An exceptionally kind blog reader bought me “The High Cost of Free Parking” byDonald Shoup recently. This is a book that I’ve flicked through on a number of occasions in the past, but I’m incredibly grateful of the opportunity to read through it properly, particularly at a time when it seems that Auckland Council is fundamentally reassessing the way it handles parking policy. Page 16 of the “Urban Auckland” chapter of the Auckland Plan says some pretty optimistic things about how the council will be relooking at parking policy matters:

Inappropriate regulations and inflexible standards can impact on good design. These can act as impediments to the development of intensive housing and mixed developments. One factor that can affect the affordability of such projects is unnecessary parking requirements. Sometimes traditional parking standards (minimum numbers of car parking spaces) have been imposed in areas where alternative options (for example parking buildings or investment in public transportation) would imply that such minimums are counterproductive to delivering the goal of intensification, mixed use and affordability. The Council intends to review its approach to parking as part of the development of the Unitary Plan.

Minimum parking requirements have a number of flaws, but a fundamental one is that they effectively force you to spend a lot of money (particular in inner urban areas) to provide for one particular mode of transport (car storage), regardless of whether you actually want two spaces, one space or perhaps even no spaces.

The High Cost of Free Parking¬†outlines a really good analogy between parking policy and hamburgers that’s useful to consider:

Suppose cities required all fast-food restaurants to include french fries with every hamburger. The fries would appear free, but they would have a high cost in money and health. Those who don’t eat the fries pay higher prices for their hamburgers but receive no benefit. Those who do eat the fries they wouldn’t have ordered separately are also worse off, because they eat unhealthy food they wouldn’t otherwise buy. Even those would order the fries if they weren’t included free are no better off, because the price of a hamburger would increase to cover the cost of the fries. How are minimum parking requirements different? Minimum parking requirements force people force people who are too poor to own cars to pay for parking spaces they don’t use, and they encourage others to buy more cars and drive them more than they would if they had to pay separately for parking.

Just as the only people who would really do well out of forcing hamburger purchases to include fries would be potato growers, arguably the only people who do well out of minimum parking requirements are those who build cars, roads and parking buildings. The rest of us, regardless of how many cars we own, are either worse off or at best, in the same position as we would be without such requirements. The sooner we get rid of them the better.

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  1. As most of the opposition to dropping minimum parking requirements are going to be from a certain section of the community, which we’ll kindly label “the usual barriers to progress”, perhaps if we wrapped it up in language likely to appeal to them and call it “market driven parking provision” they might buy it.

  2. Kind of tangental to that metaphor, I’m sure that taking the cars and the short terms parking out of Queen St is the best way to reduce the number fast food joints in favour of other retail- for those who are worried about these things….

    And yes Matt you’re right; this is another example of how the Business As Usual crowd [entrenched interests, most Nats] differ from neo- lib ideologs [what ACT should be]. The real battle this century, in my view, is not Blue v. Red, but Grey v. Green.
    Grey being BAU and Green being change. For example contrast the Greens water policy [put a price on it- classic neo-lib] with National’s [state funds its use by existing and corporate farmers] and you can see how the old left and right makes very little sense.

    So yes change the language, minimum parking is ‘red tape’ and a ‘stifling tax’ on new development and jobs and growth. Which, in fact, it is. It’s also crap land use, cripples urban form, and helps keep us stuck in impoverishing auto-dependency.

  3. Car parking spaces inside private developments (apartment and company buildings) are a major blight on the streetscape downtown. Just compare Parliament St with its early 20th C apartments (sans internal car parks) to the new blocks around the Corner in Eden Crescent with its street blank frontage interrupted by the occasional gaping mouth (usually caged) for car park entrance. It looks awful, it’s dangerous for pedestrians and does nothing positive for the environment.

  4. Isn’t the reason we have minimum parking requirements because there is a tendency for a venue or land use to underprovide for demand? And because the consequences of under-provision have large negative impacts on the road network (as vehicles circulate looking for a park) and nearby properties (as parks are taken up where they or their customers would have used them – e.g. residents or other businesses?).

    1. No. They are mandated to over-provide for demand. Then everyone is paying for (by subsidising) for parks that are not needed. If “market driven parking provision” was employed then entrepenureal types could provide for any demand and provide it at the price the market will bear. No one has to pay too much, and those that need it pay the real price. The next part of the equation is to get on-street residents parking to be priced by the market as well, all whilst removing street parking if the road space can be used for something better such as wider footpaths and cycle lanes.

      If it all results in more people on foot, by bike and on trains and buses, then that is just an effect of the market too.

      It only seems fair that motorists have to pay for all of what they do rather than foisting those costs onto everybody else.

  5. But catseye the cost of mandating so much parking is huge and wasteful. Every car has to have how many parking spaces for it? Two plus at home, at work, at every retail outlet… This is a crazy misdirection of resources and can only work in a low population environment and helps to keep land use inefficient and building costs high. Then it in turn leads to pressure for endless reinvestment in road infrastructure as it promotes more demand and suppresses investment in any more efficient alternatives. This is where we are at now. We’ve are witnessing the reconstruction of virtually the whole of the urban Sh1 and the planned extension of this network without end nor complementary investment in other modes. 20 billion plus in new state highways, we can not afford this, it is not efficient, and all it achieves is a system that only encourages the most unaffordable means of connection. …More roads, more parking= more roads= more parking= Less productivity, more poverty.

  6. In the analogy, those who would buy fries with their burger also benefit — the making of fries becomes more efficient and profit made on the fries is also driven down, so fries become cheaper, effectively subsidised by those who don’t want them.

  7. a better solution to parking demand issues might be to increase the price of parking rather than increase the supply through parking minimums.

  8. In order to prevent over supply it would be nice if the parking requirements in the District Plans took common sense and the trip generations into the equation.

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