybe so, compared with fuel subsidies at the national level.

But for local governments the small change of parking revenue quickly adds up. The potential revenue going begging because of underpricing and leakage would make a significant difference to most local government budgets.

Most of Palembang's main roads have no sidewalks.
Could a little parking revenue help?  
Consider Palembang, Indonesia, for example. Even with huge amounts of leakage and without time-based fees, the modest on-street parking system brings in almost US$500,000 per year, not counting parking at markets and the parking tax on commercial lots. The local Mayor has set a target of over US$1 million through simple leakage control efforts. A thorough reform of parking pricing would bring in much much more and start to make a significant contribution to total city revenue which is currently about US$130 million. Just as importantly, it would improve the city and the transport system via the many benefits of effective parking management.

And on the spending side, parking facilities cost a lot even in developing country contexts. Construction costs may often be lower (roughly US$ 6,000 to 15,000 per space) than in rich countries. But real estate costs are often very high in dense developing cities with poorly functioning land markets. So land costs can exceed the construction cost even for multi-level facilities. For example, the total cost cited recently for a 3,000 space parking structure in Beijing's Haidan district was RMB1.1 billion. That's US$175 million or almost US$60,000 per space.

Parking is not small change. Misguided parking priorities make a difference.

If you clicked to this article looking for sympathy about the unfairness of parking charges or a lack of convenient parking, you would have been disappointed I guess.  But I hope you made it to the end.

And I hope you will stop complaining.

Instead, please explore the rest of Reinventing Parking to find out about more constructive ways to think about parking problems and parking reform.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

Parking Policy Basics: time-based fees for on-street parking

Parking Policy Basics: time-based fees for on-street parking
Nairobi's City Hall recently decided to implement time-based parking fees.

So what, you ask? This simply means there will be a per-hour fee to replace the current one-off payments of Sh140 (about US$1.60) for on-street parking and Sh200 for off-street. The new proposal for Kenya's largest city is roughly Sh30 per hour in busy areas, such as the CBD*.

What is so special about that? Why would it be worth a blog post? 

One reason is a lack of literature explaining the issue. Almost none of the resources on parking management tackle it (pointers to exceptions gratefully accepted). Maybe most assume it is too obvious to even mention.

So this post aims to fill a gap by spelling out the need for time-based on-street parking fees.  Or more precisely, it spells out the importance of having the ability to charge based on a SHORT time period, such as per minute or per hour, rather than per-day.

I know of several countries where a one-time fee to park all day is still the norm for on-street parking, even in the busiest of city-centre shopping streets. We saw the Nairobi example above. And I saw this in Dhaka in Bangladesh during the Parking Policy in Asian Cities study. Do you know of other places with non-time-based on-street parking prices?

Let's look at Indonesia as an example.  

Charging for on-street parking is widespread in Indonesia, which is a good start. But the lack of time-based fees is a big problem, which has become obvious to me through some work on parking in two Indonesian cities recently.

The fee for 15 minutes of on-street parking is the same as for 8 hours (generally a tiny fee of Rp2000 - about 20 US cents)! No surprise then that parking attendants often plead for a larger tip from long-stay motorists. Sometimes successfully, sometimes not. A lack of time-based fees is a huge barrier to getting better on-street parking management in Indonesia.

Why is charging for on-street parking based on the time used so much better than charging a flat fee regardless of the length of the stay?

Here are a few important reasons.   Can you add to my list?

  • Non-time-based fees are unfair: 
    It is obviously unfair that 15 minutes of parking and 8 hours of parking have the same price!
  • Non-time-based fees prevent price increases by making them politically intolerable: 
    Politically, there is a limit to how expensive we can make short-time parking. Unless there are time-based fees, this places a low upper limit on the price for all durations. For example, Nairobi's existing one-off fee is quite hefty if you only want to stay 20 minutes. Indeed, it faced fierce opposition to a proposal last year to raise the fee to Sh300 (about US$3.50);
  • Non-time-based fees undermine the demand management value of price rises:
    Conversely, for a whole day of parking even Nairobi's proposed higher fee is still rather modest for convenient on-street parking. So the point here is that any politically conceivable non-time-based price will be cheap for long-duration parking. Such prices provide little or no TDM nudge to motorists;
  • Non-time-based fees encourage long duration parking:
    It follows, obviously, that per-parking-event fees encourage parking for long periods. Even a small number of people parking all day can easily fill most of the spaces on a street. But for many busy streets, especially shopping areas, we really want to encourage SHORT parking durations not long ones. 
  • Non-time-based fees would make performance pricing perform poorly:
    The three previous points all suggest that a demand-based approach (performance pricing) to parking prices will have disappointing results if you only have non-time-based fees. The City of Bogor in Indonesia may be in the process of discovering this
  • Non-time-based fees constrain parking management options: The ability to use various more complicated pricing schemes as tools for parking management is lost if per-event parking fees are the only option.

