Japan's proof-of-parking rule has an essential twin policy

As you may know, Japanese law requires motorists to prove they have access to a local parking space. To register a car, or when changing address, motorists need to obtain a "parking space certificate" ("garage certificate" or "Shako shomei sho") from local police. If you are curious, look at Kanagawa's English instructions on how to obtain the certificate.

This rule is fascinating. It seems important. It might even be a useful model for others.

But please understand that the proof-of-parking rule does not stand alone. It has an essential twin policy.

This is what a "shako shomei" or parking place certificate looks like
(via farmofminds dot com)
The rule was enacted in 1962 and initially applied only to the large cities, according to a footnote on page 243 of "Local Government in Japan" by Kurt Steine (1965). However, it now seems to apply much more widely.

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Proof-of-parking's twin: a ban on overnight parking in the streets

Under Japan's 1957 Parking Law on-street parking is actually generally banned!

It allows for "temporary" exceptions however. These have persisted for more than 57 years now.These exceptions allow for some daytime and evening on-street parking, not overnight parking. (For more information on the exceptions see this pdf by my collaborators in Japan.)

Parking meter parking in Tokyo.
For example, you will find a modest number of metered on-street parking spaces in Japanese cities. These have a 60 minute time limit. But, as the Japan Experience site advises,
"Beware, the police tolerates free parking in the evening (parking meters stop working at night), but after 3 am, ALL vehicles parked in parking meter car parks will be towed away."

In fact, my understanding from interviews in Tokyo in 2009 is that all-night parking in the streets is generally not allowed in Japan's cities.  Can anyone confirm this?

Ah, that's why Japan's proof-of-parking rule doesn't corrupt its police officers!

Some might say that Japanese police officers are uniquely incorruptible. I don't buy that.

In my view, the overnight parking ban is the key.

This is an important issue. Hanoi tried proof-of-parking but quickly abandoned it for fear of corruption. I wonder how it is going in the Indian states that have adopted it.

Yet, the policy has worked well in Japan for more than half a century and I cannot find reports of anyone cheating or bribing or lying to get a certificate. Can you?

Why should this be?

Because the ban on all-night parking makes it futile to cheat on the proof-of-parking rule.

Even if you did cheat to get your proof-of-parking certificate, where will you put your car? You still can't park overnight in the streets. Try it and your car would be towed within a day or two.

This explains why it is no big deal that an exception is made (in some areas) for tiny cars or "kei" cars, which have yellow license plates. Owners of these little cars may not need to prove access to a parking space but they still can't park in the streets overnight!

So, can others emulate proof-of-parking?

My argument implies that other places wanting to emulate Japan's proof-of-parking rule will need to find their own twin policy. They need something to play the role of the overnight parking ban, so that cheating becomes pointless. 

Basically, you would need very effective control over on-street parking and a very efficient parking permits system that avoids issuing too many permits. Not easy. And these steps can be prone to corruption problems too, of course. 

Simpler to just ban street parking as Japan did. Probably not an option for most other places but it might be in areas with very narrow streets. 

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  1. I forgot to mention two recent posts at Urban Kchoze which mention Japan's proof-of-parking and make some insightful comments. They are http://urbankchoze.blogspot.sg/2014/04/nimbyism-density-and-parking.html and http://urbankchoze.blogspot.sg/2014/05/parking-management-survey-of-ways-to.html

    1. I would like to know related articles on factors influencing on-street parking . With many thanks

  2. If you ban street parking, then why is the proof-of-parking rule needed?

    1. Good question. I think the general idea was to make banning overnight on-street parking more easily enforced. And more reasonable seeming. It means there can be no excuses. The two 'twin' policies support each other.

    2. The proof of parking system makes a prospective car owner personally responsible for finding a parking spot before they get the car, supply must be found before demand for parking increases. It makes parking supply management upstream rather than downstream. Without this rule, people could get cars first then try to find parking ad hoc afterwards, which can result in parking overspill and illegal parking (on vacant lots and the like). Problems that may lead to "solutions" like high minimum parking requirements being demanded to avoid this overspill. Furthermore, if everyone parks on the street overnight even if it's illegal, the ban tends not to hold. New York City used to ban overnight on street parking too, without a proof of parking system, the ban didn't last.

  3. Yes, in regards to what Simon mentioned, Cap't Transit put together a series of articles on how New York City's overnight parking ban fell apart in the late 1940s and early 1950s: http://capntransit.blogspot.com/2012/09/how-overnight-parking-ban-broke-down.html

    I think the narrow street design element may be the third leg of the stool here, since it almost self-enforces short-term parking, given that anyone who stops on a 16 foot street is obstructing two-way traffic and feels pressure to move on. By contrast, New York's E-W streets tended to be around 30 feet from curb to curb, which is enough for two travel lanes and two parking lanes. Not unreasonably, people looked at all this empty space along the curb that wasn't in the way of traffic and figured if the city wasn't using it for anything, why not leave their cars there? The city never came up with a good answer as far as I can tell.

    1. Thanks very much Charlie and Simon for the extra insight on New York City! That certainly helps us understand this. Yes, narrow streets were a blessing in this case. Interesting! And makes me wonder how many other big cities tried banning overnight on-street parking at some point. Anyone else?

  4. very interesting article !
    Speaking of urban parking, I read about an interesting new parking invention here:
    maybe this is the future. and maybe this will avoid getting park tickets ; )
    what do you think ??

  5. Like Japan, the Philippines should also emulate this way of parking to at least lessen traffic as many Filipinos buy cars who makes the streets their parking spaces. By the way, have you heard of the viral lady here in the Philippines on illegal parking? Just read about it in this post.

  6. coming from the UK at first I felt like my car freedom has been taken away now living in Japan. In the UK you can drive to another town you don't live in and just park on many streets for free providing you can find a space and you always can somewhere. Say you want to get a load of friends to meet up for a BBQ and have some drinks and stay over in a friends house. you've got 40 friends coming over who will bring 8 cars. where do they park in Japan? Its not always that easier to find paid parking in the suburbs and its not always near to where you live. A lot of rules over here seam to me to be all made up to keep the population in worker bee conform to the norm mode. theres not much room for spontaneity. On the plus side everything is very community based. So I guess if you get the community on board with you BBQ idea then suddenly it all happens in the local town hall and parking is available everywhere complete with parking attendant volunteers etc. But what if you don't want to invite the whole community? Public transport here is fairly good, so I guess the answer is just take the train and bus and maybe that is the whole point! Its more environmentally friendly. I cycle a lot since parking in the city center is expensive. Its probebly more healthy for me and the planet anyway.


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