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.
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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. 
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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?

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