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. ***
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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.
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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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