Make private parking report how much it is used

January's episode of Reinventing Parking introduced six surprising parking reform ideas. 

This post explains the first idea, "What if we require private off-street parking to report regularly on usage levels?" This is a lightly edited transcript of that part of the episode, which starts at [4:02].

Listen with the player below. Or subscribe to the audio podcast. This is the official podcast of the Parking Reform Network.

Parking occupancy reporting for private off-street parking

The Motivation

This idea came up in the December 2023 episode of Reinventing Parking in my conversation with Evan Goldin of the company, Parkade. 

We were talking about the surprising fact that there is so much ignorance about how much or how little off-street private parking gets used. 

It’s yet another astonishing way that parking supply policy is dysfunctional and lacks mechanisms to notice its mistakes, let alone correct them.

Developers and financiers usually have SOME parking use data, but their samples are small (mostly just their own projects). And their learning cycle is slow or broken. As a result, many of them keep providing excessive parking even after parking mandates are abolished.  

The idea, in brief

That discussion then prompted this exchange:

“Paul: Maybe the parking reform movement should add one more item to our agenda, which is mandating reporting of parking utilization rates to accelerate this understanding of the enormous glut that we've got in so many cities.

Evan: Paul that's the best idea I have heard in a very long time. I love it. And it's exactly right. Paul, I guarantee you that if you went to the city council that forced this developer to build twice as much parking, and you ask them how much parking was being used, they would have no idea. And so I absolutely love that idea.”

Evan’s reaction encouraged me to think about this some more. 

By the way, the focus of this is private-use parking, the off-street parking that is not open for public use. Information is less of a problem for public-use parking. 

The basic idea here is that better information on parking usage would reduce the chances of wildly excessive parking supply (and wildly deficient supply too, in case you are worried about that). Such parking usage information should improve parking policy. It should also improve private market decisions on parking. It might even better inform public opinion about parking problems.

Plentiful parking was mandated with this building. After all that parking was required and built, did the city take any interest in whether it all gets used?

Reactions from a few Parking Reform Network members

I decided to share the idea in one of the Parking Reform Network’s Slack channels and I was happy to see that it generated some interesting discussion.

Evan had suggested in the episode that state or national governments could impose the reporting mandate only on municipalities that impose parking mandates. Hopefully that would help discourage parking mandates. 

But people in the Slack said parking-usage information is important even in places where parking mandates don’t apply. For example, it could reassure people who fret about parking shortages.
And real-estate developers and financiers need parking usage information even more when there are no parking mandates, since they then have to decide for themselves how much parking to provide.

Would it be too onerous a mandate?

But would it be too onerous and costly to require building owners to report regularly on their parking occupancy? 

One person pointed out that most cities don’t even know how much off-street parking exists, let alone how well-used it is. So maybe too onerous. 

On the other hand, a city planner in the Slack discussion went the other way. Let me quote her: 

“Typically, if a development is big enough to warrant a traffic study under the code, we ask for the parking occupant counts they collect too. If you start with stores over 100,000 sf (just for example, since they are usually counting anyway), I think it could be a good way to introduce mandated usage counts - just like mandated traffic impact analyses. That way you can ease into the idea without mandating it for small businesses, where you get the most pushback.”

Someone else chipped in to say that a parking usage reporting requirement would not be very different from other data reporting requirements that some cities or states have imposed on building owners, such as rent registries.

So maybe this would NOT be too onerous. 

DIY private parking usage counts?

By the way, a Do-It-Yourself version of this might be a useful action for parking reformers arguing against new parking supply. We could do counts of off-street private-use parking occupancy rates. Gaining access might be tricky. But it would be a useful exercise to do in some neighbourhood where everyone "knows" there is a parking "shortage" but where we suspect there is lots of under-used private-use parking. 


Do you think parking occupancy reporting for private off-street parking is a promising idea? Should parking reformers think about it more?

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