Thursday 17 April 2014

The curse of free or subsidised car parking

Summary: Without free or subsidised parking, far fewer people would commute to the inner city by car or to other popular destinations. Indeed free, convenient and available parking is a major determinant not just of car use but of the number of cars owned by households. This is rarely a fully conscious choice. Hence, city residents interested in taking up active transport, including cycling, should try to eliminate or constrain their access to free or subsidised parking.

Pointless parking space in a Charleston strip mall (#BlackFridayParking)

Related Posts:
Where to park if commuting to Melbourne CBD

1. Parking is never free it's expensive and someone is always paying
- There's actually no such thing as free parking, someone is always paying. Homeowners, in particular, pay significant additional costs for off-street parking but even street parking adds to the cost of property and ongoing rates.

- This can be clearly seen in the Seattle area calculator below where both surface (e.g. street) parking and structure (off-street) parking add significantly to the cost of residential housing. I adjusted the parking use ratio from 0.74 to 1 to illustrate how adding parking spaces significantly inflates costs:

King County: Right Size Parking

- Estimates of the cost of off-street parking spaces include averages of $35,000 for apartments in Vancouver and $50,000 in inner city Melbourne. These are massive amounts to spend without thinking. Such residents certainly don't have free parking, they have very expensive parking.

- Clearly one of the best things you can do to tilt your circumstances in favour of active transport is to pay for the minimum car parking space you can get by with - ideally none. Buy or rent housing without off-street parking you don't absolutely need. You can live in a more desirable area, save money and have more chance of obtaining the benefits of active transport.

2. Access to free or cheap off-street parking at home is enough to significantly influence your choice to drive
- Various studies have shown that simply having cheap access to off-street parking is sufficient to radically increase the liklihood you will drive. Even if it costs more, doesn't save time and is less enjoyable, there's something about free, guaranteed, secure parking that is irresistable to many people. Instead of trying to fight this temptation the best thing to do is to eliminate it.
"The study, Guaranteed Parking, Guaranteed Driving, compares parking and commuting habits in Park Slope, Brooklyn and Jackson Heights, Queens. The study finds that despite having the same car ownership and very similar access to public transit to the Central Business District, Jackson Heights residents are 45% more likely to drive to work in the Central Business District and 28% more likely to drive to work in general. The study concludes that Jackson Heights car owners are more likely to drive to work because of guaranteed, off-street parking spots to return to at the end of the day." New Yorkers Are More Likely to Drive Because of City Parking Requirement
The lure of free office parking is so great that it not only neutralizes the other benefits, it actually entices some commuters into their cars and out of the alternative mode they might otherwise prefer... Take a look what happens when a company gives employees both free parking and transit perks. These commuter benefits don't cancel each other out... Instead, we find the probability of driving alone to work in this scenario increased relative to nothing—reaching roughly 83 percent, compared to 16 percent for transit.
CityLabs: It's Amazing How Many More Commuters Would Drive Less if They Didn't Get Free Parking
3. Free or subsidised parking at work is a lure few can resist so eliminate it
- As Tom Vanderbilt explains in his article - What Would Get Americans Biking to Work? - traffic can't exist without a place to park and free or cheap parking almost creates car commuters by itself:
"Donald Shoup, author of The High Cost of Free Parking, has estimated that 99 percent of car trips in the United States terminate in a free parking space, which means the nation's drivers don't have much incentive to think about parking—or not driving. Studies in New York found that a surprisingly large percentage of vehicles coming into lower Manhattan were government employees or others who had an assured parking spot." See: Bloomberg Will Limit Parking Perk
- The same holds true all over the world; commuters with free or subsidised parking at work choose to drive much more than those who don't. The financial value of the fringe benefit is clearly a factor. Thus, when those with access to free or subsidised parking are offered a choice of taking the fringe benefit as cash, driving rates do drop:

Shoup: Tax Code Makes Employer-Paid Parking Tough to Resist

- Nevertheless, you can see that solo driving rates still remain high compared to the commuting alternatives. The ease, comfort and perceived superiority of having employer-provided parking is still irresistable for most.

- However, these conventional choices do not factor in the overall potential benefits of active transport with respect to money, time, health, enjoyment and lifestyle. Individuals with free or subsidised parking at work will likely benefit from conscientiously eliminating or making more difficult their access to work parking. Once driving is not just the obvious, de facto norm they can consider their transport alternatives more judiciously and holistically.

4. Ensure that bicycle parking is at least as simple and attractive as car parking
- Commuters with access to secure, sheltered, convenient, free bicycle parking are much more likely to ride to work than those who don't have access. For commuters who stand to gain the most from switching to cycling from driving, it's important to solve any constraints on bike parking so that it is as attractive and easy as possible. Steps you can take to obtain this access include:

(a) Factoring in the provision of bike parking and possibly showers too in your choice of where to work.

(b) Identifying the most secure, sheltered bike parking available, whether in your building or a nearby building.

(c) Talking to bike commuter colleagues about the best places to park and how to make it as simple as you can.

(d) If there are issues with bike parking availability, security, convenience or costs, raise them with your employer.

(e) For those working in the city without simple access to secure parking at your employer, see the types of alternatives that may be available here: Where to park if commuting to Melbourne CBD

Wikimedia Commons - Bike garage amsterdam

Further Info:
What Would Get Americans Biking to Work?

Gone Parkin'

We paved paradise

Donald Shoup's website with articles on the real costs of parking

Shoup to O’Toole: The Market for Parking Is Anything But Free

Free Parking Comes at a Price

Sightline Daily: Who Parked in my Spot?!

CityLabs: It's Amazing How Many More Commuters Would Drive Less if They Didn't Get Free Parking

Streetfilms: Illustrating Parking Reform with Dr. Shoup

The High Cost of Free Parking (Donald Shoup) - Summarized by Tri-State Transportation Campaign

From Parking to Paradise: An Evening with Professor Donald Shoup

Pedal power in bloom as city parking withers

Growing cyclist numbers forcing major rethink on city bike parking

Commuting’s Hidden Cost

Commute Solutions

King County: Right Size Parking

Reinventing Parking

The meaning of #BlackFridayParking

Parking without Paying

CityLab: How Outdated Parking Laws Price Families Out of the City