It really is very important to get time-based fees, especially for on-street parking.

But I keep hearing that time-based fees are too difficult or even impossible for Indonesian cities.

And if you saw my earlier post about problems with the on-street parking pricing system in Indonesian cities (gangsters!) then you will have some sympathy about the difficulties of parking reform in that country. Time-based fees are common for off-street parking in Indonesia. That's easy to implement. On-street is not so easy in the Indonesian context.

Yet, several African cities manage to have time-based fees on-street. They include Kampala in Uganda, Dar-es-Salaam in Tanzania and Abuja in Nigeria.

I am pretty sure Indonesian cities can too but how they might achieve such a reform is a question for another day.

Please share your insights!  Do you know of attempts to reform such fees to make them time based? How did it go? Any lessons for other cities?

*  Actually Nairobi's proposed price per hour changes depending on the length of your stay. But that is a side-issue that I don't want to distract from the main focus of the post.
1 comment

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Does removing on-street parking reduce congestion?

Does removing on-street parking reduce congestion?

The answer is obviously yes, you say? Not so fast. 

Seeing a virtue in removing all parking from streets is a widespread notion. I have seen it in Indonesia recently, as well as in India and China.  Singapore has already removed parking from most streets that have any importance for traffic. And of course, the idea that roadways are for traffic, not parking, has long been a mantra for the design of car-oriented landscapes across North America or Australasia.

The truth is that removing parking from a street MAY NOT help traffic flow.

I should first say that, yes, parking might be causing congestion. But in most cases, the real problem is  parking saturation (which is usually the result of weak on-street parking management).

In other words, it is not necessarily parking itself that is the problem, but full parking! Parking can seem saturated at occupancies above about 85%. This causes congestion by encouraging:
- double-parking,
- waiting in the traffic lanes, and
- slowly searching for parking (also called 'cruising for parking').

Parking saturation causes problems on parts of Jalan Suryakencana in Bogor, Indonesia

Of course, maybe these phenomena would disappear if there is no parking at all. But you don't have to completely eliminate on-street parking to solve these problems. Better to solve the parking saturation which is causing the problems. How can you do that? Improve on-street parking management, especially via efficient pricing

But suppose you really just want the on-street space that is currently used by parking to be given to traffic flow? 

Could converting a parking lane into a traffic lane ease congestion? Maybe, but ONLY if parking is really the thing that is limiting road capacity. Many streets have other important constraints on road capacity.

These often include the capacity of the intersections. If the roadway width is the same mid-block and at intersections, then the mere presence of a parking lane at mid-block is unlikely to cause congestion. And turning that parking lane into a traffic lane will do nothing for your traffic flow. Assuming you have already tackled any parking saturation (discussed above), then the intersection is the limiting factor for traffic, not all that mid-block parking space.

Now removing parking might reduce friction a little. But occasional parking friction is not what causes major bouts of peak-time congestion. Such friction just slows the traffic a little, which might be a GOOD THING in a multi-use street.

In Indonesia and many other middle-income or low-income countries, public transport drivers, taxis and taxi-like modes often behave in ways that have a big impact on traffic, especially at intersections. If that is the case, then removing parking will probably not make traffic move any faster. Here is a video showing that parking is likely only a part of the congestion problem for Jalan Suryakencana in Bogor (in Indonesia), a busy shopping street with old shophouses along it. Yet, national policy in Indonesia calls for parking to be removed from such streets for the sake of traffic flow.

And don't forget, even if you do sometimes get more traffic capacity by removing parking, are you really sure that is what you want? 

The relief may only be temporary, after all, since latent demand tends to fill the new road space before long. Furthermore, removing parking from a vibrant inner-city shopping street for the sake of traffic flow is unlikely to help that inner city stay attractive and competitive with businesses in outer areas, such as shopping malls. You want such streets to be places to COME TO, not RUSH THROUGH.

So is removing on-street parking always a bad idea? Of course not! 

It may often be a great idea to remove some parking for the sake of other priorities besides parking and traffic flow. These include bus lanes, bicycle facilities, drop-off/pick-up points, loading/unloading, taxi stops, pocket parks, walking space, etc. Any or all of these might be a good idea depending on the situation. They tend to build the accessibility and attractiveness of the area rather than focusing just on moving vehicles.  

Bottom line: Please be cautious when you hear someone calling for on-street parking to be completely removed, especially if it is for the sake of traffic flow. 

Note: As you may have noticed, this post was written with cities in Indonesia, India and China in mind. But the issues apply much more widely of course. 
No comments

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Adaptive Parking in a Nutshell

[UPDATE: For a more detailed explanation of Adaptive Parking, here is a short conference paper I presented in late 2013 (PDF).]

