Flicking back through older Atlantic Cities posts led to one from last year about Park and Ride catching my eye. It’s a fairly well reasoned cautionary tale which highlights the pitfalls and potential perverse outcomes from something that would appear to be a good thing that encourages public transport use.
On paper, park-and-ride facilities seem like the ultimate transport compromise. Free or cheap parking near transit stations should, if the theory holds, make partial transit riders of metro area residents who used to drive the whole way into work. The system acts like a nicotine gum for daily commutes — weaning people slowly off the single-occupancy car.
The ‘nicotine gum’ analogy is not a bad one actually. Park & ride can be a useful “entry point” to public transport for those who are very much used to driving. This does, in theory at least, make them an important part of achieving ‘modal shift’ away from driving and towards public transport. So what are the pitfalls?
In reality, some transport experts wonder whether park-and-ride does more harm than good. A study of park-and-ride facilities from the early 1990s found they don’t necessarily ease congestion because they unleash latent demand for road space. Other research has come out similarly skeptical that park-and-ride reduces car use, though much of it has centered on bus-based transit.
A new study of park-and-ride at rail-based transit stations doesn’t offer much in the way of encouragement. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, Dutch researcher Giuliano Mingardo reports that park-and-ride facilities in two major metro areas create four measurable “unintended effects” that not only limit the benefits of transit but may even increase vehicle travel in the metro area.
Mingardo surveyed more than 700 travelers at nine rail-based park-and-rides around the Rotterdam and The Hague a couple years back — ranging in size from 15 parking spaces to 730. His questionnaires, given to people at afternoon rush, focused on what riders would do in the absence of the park-and-ride facility. Mingardo also conducted concurrent field observations of various stations.
Across both metro areas he found evidence for four unintended effects of park-and-ride facilities — two of which (asterisked) had never been documented:
- Abstraction from transit. People who had once made the entire commute by transit now drove to the transit station.
- *Abstraction from bike. People who had once made some or all of the commute on their bicycle now drove to the station.
- Trip generation. People made more trips in general because the overall cost of transportation was lower.
- *Park and walk. People parked at the station but walked somewhere nearby and didn’t use transit at all — potentially displacing transit riders and disrupting the area parking market.
In Rotterdam, Mingardo found that only about a quarter of park-and-ride users said they would use a car for their entire commute in the absence of the facility — which is the desired effect. The rest fell into one of the above categories. As a result, Mingardo calculates that there’s a net addition of 1,272 vehicle kilometers traveled, as well as an increase in carbon emissions.
All park and rides did not perform equally though – with some having more obvious positive impacts than others.
The situation wasn’t universally flawed. “Remote” stations — meaning park-and-ride facilities deep into the suburbs that captured city commuters early into the trip — performed well. And in The Hague, Mingardo did find a slight net reduction in vehicle travel and emissions. Still, even there, the presence of unintended effects seemed to mute most benefits of park-and-ride.
Generally speaking, in accordance with previous research, he believes that park-and-ride facilities “do present a net increase in traffic volume rather than a reduction”:
Indeed, the number of car-km saved from the P&R site to the inner city is usually more than compensated by the increase in car-km travelled to reach the P&R site by those users who switched from public transport services and bikes, those that were previously not travelling and (possibly) the Park and walk users.
Despite the findings, the takeaway here is not necessarily that park-and-ride doesn’t work. These facilities should certainly be monitored by cities to make sure they’re meeting policy goals — especially if that goal is traffic reduction. Additionally, it seems clear that suburban or “remote” park-and-rides fulfill more of that goal than those closer to the city center.
There are no huge surprises here. Park and rides “further out” are likely to serve areas where feeder buses, walking and cycling to access rapid transit are less viable options – both in terms of attractiveness and cost-effectiveness in their provision. But in more inner areas the benefits become decidedly dodgier – most likely because feeder buses, walking and cycling would work as alternatives to park and ride.
What’s not outlined in the Atlantic Cities post, but is also a clear potential disbenefit of park & ride in more inner areas, is the effect on land-use. One of the main purposes of high quality public transport is to shape the urban form and encourage the development of successful “transit oriented development” around train (and busway) stations. A sea of asphalt around the stations to provide park and ride is pretty much the antithesis of achieving successful land-use transport integration and transit oriented developments. This is important as one study I’ve seen (but can’t find right now) found that if the land used to provide parking was otherwise used to provide dwellings or employment for an equivalent number of people that you can get greater patronage gains. That provides a useful trigger point as to when we should be developing P&R sites and places like Orakei and Devonport surely fall into this category.
Fortunately, Auckland Transport’s Regional Public Transport Plan seems quite aware of the ‘balancing act’ in its policies on park & ride and only suggests that they be located in “selected peripheral locations to extend the catchment area of the public transport network and encourage patronage growth”. In saying that there are obviously some park n rides close to the city in the form of the ferry terminals and Orakei train station. How Auckland transitions away from these will be interesting to watch. They are also still planning for a huge amount of new parking to be built and are aiming to add around 10,000 carparks to the PT network for a minimum cost of $100 million.