When people discuss the costs of car-centric transport systems, they tend to tend to talk about congestion, fuel costs, crashes, or, if they’re environmentally-minded, carbon emissions.

However, one of the largest costs of auto-dependency is hidden in plain sight: the cost of providing parking spaces. The financial cost of providing parking spaces can be staggering. According to Todd Litman, “most communities have three to six parking spaces per vehicle (one a home, one at the worksite, plus spaces at various destinations such as stores, schools and parks)”. As car parks occupy around 30 m2 apiece, this means 90-180 m2 per car.

In Auckland, where suburban land prices range from around $250/m2 (west and south Auckland) to over $1000/m2 (inner isthmus, lower North Shore), surface parking would cost $22-90,000 per car. That’s more expensive than the cars that occupy those spaces!

Buildings are in red. Parks are in green. Everything else is roads and carparking.

Moreover,  land that is devoted solely to cars cannot be put to higher and better uses, such as dwellings, businesses, or public spaces. In a successful city, we would expect the value of those other uses to continue rising, meaning that the opportunity cost of car parking will also rise. Space is expensive in cities, and parking is an inherently inefficient use of land.

This spatial inefficiency is exacerbated by the fact that many cities have ended up with more car parking than is necessary. Eric Jaffe in Citylab reports on some important new research on parking oversupply in US cities:

Some new research reminds us just how oversupplied parking really tends to be in American metro areas: in a word, enormously. Rachel Weinberger and Joshua Karlin-Resnick of Nelson\Nygaard Consulting Associates analyzed parking studies of 27 mixed-use districts across the United States and found “parking was universally oversupplied, in many cases quite significantly.” On average across the cases, parking supply exceeded demand by 65 percent.


The researchers focused on districts with both residential and retail developments in a variety of settings—17 suburbs, 6 cities, and 4 towns—mostly in New England or California. (Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.) By looking at previous parking studies in these areas, as well as satellite imagery via Google Earth, they identified existing parking supplies and peak weekday and weekend demands.

Critically, the researchers also took into account the accepted practice of supplying 15 percent more spaces than necessary—a sort of buffer zone that reduces the congestion caused by drivers circling for spaces.

In all 27 districts, spanning places with 420 spaces to those with 6,600 spaces, Weinberger and Karlin-Resnick found an oversupply of parking over and above the buffer zone. The oversupply ranged from 6 percent up to 253 percent across the study areas (below, the highest over-suppliers). And in the nine areas that had believed parking to be scarce, the oversupply ranged from 6 percent to 82 percent.

us parking oversupply

These are pretty extraordinary findings. An average oversupply of 65% means that two out of every five parking spaces are, essentially, useless. We would never tolerate such waste in any other part of our economy – if, for example, two out of every five meatworks were sitting idle, we would start shutting down the unprofitable ones.

I highly recommend reading the rest of the article, as there are a number of other interesting findings in the research. One in particular stood out:

Interestingly, a third of the areas were documented as having the impression that local parking was scarce.

The researchers found that this was not correct – parking was in fact oversupplied in each one of these areas. Policymakers and businesses in these areas significantly overestimated the amount of parking that was truly required. It’s common to hear retailers complaining about the loss of on-street parking for cycle lanes and bus lanes, but the evidence suggests that we should treat their claims with caution.

The same thought occurred to me when reading the recent Motu paper on the cost of planning regulations. Based on a survey of 16 Auckland-based developers, the authors concluded that:

There were diverse views of the impact of car parking requirements on developments, reflecting differing development types. CBD apartment developers, particularly those developing at the affordable end of the market, prefer to include fewer car parks. They saw car parks as a cost to the development as the market value of a park was less than the cost of including them on the development. In contrast to CBD apartment developers’ views, suburban apartment developers tended to favour offering more car parks.

However, some of the comments from developers made me wonder whether they had also fallen into the trap of overestimating parking requirements:

“The optimal number of car parks in a suburban apartment development targeting the mid to upper end of the market is 2 to 3 per unit with additional common parking for guests”

Now, I haven’t been keeping a close eye on suburban apartment developments, but I’d be extremely surprised if developers were actually building three car parks per unit. If anything, the trend seems to be for fewer car parks. For example, the Merchant Quarter apartments in New Lynn have unbundled parking, while the apartments planned for Alexandra Park will have only one car park apiece.

Do you think Auckland has a parking oversupply? If so, what should we do about it?

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  1. The Merchant Quarter apartments in New Lynn are located on top of a multi-storey car park that, in turn, is surrounded by hectares of parking. The unbundled parking you refer to seems a little redundant in this instance.