Long-time readers of Reinventing Parking will remember Adaptive Parking. Today I want to share a short reminder of the key elements.

What is Adaptive Parking?

It is a simple set of action principles for parking reforms along broadly Shoupista lines.

Adaptive Parking aims to make our parking supply and behaviour less rigid and more responsive to changing contexts, including trends away from automobile dependence.

By contrast, conventional parking policy tends to lock an over-supply of parking into the landscape, regardless of changing transport preferences and urban market trends.

By the way, Adaptive Parking seeks to reform parking everywhere, not just in city centres.

There are five action principles for working towards more Adaptive Parking. 

Here they are again, slightly refined and with new, one-word names:

Share!  Price!  Sweeten!  Relax!  Choice!  

1:  Share! 
Make more parking shared or, even better, make it completely open to the public. Retrofit more districts to become 'park-once-and-walk neighbourhoods'.

2:  Price! 
Price parking queues away, including slow motion and invisible queues (such as waiting lists and cruising for parking).  Parking can be rationed in many ways but pricing is usually best. Performance pricing builds responsiveness more than other rationing options.

3:  Sweeten! 
Hear the interests of key stakeholders and, if necessary, sweeten the deal for them. But do so in ways that enhance responsiveness and that avoid undermining the wider reforms. Resistance to this kind of parking reform is usually based on fears of spillover nuisance and of losing existing privileges  Creative compromises are needed to ease these fears, to transform them into opportunities (for example, via Parking Benefit Districts) and to boost acceptance of change.

4:  Relax! 
If most parking is public and is priced to avoid queuing, and if local stakeholders no longer fear spillover parking, then we can stop worrying about off-street parking supply shortages. We can relax and allow supply decisions to be responsive to local market conditions. Worry more about surplus than shortage.

5.  Choice! 
Enhance options and alternatives to each parking choice. Apply competition policy to parking. Encourage more active choice making and avoid long-term commitments to specific parking options, to a mode-choice or to vehicle ownership. For example, unbundle parking costs and avoid long-term parking deals like monthly or annual permits. [By the way, this is a new and improved version of Adaptive Parking reform principle 5. It now includes enhancing active choice making by users.]

Think about your own local parking policy problems. Could Adaptive Parking help?

1 comment

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Get your fix of parking policy news!

Get your fix of parking policy news!
Does the lack of posts on this blog leave you wanting more parking policy news and insight?

If so, here are some suggestions.

ONE:  I am now regularly posting interesting parking links and comments at the Reinventing Parking page on Facebook.  Please click through and "like" that page.

TWO:  I also post on parking policy through Twitter.  Follow @PaulABarter to get those tweets.

By the way, I do plan to step up my pace here on the Reinventing Parking blog soon!  But even then, I don't share many links here, so you may still find it useful to follow via Facebook or Twitter.


Thursday, August 23, 2012

US Parking Reform 101 (four short videos)

US Parking Reform 101 (four short videos)
Want a crash course on parking reform?

Then check out these short videos on parking policy and parking reform. There are four, and each is only five minutes in length.

Entitled 'Smart Parking', they were produced by the Nelson\Nygaard consulting firm for the San Francisco Bay Area's Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). They are narrated by N\N parking expert, Jeffrey Tumlin.

They provide an excellent introduction to parking issues. Well done! They are especially relevant for North America but should be useful even you are in India or Brazil of South Africa.

Smart Parking Part One:  Introduction to Parking

Smart Parking Part Two: Minimum Parking Requirements

Smart Parking Part Three: Parking Structures

Smart Parking Part Four: Parking Management from a Systems Perspective
Did you like this post? Then click here to get Reinventing Parking by Email!


Thursday, August 16, 2012

Singapore parking policy in need of a rethink?

Singapore parking policy in need of a rethink?
Singapore was the main focus of my Op Ed on parking yesterday (Aug 15) in the Straits Times (Singapore).  Here is the link for ST subscribers.

UPDATE: The whole Op Ed can be downloaded here (pdf).

Yesterday, I shared my brief explanation of the three main 'flavours' of parking policy.

Today I want to share the Singapore-focused parts of the Op Ed.

