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Limiting free parking spaces in cities

Travel with individually owned automobiles is an enormously space-consuming form of mobility because each car requires a parking space at the place of origin and at the destination. This best practice focuses on two aspects that have an impact on car use from a land use perspective.

Generally speaking, when street parking is available on publicly owned land and managed by the municipality, it tends to be free or cheaper than private car parks. Moreover, cities usually include minimum parking requirements in their regulations – mandating a minimum number of parking places in office or residential buildings. Unfortunately, parking availability and low tariffs or free parking often make driving the most appealing and practical option as they reduce the cost of owning a car while, really, it is being subsidised at the expense of other citizens. In contrast, when parking spaces are limited and provided at a relatively high cost, there is a disincentive to drive and the car owner directly assumes the costs associated with its use. For this reason, limiting ‘free parking’, while initially unpopular, is rather a fairer use of public resources.

Parking availability and parking prices are highly political issues. Quite often, public administrations may feel compelled to ensure plenty of free or low-cost parking as an alleged precondition for vibrant commercial activities. If, in general, public authorities tend to adopt the ‘polluter pays’ principle in their other areas of management, in the case of parking prices, there is a strong reluctance to apply it due to the challenge of flexibly adjusting the price to demand, space availability and pollution levels that fluctuate permanently.

Higher prices for on-street parking and the abolishment of minimum parking requirements are two strategies that go hand in hand to improve air quality, lower oil consumption and ease congestion.

Parking pricing

When there is a relevant difference in fees between on- and off-street parking, on-street parking becomes overcrowded and the roads become congested with cars circling in search of an on-street parking space. Demand-responsive pricing is an effective way to ensure that the fees are neither too low nor too high.

Parking requirements

Minimum parking requirements were introduced to move parked cars off the streets and alleviate the street parking demands that congest and burden neighbourhoods, but their abundance not only increased demand, they also changed the way people travel, the way cities are built and how much energy is consumed. To really limit the negative impacts of parking and car trips within the city, the minimum parking requirements must be abolished.

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