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

This post is especially relevant to a key goal of this blog, which is to help you to clarify the nature of parking policy choices faced by your community.

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

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

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

Parking management in action?

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

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


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

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

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

  1. Conventional parking policy treats parking as a type of infrastructure. It assumes that every premises needs parking.

    The primary goal of parking policy is to make sure each building has parking to meet its own demand. This usually involves imposing minimum parking requirements. (see Minimum parking requirements are like restroom requirements)

    This approach assumes that parking "spillover" is always a bad thing.

    Conventional parking policy is especially common in suburban locations designed around the automobile.

  2. Parking management also sees parking as infrastructure. However, it is infrastructure for each neighbourhood rather than for each premises.

    Under parking management, parking is viewed as a tool for serving wider goals in transport policy and urban planning. These might include traffic reduction or mode split objectives or favouring retail customers over long-term parking.

    Parking management can involve a diverse set of policies, including pricing and time limits to encourage turnover, parking maximums, and many others.

    Todd Litman's writings on parking
    are mostly in this paradigm.

    From a parking management perspective, spillover of parking outside each premises can be managed with pricing and other tools. So spillover need not be an excuse against deliberately constraining parking supply if necessary.

    Parking management is common in inner city areas in North America and Australia and is very widespread in Europe. Some of the parking management literature ignores the surburbs and focuses mainly on city centres.

  3. A market-oriented stream in parking policy calls for market-based parking prices that are responsive to supply and demand conditions and allows private decisions to shape supply. Clearly, minimum parking requirements are anathama.

    This requires on-street parking to be managed with demand-responsive pricing so that the off-street parking market is not undermined by underpricing and saturation in the streets. This would let prices and private choices optimise parking supply and demand.

    This already happens in some places (like some city centres where private garages are most of the parking supply).

    Shoup's parking policy proposals point towards fostering local markets in parking in many more locations than just city centres.

    In a market-oriented perspective, spillover parking is perfectly natural and normal. It is not seen as a problem but is expected. Obviously, people will exercise their choice of which parking business to patronise (which will not always be in the same premises as their destination).

Can you think of a parking policy debate which has been muddied by a failure to make the distinction between Shoup-style thinking and parking management thinking?


    1. Can't the Shoup approach be used as just one tool within the "parking management" paradigm? Perhaps a very effective tool that becomes the cornerstone of "parking management"?

    2. @simon: If you mean can performance-based pricing (aiming at 85% occupancy on-street) be part of parking management then yes. That PART of Shoup's agenda could be a useful part of parking management.

      But Shoup's policy proposals go a lot further than just pricing on-street parking in a more efficient way. See He also suggests deregulating the off-street supply by abolishing minimum parking requirements. As I see it, this full agenda is market-oriented and is a different thing from parking management.

    3. I guess my point is that the market is just a tool. If your goal is transport modal shift you might want to implement a very restrictive parking maximums in place of parking minimums, and then use performance-based pricing for remaining on-street parking.

    4. @Simon. You said: 'I guess my point is that the market is just a tool. If your goal is transport modal shift'. True. Let's see how that fits with the three 'paradigms' perspective I offer here.

      I agree that market processes can be a tool. And if such market tools are used with an explicit policy goal of modal shift, then it would fall into my definition of 'parking management' (parking policy used explicitly in service of wider policy goals).

      Shoup (and others in the same tradition) are not exactly suggesting using market processes as a 'tool'. They are suggesting LETTING markets work on parking. They don't specify exactly what those local parking markets must achieve.

      Now, it IS true that Shoup (and many of his followers) DO believe that market-based parking will tend to reduce automobile dependence. (hence the somewhat surprising appeal of his rather 'free market' approach to 'progressives' who would like to see a more balanced transport system)

      But wanting to 'let prices do the planning' is very different from deliberately using a pricing tool to seek a specific modal shift objective.

      Am I being clear enough?

    5. Paul.

      I guess I don't see it as a dichotomy, because both serve the green urbanist objectives that interest me. What I want from parking policy is less need for parking, as both a cause and an effect of shifting trips to better modes.

      I prefer the free-market approach as better suited to the western liberal democratic cultures that I work in, but accept the parking management approach as a sort of bureaucratic approximation of it, suited to the prevailing cultures of big city government and politics that tend to prefer managed solutions to market ones.

      Ultimately, the two methods serve the same goal so long as we believe that by "letting prices do the planning" we're going to see prices go generally higher, as a result of accurate reflection of the true rental value of twelve square metres of urban real estate.

      But I'm not an expert on this!

    6. Has the market-approach been used in any cities in the US that you know of?


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