Queuing for parking outside the Nex shopping centre at Serangoon Central, Singapore

I have added a few links. These might be useful if you are not already familiar with parking in Singapore.
Singapore has had "parking crunches" in Housing Board estates and the city centre and disputes in landed residential areas. Shopping malls and places of worship provoke parking fears among neighbours. And eatery districts, such as Serangoon Gardens, have had their growth capped over parking woes. 
No city totally avoids parking problems and it may seem small comfort that at least we don't have parking murders, parking gangster turf wars and rampant parking corruption, as some countries have. 
But internationally, parking policy is now seeing a wave of innovation, technological change and challenges to the conventional ways of doing things. 
So this may be a good time for a review of parking policy in Singapore. 
Parking policy has been a neglected leg of our land transport policy platform. As a result, it is not well aligned with our other priorities. This forces more weight onto the other legs, including the vehicle quota system, Electronic Road Pricing (ERP), and road building. And it undermines still others, such as public transport. 
A better parking policy should not only address the complaints above but also help deliver more affordable housing and less congestion. 
Does that sound too good to be true? As you may have guessed, achieving such benefits often involves unpopular steps, such as strong enforcement and parking pricing reform. 
I think of urban parking policy as having three main "flavours". Let's call them American vanilla ice cream, European dark chocolate, and Japanese sushi bar. 
...  [See yesterday's post for more on these three flavours]  ...

What of Singapore? 
Our current approach is a hybrid but it includes too much of the American suburban approach for a dense city which needs to constrain cars. 
Is it efficient that even shoebox units of less than 50 sq m must be built with one parking space (which consumes about 30 sq m when aisles and ramps are included)? Consider how much more affordable such units would be if they could be built with fewer parking spaces. 
Is requiring every building, even next to an MRT interchange, to have "adequate" parking really in line with the goal of promoting public transport? 
Is it efficient to have a uniform price (50 cents per half hour) across most of the island for HDB and URA visitor parking even if this causes crowding at many places and empty lots at others. 
Is HDB's affordable housing mission well served by having season parking prices that are the same for every estate? Prices of flats vary from place to place, so why not parking? 
The uniform price implies HDB parking prices are artificially low in central areas with expensive land and overpriced in outer areas. It also means that households which need a car but struggle with the costs cannot now move to areas with cheaper parking, since there are no such areas. 
Could performance pricing rather than caps on growth be able to manage parking issues in and around entertainment and food hubs? Such pricing would have to extend into nearby residential areas, with residents needing season parking permits. This would not be popular in streets which currently lack pricing but such residents might be persuaded by the promise that, so long as visitor prices are adjusted correctly, there should always be spaces available for residents when they return. 
So what flavour parking approach would best suit Singapore? Less "vanilla ice cream" and more "dark chocolate" or "sushi bar" should achieve better alignment between parking and our other important priorities.

No comments

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

What flavour parking policy do you like?

What flavour parking policy do you like?
"Sushi bar approach to parking policy" was the title the Straits Times editor gave my Op Ed on parking policy today.

Sushi bar?! Read on for an explanation.

photo by Ke Wynn on Flickr

Most of the piece discusses Singapore's parking issues.

But today I just want to share this excerpt, in which I introduce the three main 'paradigms' of parking policy.  I have added some relevant links:
I think of urban parking policy as having three main "flavours". Let's call them American vanilla ice cream, European dark chocolate, and Japanese sushi bar. 
First, the American "vanilla ice cream" approach. It is simple and sweet but promotes overindulgence, the full cost of which emerges only later. 
This is the conventional suburban approach and it sees building more parking as the solution to every parking problem. Fearing too much pressure on the cheap (or free) on-street parking, every building is forced to include so much parking on-site that it is never full and it would be ludicrous to charge for it. This wastes money and space and promotes dependence on cars. Unfortunately, this approach is spreading around the world, even to cities where space is at a premium. 
Second, the European "dark chocolate" approach prioritises quality not quantity. But it is an acquired taste - too bitter for some. It can also be difficult to create in some political kitchens. 
Zurich is one of many examples, with parking policies that align with its pro-public transport, walking and cycling policies. 
Parking in the city centre is capped at the 1990 level, parking with buildings is limited, and surface parking is being gradually removed from public spaces. In Asia, Seoul is starting down this path. 
Third, a Japanese "sushi bar" approach caters to a variety of tastes and to various budgets.  
Here I am referring to market-responsive approaches. Enthusiasm in the West for this has been ignited by the research of University of California, Los Angeles professor Donald Shoup. Such thinking treats parking as a type of real estate that can be rented on a short-term basis, like hotel rooms and meeting halls. Part of this agenda involves easing the requirements for on-site parking with each building. 
Another part involves "performance pricing" to keep demand for on-street and public parking in balance. 
The "SFpark" trial in San Francisco is an ambitious example of this. Like Singapore's ERP, it uses prices to make sure public parking is never quite full, nor ever too empty. It is bringing pricier parking to popular places and times but cheaper or free parking to quieter times and places (often just around the corner). 
So why do I call market-responsive parking policy a Japanese approach? 
Because parking in Japan's large cities is mostly a market phenomenon. There is little legal on-street parking. The famous "proof-of-parking" law puts the onus for securing off-street residential parking onto the motorist, not the developer or government. 
Only large buildings are required to have on-site parking (and even then, not much). Nevertheless, the real estate market has generally responded adequately. Parking is provided mostly by the private sector at market prices which reflect real estate costs. So parking prices promote low car ownership and low use in the inner cities where public transport is best.

