The Unglamorous Secret to Parking Success

This secret is not sexy but it has to be done.

Not that I have anything against sexy. Amazing new technology is opening exciting parking policy horizons. I love the high tech parking innovations that:
  • enable cheap and comprehensive parking space usage monitoring; 
  • make paying for parking easier and lower cost; 
  • reduce cost and practical barriers to the pricing of parking; 
  • reduce enforcement costs, making enforcement less patchy and capricious; 
  • allow the booking of spaces; 
  • enable real-time parking information for users; and 
  • allow operators to optimise prices and management. 

But this post is about something more FUNDAMENTAL, something every city needs BEFORE getting too excited about technology.

Effective On-Street Parking Management is the Secret Key to Parking Success 

It is not really a 'secret' of course. But many jurisdictions do their best to ignore the obvious.

And I don't really blame them.

Getting 'good enough' control of on-street parking seems like mundane stuff. It can be politically painful. The many winners hardly thank you but the much less numerous losers complain loudly and bitterly. Success usually requires reforming hide-bound institutions. It lacks ribbons for politicians to cut. The results can take time.

Most on-street parking in Mumbai is free-of-charge and almost unmanaged. 
But there is no escaping the need to knuckle down and get it done. Every city needs to establish at least the basics of effective on-street parking management.

I was in Mumbai recently, and this was a key theme that came up over and over.

Crisis is beginning to open eyes in Mumbai I think.

But in too many cities on every continent local leaders hope to avoid tackling the thorny challenge of on-street parking.

They hope that requiring lots of off-street parking will help. They hope that building public parking structures will cure their parking problems.

Unfortunately, it doesn't work. You have to tackle on-street parking!

Creating off-street parking is a slow and expensive business. And off-street parking does not magically vacuum parking off the streets.

All over the world, we find case after case of underutilized off-street parking next to chaotic and saturated parking in the streets.

If the on-street parking remains unmanaged then it will remain chaotic, whether there is off-street parking nearby or not.

The only way to fix on-street parking problems is on-street parking management.

Actually, I am exaggerating slightly. Focusing on off-street parking supply CAN work in certain cases.

What cases?

If a city follows the American suburban example and spends decades applying car-oriented guidelines ruthlessly to every aspect of transport and urban planning, while also investing massively in roads, and is lucky enough to also have robust economic growth throughout those decades, then perhaps off-street supply can solve its parking problem.

But is this 'cure' worse than the disease? If you follow that path, you will end up with sprawling automobile dependent metropolitan areas and inner cities that have hollowed out to make way for parking. You may have solved your parking problem but is that really your vision for your city?

And is following a totally car-dependent path really even an option for most cities?

So for most cities with on-street chaos, the answer is to focus first on on-street management.

Even if you really really think you need off-street supply, focus FIRST on getting control of on-street parking.

On-street pricing improves the willingness to pay for off-street parking. So efficient parking management on the streets will actually make your off-street parking facilities more financially viable.

Information gleaned from on-street management will also help you to make these investments in the right places.

Efficient on-street pricing can easily nudge long-stay employee parking towards off-street parking options or towards parking on less overburdened streets. Since these vehicles are there all day, moving them away from problem streets makes a huge difference.

So, even if you are convinced you need more parking, please make on-street parking management your FIRST step, before adding to parking capacity.

What does it take to achieve the unglamorous secret? 

At the very least, these steps are important:

  • Establish clear rules and communicate with clarity where and when parking is legal or illegal
  • Build enforcement capacity (with supporting institutions)
  • Establish a trustworthy system for levying parking fees per unit of time (per minute or per hour for example)
  • Establish at least basic parking data collection capacities (initially very simple inventory and occupancy surveys for problem areas are enough, with duration surveys if possible)

Please share YOUR stories of local governments biting the bullet and tackling on-street parking chaos!


  1. I now understand why there is no off-street parking in Mumbai. Probably because on-street parking is completely unregulated.
    Parking in Mumbai may be cheap, but is also a nightmare.


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