  2. In terms of priority Peter all car parking (and flush medians) should be removed from arterial roads. This is so we can at least maximise those corridors for protected cycle, and bus lanes within the current width. We should be at least given the opportunity to reprioritise each corridor in a smart way. That in turn will change the proportion of people in each mode and further reduce demand for carparks as less people are driving. We need to open up the gates to the missing modes and this shouldn’t need consultation, just a directive so we can get on with it super fast and the cost is then just a physical one as I am happy to advise a config, and work with roadmarkers in the evening for free. But we need a blank canvas kerb to kerb and then a global change is possible in weeks, not decades.

    1. Why do you think that we should have no consultation Stephen. Is it okay that we chop down six trees without consultation, or build a basin bridge without consultations and submissions?

      1. If there is no widening, and just a painted configuration change looking to maximise protected cycle and bus where acheivable right now, what is the problem. The Mayor advises kerb to kerb layout will change and all parking is physically removed one by one on each arterial. I can assure not one branch would be cut. But why tie up an obvious need in bearocratic knots. This is just on arterial roads. Direct, swift action for a change. I think a posting about the new configuration could go on this site for 2 weeks, review the comments, mark, change, done. At least gates fully open and tweaks can easily be done from.there.

        1. Indeed. Consultation can often be an ambulance at the bottom of a cliff ( roads and pohutakawas, roads and cricket grounds), or a kick into the long grass ( unitary plan, skypath).

          If our criteria is for walking and cycle access across the harbour ( or more correctly, it’s addition 70 years after it was first designed and de scoped) or for a city wide network of cycle paths ( somehow we ended up with paths for feet and I don’t see endless consultations about those), we should just get on and do it.

          The problem doesn’t appear to be a lack of consultation, but the crap that we’re consulting on.

    2. That’s what’s called a Draconian measure. There isn’t the time or space to address it fully, but ignoring reality has brought grief on many planners and their overseeing politicians. You’re talking about very large numbers of people being affected by such a move, and very influential special interests. All this in the name of cycling uber alles; surely people will change their travel modes over night.

      I have worked with town centre business associations for years, and every one of them will identify two issues as their top two: security and parking, mostly parking. Perception of a parking shortage is as certain as death and taxes. You don’t influence the perception by taking parking away. They’ll have your head. On-street parking is considered to be critical to street level businesses because they can see the parking, and people feel that they can park in front of the shop they are going to, even if they don’t. When they aren’t able to, the cry of “not enough parking!” goes up. (It’s just human behaviour, and it happens everywhere). The job is to change the perception.

      I don’t know if on-street parking improves business or not. My hunch is that it does, a little. It also gives people a sense of security as they see other people walking the same foot paths, to and from their cars. I’ve been in this business too long to dismiss perceptions of parking by business people and customers so blithely. Every perception has some basis in reality.

      And to proceed with no consultation… how 1950s of you.

      1. It’s a change but I’m not so sure that it’s draconian.

        I would argue that an arterial road is different from a local road. As its name implies, its purpose is transit and not carparking. Perhaps it is just as draconian to allow vested interests to clog arterial transit routes with free carparks, and therefore condemn the wider community to slower and more dangerous transport options on that route.

        To me it is more like a zoning issue – an arterial road should be defined and managed as such so that its primary objective of safe traffic flow is achieved. It’s not much different to prohibiting parking or coffee carts on motorway lanes.

      2. If we are talking both sides parking that is approx 5m width. For protected cycle we need say approx 3.8m for something to give reasonable protection.3m for 2 way cycling and 0.8m. So the extra 1.2m and median space available would help bus mode as well. On Arterials it was the wrong policy to allow parking in the first place. Even if a tenant paid rent, you only need to give notice. The businesses don’t even do that but sure give notice. Why penalize the missing modes, when the road space was paid by ratepayers and taxpayers. The reality is by removing parking on arterisls to assist both these modes there will be more parking available as the increase in those missing modes means less people looking for carparks. I’m not anti car, I drive, sometimes take PT and cycle, the main arteries should be wisely allocated for transport options, not fully one option, and businesses shouldn’t be able to stop that. The reality is they will probably get more business anyway.

      3. I think your hunch is right. If shops had no parking then they would be more likely to close and new shops more likely to spring up in places where they had off-street parking. That might be good or not depending on your viewpoint. It is sort of the 1970’s model.

        1. I said businesses will probably do better anyway. More people actually travelling down that corridor than before. People buy goods. I don’t see cars themselves buying anything.

        2. If you look again at the thread structure Stephen F you will see that I was agreeing with SteveNZ not you. But if you like then for completeness I will disagree with you. If you make it harder for any visitor to a shop to get there then how can that possibly not affect the shops turnover?

  3. Anecdotally, the shops nearest me (Meadowbank mall) are grossly oversupplied with parking. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the carpark more than 20% full. Seems such a waste of expensive land

    1. This is a bit of an exaggeration, I would suspect. Meadowbank Mall sucks, but 20% would mean that there are less than 40 cars for 200 spaces. The top bays are usually full most of the time, so I’d say 40% – 50% is more reasonable. There’s just no real reason to go there.