Subscribers to the Straits Times can read the whole Op Ed here. I hope to be able to link to or post the full text later.

So what flavour parking policy DO you like?

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Saturday, August 11, 2012

Beyond parking benefit districts

Emily Washington at the Market Urbanism blog has been doing a book club style review of Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking.

It has been a useful process!

If you are new to Shoup's parking reform ideas, please take a look right now at the whole series, which can be found hereChapters 1 – 4Chapters 5 – 9Chapters 10 – 14Chapters 16 – 18, and Chapters 19 – 22.

She wrapped up the other day, with the Preface and Afterword to the paperback edition
In these two chapters, which Donald Shoup added for the paperback edition of the book, he discusses some of the changes in parking policy since the original edition in 2004. He also reiterates his three prescriptions for saner parking policy:
1) Set the right price for curb parking;
2) Return parking revenue to pay for local public services;
3) Remove parking minimum requirements.

She also shared some final thoughts, which I want to take up with this post.
To reiterate, I highly recommend the entire book. I am in complete agreement with Shoup on his first and third recommendations for parking policy, and he clearly and persuasively makes the case for these two arguments. However, the more I think about it, the more I think that his recommendation of parking revenue benefit districts might not be the best solution, even though it would be much better than the status quo. Yes, this policy has successfully built support for performance pricing in some neighborhoods. However, I think that tax abatement districts would build even more support.
Property taxes are particularly unpopular, and I think abatement would be sufficient to build support for parking prices that eliminate cruising. As Shoup says, charging higher meter rates is not about increasing cities’ revenue, but rather about eliminating curb parking shortages. By giving the increases in revenue back to the residents who are paying these higher rates, additional cities can build the political support necessary to charge appropriate prices for parking.
Very interesting!

Emily is taking up the spirit of Shoup's idea and running with it to look for another, better way to achieve the same goal.

This resonates with my Adaptive Parking take on the same issue. Remember "Adaptive Parking"? It is my effort to extend and generalise on market-oriented parking reform thinking, like Shoup's.

Adaptive Parking thrust number 3, calls for 'stakeholder compromise'. It points broadly towards the need to reduce resistance and gain support from relevant stakeholders. It doesn't specify exactly how.

And Emily's suggestion is obviously one such option.

I agree that in some political contexts property tax abatement might be the best way to sweeten the deal. In some cases, Shoup's parking benefit districts might be more attractive. And other situations might call for yet other creative compromises.

The wider principle in common here is the need to acknowledge local stakeholder interests and to be willing to negotiate or compromise, in ways that do not undermine the core of the reforms.

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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Yglesias: Where's our suburban parking reform? And parking likened to chairs!

Matthew Yglesias at Slate comments on Seattle's parking minumum reforms.

Legislation passed last week by the City of Seattle will expand the areas that will be exempt from parking minimums and reduce the minimums in further areas.

It is good news for parking reformers and Yglesias approves.

But he also points out how limited this really is:
The conceit is generally that cities should identify some particular swathes of land—downtown or downtown-adjacent, near frequent mass transit, whatever—where it seems like parking demand may be low, and then use those places as test cases for less planning. The real change in attitudes that we require is to recognize that there's no need for parking minimums even where demand for parking is high.

In other words, why limit parking reform to dense, transit-rich places? Reform of parking minimums is just as important for automobile dependent locations! Good point.

Then Yglesias suggests an analogy. 

Oooh I like analogies, as regular readers will know.

This time it is chairs:
I've been to a lot of people's houses. Every single one of them—without exception—has featured at least one chair. People seem to like chairs. But to the best of my knowledge these houses don't have chairs in them because houses require the presence of chairs. Rather the chairs are there because people want chairs. Unfettered markets have many flaws, but the thing that they're really, really good at is ensuring that a given town has exactly as many chairs as its residents want to pay for. Parking is similar.

I like it. It makes some sense if you already know that Yglesias also advocates market pricing for the parking in the street. So on first reading I found it a nice little rhetorical jab to make people think again about parking minimums.

But it falls a bit short on closer inspection. It is developers that usually provide parking (and toilets by the way) at the time of construction. Whereas it is residents and tenants who usually provide their own chairs. Too few? Buy some more. Too many? Get rid of some. Not so easy with parking.

And a shortage of chairs inside housing will not have any impact on the seating arrangements out in the streets. So it doesn't remind us or reassure us that the off-street standards will not be needed if we get the on-street management and pricing right.

So I am adding this to my list but I am still on the lookout for compelling parking analogies.


Monday, July 23, 2012

Parking for a Chinese audience

A brief post to share a bilingual presentation.

I was honoured to present on international parking policy comparisons to the World Metropolitan Transport Development Forum 2012 in Beijing on 23-24 May. Thanks to the Beijing Transportation Research Center (BTRC) for inviting me.

The organisers wanted lots of detail, hence the LONG set of slides. Obviously, I didn't go through all this in my time slot!

Download the PDF here if you can't see the embedded slideshow below.

I hope the translation into Chinese was accurate. Any Chinese speaking parking experts out there - please let me know if you see any problems.

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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Around the block: parking policy links

Here are some noteworthy parking policy links from the last few months.

This is a catch-up after a blogging-free period for me. In the meantime, I have been sharing things via twitter. Many of these are culled from my tweets

Here are the links: 

The UK's Royal Automobile Club Foundation has released a detailed study of British parking policy and practice. The 113 page report (PDF) is called "Spaced Out: Perspectives on parking policy".  Fascinating data and many interesting insights. But I suspect I won't agree with everything coming out of an automobile association. More on this some other time I hope.

Market Urbanism blog is having a guided reading and discussion of Donald Shoup's 'The High Cost of Free Parking'.  Start here, then go here, and then here.

Speaking of Donald Shoup, John van Horn at Parking Today has let loose with a series of volleys that question the 'street smarts' of the wonks behind SFPark (including Shoup). See here, herehere and here 

Two thoughtful reviews of "Rethinking a Lot" by Eran Ben-Joseph: 
-  a brief one from Mark Chase 
-  and a longer one from Design Observer  

The US Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has just published "Contemporary Approaches to Parking Pricing: A Primer".  Hat tip via the IPI Parking Matters blog where you will find a link for the download. This primer is useful! Many insights and clear explanations of the key basics and sensible innovations. And it is very readable.

A bunch of links commenting on California's push to (mildly) reform parking minimums (AB904). Sadly, the effort is now on hold until next year. These are in reverse chronological order. 
- A post mortem from LA Streetsblog
Unexpected Opposition Dooms California Parking Reform Measure (for now)
Donald Shoup's critique of California APA's view on the Bill
Michael Manville's letter to California APA  
- Market Urbanism blog is perplexed that libertarians at the Reason Foundation also opposed the bill and irritated by APA California's stand  

Felix Salmon disagrees (vigorously!) with critics of New York City's proposed outsourcing of its on-street parking pricing and management.

Is charging for parking “un-Australian”? | The Urbanist 

"All may park. All must pay. All should read". The Washington Post on Arlington's difficult but successful decision to end free parking at parking meters for people with disabilities.  

Last year, a Welsh town decided to do without parking wardens. After a year without parking enforcement, the parking chaos forced them to bring back the wardens.  

A hair raising story on the perils of being a parking vigilante in Moscow (via RIA Novosti)

Meta note:  Most of the links this time are from the western world, even though I am in Singapore and despite the fact that I visited both China and Indonesia recently! Note to self: make more effort to collect topical parking items from other parts of the world even if they don't come to hand as easily as western ones. 

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Parking is like dining space

Parking is like dining space
In the last post, I posed three analogies aimed at making parking policy easier to understand:
  1. "Parking is an ancillary service like the restrooms in buildings" (this goes with the conventional suburban approach that focuses on minimum parking requirements).
  2. "Parking is local infrastructure like neighborhood public transport facilities" (this goes with the group of approaches that I call 'parking management' which uses a wide variety of parking policy tools).
  3. "Parking is real estate" (this framing goes well with market-oriented thinking on parking, such as Shoupista ideas or Adaptive Parking.)

I ended that post by promising to say more about #3. So here goes.

  • Did objections come to mind when I said parking is real estate? 

I wouldn't blame you. Parking is indeed different from real estate uses like office space, housing or retail space.

The most relevant difference is that we don't visit anywhere for the purpose of parking! We visit to do something else. Parking is secondary to the main things going on at your destination.

So parking is a use of real estate that plays a supporting role to those main activities. Which brings me to the analogy I want to explore today.

  • Parking is like basic dining places within walking distance

By 'basic dining' I mean places for no-fuss eating or drinking (and maybe to sit a while). Notice that I am not comparing parking with fine dining. Going to a fancy restaurant often prompts a special trip. Sometimes it's a long trip.

So the analogy with parking works best for basic dining within walking distance of wherever you happen to be when hunger strikes. If we stick to that kind of basic dining, then like parking, it is incidental to our main business in the area.

But even if such dining plays a supporting role, it is still obviously a use of real estate. And so is parking.

  • A useful analogy?

I think this analogy is useful because it draws attention to important issues that often get forgotten. Basic dining space is similar enough to parking that there are many parallels to explore.

Yet, it is different enough that the parallels make us think. They force us to look at parking with new eyes. If the analogy were perfect there would be no point.