  4. About 15 years ago I built a commercial building in Constellation Drive in four tenancies and was required by the then North Shore City Council to provide 31 car parks including four disability parks. In that period the car parks have never been completely full and are mostly only around 50% occupied. It has proved to be a massive overkill provision and did, of course, reduce the amount of income producing space I could build. It is therefore my enforced contribution to Auckland sprawl.

    1. Fifteen years ago you had the right to make a discretionary activity application to build the same building without any parking at all. The parking rules apply to permitted activities ie activities which don’t require a consent. There are a stack of assessment criteria to reduce the minimum you could have relied on. If anything there is a shortage of parking at most offices on Constellation Drive which creates a demand for on-street parking which in turn stopped the Council making the T2 lanes permanent in each direction. Instead they made them peak hour tidal (and they got the direction wrong if you look at the actual congestion)

      1. yeah nah.

        There’s only a “shortage” if you assume parking should be free. Price those on-street parks and you’ll find there’s plenty of space!

  5. The assumption seems to be that 100% supply or one parking space per car is optimal. But if you did that then no one would be able to go anywhere only round the block and back to their start point. Maybe the spaces get used at different times? Maybe that is the point? The same argument could be made that their is an oversupply of chairs as there are more chairs than bums in this city. Think of all the space that could be saved- all those wasteful cafes and restaurants that could be closed down, sport stadia etc. Everyone could sit at home instead (but only in one chair)!

      1. Not quite Patrick. Shopping malls are easily accessible by car and they are definitely worth going to. IMO, we should be ensuring that’s most places in auckland is accessable to all users – e.g malls should be built near rapid transit corridors, have bike facilities and have more than enough car parking. This means that we shouldn’t be anti-car…

        Also, you could also say there is an oversupply of bike storages as there is more than one storage space available in Auckland per bike

        1. So charge the costs of bike parking then. No different from cars.

          Right wingers advocating motoring are just as Stalinist as the lefties they are always whinging about. Plan plan plan. Central planning. Plan supply. Plan demand. Plan plan plan. A right winger sitting at his desk is just as certain of his knowledge of transport demand in towns hundreds or thousands of km away, people he has never met, as the old Sovs trying to work out how much bread to send to Vladivostok.

          The market is better.

        2. Malls are very land extensive, i.e., they need lots of cheap land. Placing them near transit corridors would decrease the kind of return that land would otherwise generate if developed more intensely, as transit oriented development usually does. That’s why it’s there.

          This stuff isn’t as simple as Riccardo believes: abolish land use controls. That won’t work either.

        3. You rightwing fanboys always parading Houston well lets call you on it. Would they, by legislation, stop you from intensifying your landuse on your land given to you by God with a rifle in one hand and a Bible in the other. Texans have fought bloody wars over less than this.

        4. Sorry, but why can a mall not be a ‘transport orientated development’? A mall adequately served by PT that doesn’t take hours to get to is not a poor use of land. I have regularly caught trains to Sylvia Park to go to the movies and we are a six car household.

        5. I’m confident there are twice the bicycles than bike parking in Auckland. And don’t get me started in motorbike parking!

      2. Here let me add reference showing, more parking less pedestrians, note the comment “around the centre” we are talking about an area of 1.9km x 0.6km or 25 min walk at most or maybe not, all the traffic crossings are set for min delay for car traffic.

        Page 35.
        115. Retail employment expanded 14% between 2000 and 2006 while pedestrian counts fell at the same time, indicating that changes in the pedestrian environment are not related directly to retail performance. Rather, increased commercial car park capacity indicates a shift from pedestrian to car-based access to and around the centre
        118. I conclude that a fall in pedestrian counts is not a sign of a decline. Rather, it reflects changes in the function, form, and focus of the central city, and the emergence of multiple destinations and distinctive precincts as some areas develop more intensively than others.

    1. Lolz. If you want to have 2 or more parking spots always at your disposal – PAY FOR THEM!

      I spent some time with a friend in HK a few years ago and went out dining with her boss and entourage. He had to pay for a spot at his home, a spot at his work, and pay for parking at the restaurant we went to (even the cost of the meal was not enough incentive for the restaurant to pay for the parking). Imagine that. For a typical day out in HK, you need to own or lease 3 parking spots.

      And in HK, it doesn’t come free, even in the outer burbs (and yes they have them too).

      Now you might have factored in buying broadacre suburban housing in Auckland included a spot, or your council built the roads so wide that you could park easily at their expense, but I doubt your employer had it so easy – and I doubt you were present when your employer had to make that decision. The land on the plans for the property your employer bought or leased – also including all the parking.