Let's see.

  • Parking is local

Basic dining (that you would not make a special trip for) reminds us that, unlike office space or housing, parking is a highly local concern. It doesn't make sense to talk about the city-wide supply of parking. Basic dining and parking are relevant only to their own vicinities.

  • Parking as real-estate reminds us to think about opportunity cost

This analogy focuses our minds on the opportunity cost of parking areas. The notion of 'real estate' reminds us that parking consumes space. It reminds us of this more forcefully than the ideas of 'infrastructure' (#2) or 'ancillary service' (#1 above) do.

  • This dining space analogy reminds us to think about market prices

Thinking of parking as a use of real-estate like dining space helps draw attention to the market value of the service.

Actually, we sometimes forget the real estate aspect of this when dining too. We sometimes imagine we are paying only for what we consume plus some service. In fact, a large part of a restaurant or cafe bill is real estate costs. Both basic eating out and paid parking have both real estate and service components (of course the proportions are different).

  • It also reminds us that parking is often a business

Viewing parking as real estate like basic dining reminds us that parking is often a commercial enterprise. It prompts the question of why commercial parking is not more common.

The analogy should make us wonder about the wisdom of government subsidised parking and minimum parking requirements. More on these issues below.

  • What about bundled parking?

Basic dining space, like parking, can bundled with other real estate. Examples include your dining room at home or a staff lounge at a workplace.

But that doesn't change the fact that it is still real estate. Similarly, even if we don't pay for parking space explicitly or separately, it is still a use of real estate and it still has value as real estate.

  • What about on-street parking? 

It can be difficult to think of parking at the kerbside as real-estate rather than infrastructure. But I think the dining analogy helps.

For example, the fact that some dining takes place in the streets doesn't change the fact that it is a use of real estate. This is reflected in the fact that most local governments charge fees to allow tables and chairs on footways.

Both on-street parking and street-side dining are uses of  public space for a private purpose. In both cases, it is reasonable to pay some kind of 'rent' for the space.

  • Open-access is a strange way to manage real estate

Suppose a busy commercial area had hundreds of street hawker stalls serving food at plastic tables and chairs under umbrellas on the sidewalks. And suppose these hawkers needed no license and paid no rent to the city for using the space.

That would obviously be a strange way for the city to manage such valuable space. Even if that many hawker stalls were allowed, surely their private use of public space should require some kind of rental payment.

So the dining space analogy reinforces the idea that free on-street parking is an odd thing to allow in busy areas.

Sometimes parking space literally becomes dining space, as in this photo showing San Francisco's parklet program. Photo: Matthew Roth.

  • A real-estate perspective makes some common parking policies seem strange

In the open-access street-side dining situation above, few indoor food outlets would be viable, right? So would a government-subsidized cafeteria be a wise answer to a lack of indoor dining in the area? I doubt it. Yet, many cities try the same trick with parking.

If we allowed hundreds of rent-free street hawker stalls in the streets, would "minimum indoor restaurant requirements" be the answer to the lack of private sector indoor dining? Would such efforts to boost indoor eating space automatically reduce street hawker space very much? Would they make local restaurant businesses more or less profitable? Ridiculous, right? Yet the same approach is a centrepiece of parking policy in most cities.

  • So do you see the point of the analogy? Is it a useful way to think about parking?

It is not that we MUST think of parking as real estate. But it can be useful to choose to do so.

It helps us to see mainstream parking policy in a new light (in which some of it looks a bit foolish). It also makes it easier to see the potential for more market-responsiveness in parking.

What do you think?  Does this analogy help you think about parking in new ways? Does it illuminate or confuse?


Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Our half-conscious assumptions about parking

Disagreements on parking run deep. Deeper than mere differences over policy.

In fact, you and I may be thinking about parking in fundamentally different ways. We have different analogies in mind even if we don't think about them very clearly.

I think people 'frame' parking in at least three different ways:

1.  "Parking is an ancillary service for each building, like its restrooms"

Many people tend to see parking as an ancillary facility that needs to go with every building site, like fire escapes, plumbing or toilets. With this view, it seems obvious that planners need to make sure buildings have enough, so that there should be no excuse for anyone to do it out in the streets. It is the problem of 'spillover' that this approach is most concerned to prevent. As I have written before, this is the way the conventional suburban approach sees parking. It seems natural in places where buildings are isolated from each other, as they often are in auto-oriented suburban areas.

2.  "Parking is infrastructure for its area, like local public transport facilities"

Others see parking as 'infrastructure' akin to local public transport facilities, such as stops, shelters, priority lanes and depots. This is infrastructure for the whole locality, not for specific buildings as in the restroom perspective above. It suits walkable, park-once districts. With parking as district infrastructure, spillover is not seen as a big worry. Nevertheless, with this perspective, parking needs to be planned. As with transit facilities, parking can be overwhelmed by demand or can be underutilized. And like transit, it is often seen as a tool for achieving various urban policy goals. So this view tends to put responsibility for parking outcomes onto government. I call this diverse family of approaches 'parking management' and it is common in inner city areas, at least in Western countries.

3.  "Parking is real estate"

A third perspective sees parking as real estate, or a use of real estate space. This points toward a more market-oriented mindset on parking. Like number 2 above, this also suits walkable park-once districts. I will explain this analogy in more detail in my next post. [Update: here is the next post]

So we have a paradigm difference on our hands, with different people seeing parking in different ways.

These analogies are not perfect of course. Analogies never are. You will easily think of lots of objections. But I still think they are helpful. They highlight the contrasts between various mental frameworks for thinking about parking and parking policy. It would be so much better if we could all be more explicit about how we 'frame' parking.


Wednesday, May 23, 2012

"Gangsters" in Indonesian parking

"Gangsters" in Indonesian parking
Motorists often gripe that parking in their city is run by 'extortionate gangsters'. But if you live in Indonesia you may mean it literally.

A dramatic feature of parking in Indonesia's parking scene is the alleged role of thugs or gangsters.

I have posted before about informal or illegal on-street parking fee collectors. But today I am talking about gangsters in the FORMAL parking fee collection system which applies to on-street parking in most Indonesian cities.

It is a strange situation. Let me try to explain.

Paying for parking is widespread across Indonesian cities, although the prices are low (even taking local purchasing power into account). You can typically park a car in the street for many hours for a flat fee of 2000 rupiah (Rp). That's about 20 US cents.  These small amounts are enough to support a complicated rent-seeking ecosystem.

[On the bright side, at least Indonesian motorists don't expect free parking. This will be helpful as parking reform proceeds in the future.]

The parking fees are collected by parking attendants  (‘juru parkir’ or jukir) under a system of individual contracts for each attendant’s tiny patch (the short stretch of street that one attendant can handle). The 'Indonesian Policy Wonk' blog (by a recent student of mine!) provides a colourful description of Jakarta's parking attendants and some useful background.

"Terus terus terus!" (keep going! keep going!)
Each little patch is associated with an attendant licence or permission letter (‘surat izin’). In theory, this piece of paper entitles only the attendant and two named assistants to collect parking fees on this patch. They get an official vest, which would be blue in Jakarta for example, and orange in Palembang. Usually this system is overseen by the transport department of the local government.

Now here comes the key point.

In reality, most of the actual parking attendants out in the streets and their assistants are NOT the same people as listed on the licenses.

You may have guessed what is coming. The people with the formal permission letters are in practice usually a kind of gangster. The Indonesian word is ‘preman’. Australian academic, Ian Wilson, provides more insight on Jakarta's preman world.

These parking preman play a rent-seeking or protection racket-type role. They rent out their patch to the actual on-street attendants in return for a substantial cut of the takings.

The real attendants also have to pass on revenue to the city. In theory, the attendants are supposed to issue tickets to motorists and pass on revenue based on ticket stubs. Of course, without strict oversight, the attendants generally fail to give a ticket and motorists no longer expect one.

So in practice, local governments tend to simply make an estimate of the revenue they can get from each patch. This seems to be partly based on surveys and partly on a negotiation over what the attendant can afford. Presumably, the officials pragmatically take into account the fact that the attendant has to pay the preman too. The street attendants themselves apparently end up with a tiny income well below the national minimum wage guideline.

Why is there no action against the gangsters? After all, the role of the preman is hardly any secret. The city transport departments are well aware of what is going on. So why don't they just make sure the attendants in the street get the licenses and not the rent-seekers? Unfortunately, I am told that it is not so easy. The preman have powerful ‘friends’ and protectors.

For the same reason, changing the payments system will be difficult.

When Jakarta tried to install parking meters a few years ago, they were smashed up within weeks. An attempt to encourage motorists to demand receipts from parking attendants (by offering them the 5th one free of charge) fizzled out with low uptake. In 2005 ITDP reported that the 'interests' behind parking attendants were a strong force against change in Yogyakarta's Malioboro commercial district.

It is no surprise then that revenue from on-street parking in Indonesian cities is abysmally low.  Even more importantly, on-street parking pricing can't be a useful parking management tool in such a situation. Time-based fees on-street cannot easily be implemented. Any use of pricing for policy objectives or demand-management seems out of the question.

Progress in the on-street parking scene in Indonesia will require drastic changes but it won't be easy. Your suggestions welcome!

This post is based on what I know about just two or three Indonesian cities. Details probably vary widely around the country. So please correct me via comments if my understanding of these murky issues falls short. You may know better about the situation somewhere in this big country of 200 million people or more.

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