      They had to go to shareholders (or taxpayers if you work for the government) to raise the money that paid for your parking. It could have gone back to shareholders or taxpayers with a refund if it hadn’t. Money in all our pockets, but only kept from us because you and your employer selfishly decided to spend it on parking.

        1. Of course you can compare HK with Auckland, in fact, the water-logged nature of both cities is obvious. Auckland has far more in common with Hong Kong than Houston. You could have accommodated all of Auckland on the isthmus, maybe a few token burbs across the water, and the airport where it is. Nothing south of Otahuhu.

          That it has sprawled is CHOICE. Political CHOICE. Half of HK is national park. A choice they made. Preferred to retain natural bushland for air and water than allow unlimited sprawl, unlike NZ which prevented people from densing up as the market may have allowed. Failed to toll the freeways and rationed this scarce benefit.

          I should add, Patrick and others, your desire to spread this blog into mainstream media is commendable, however I fear doing so has attracted a lot of wingnuts and teapartiers.

        2. Riccardo, the issue here is that Auckland has already sprawled out into the countryside unlike HK. We already made the choice to build motorways rather than rapid rail. Rather than look to the past, we need to find ways to make AK a better place. The issue here is that one persons idea of a ‘better place’ is different to another person.

          Btw I am not a tea party supporter nor a wingnut. I am merely stating my opinion. Just because I don’t agree with your views does not make me a wingnut

    2. “The assumption seems to be that 100% supply or one parking space per car is optimal.”

      If you read the article you’ll see that the researchers didn’t assume that 100% occupancy was optimal. They factored in a buffer of around 15% to keep parking search costs down. This is in line with best practice for parking management, which aims to use demand-responsive pricing to maintain occupancy levels at 70-90%.

      If each park bench cost $20-90,000, I’d be up in arms about low occupancy on park benches. But they are simply nowhere near as costly as underutilised parking spaces. Focus on what matters, not the minor issues.

  6. Why do people struggle with the notion of a free market?

    People should pay for parking. On the street – the land they are occupying plus the loss of capacity of any roadway they are infringing.

    Off the street. Councils and others should not be providing any parking they are not fully cost recovering at the point of use.

    Apartments etc. Councils should not be mandating minimums. Any parking these developers provide can be bundled with apartments themselves, or, more likely too, sold separately. Apartment owners will always want the opportunity to buy the parking spot, but equally not have to buy it if they don’t want it. A secondary market is valid and will provide returns to developers etc.

    Employment. There should be no tax or other advantages to providing employee parking. Companies in dense areas would have to think that much harder if they are liable for a full tax bill for their parking spots.

    Retail. Of course retailers, by their nature, will look for opportunities to hide the parking cost in their prices – and for less dense or valuable land that is probably a reasonable strategy. Go to a big box retailer and buy a washing machine – the $2 worth of parking time you used is hardly worth pricing separately. In the central cities the retailers have shied away from pay the full cost of parking and the reasons for it should be obvious,

    Keeping price signals always fully visible will cement in the public mind that driving is not free, that all the rationalisation in the world, both at a personal and political level, is quite wrong.

    Land use zoning itself is bad news – people are convinced the outer suburbs are outer, and therefore low rise and spread out, because this is the natural way of things. Most weren’t around when restrictive land use was invented.

    If you want a compact between the loonie right and the loonie left – abolish land use restrictions except where absolutely necessary eg around airports, defence facilities or healthcare/education. Allow outer suburban developers to go as dense as they like, and inner suburban developers also to go as dense as they like. You might be surprised how many people in all walks of life might welcome the opportunity to buy small, affordable housing further out, and the zones around railway stations, even 30 or 40km out, would be ideal for people who live simple lifestyles, buy a few things daily at small retail, can catch the train or bus further afield, and could manage with car share, taxi or rental for the odd occasions a car is genuinely required.

    In Sydney (or rather, not in Sydney) apartment living is hitting very large distances out now, the 100km+ commuter routes also have multi-unit developments, and in a city where 1000000 people live in properties worth 1000000 dollars or more, providing for densification a lot further out is crucial both to affordability but also providing critical mass to public transport.

    1. Years ago I saw a ground floor apartment in Bangkok where they had pulled out the windows and stuffed steel beams in and had converted it to an engineering workshop. There were guys fabricating steel on the street and welding and grinding. Directly above and alongside there were families living with the noise and smell. The free market fails to provide an efficient outcome when there are externalities. That is why the RMA exists, to try and deal with adverse effects on neighbours and communities. Thank God we have it.

  7. If there is no parking on the side of the road what happens if you break down. I don’t like driving on streets which should be single laned but have being turned into double laned with yellow lines on both side. East Tamaki road, Spring Road and Harris road would be a classic example. There is no where for cyclist to go so they have to ride on the footpath. Bit of a balls up if you ask me.

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