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European cities abandon
demand-driven car parking

A review by Brian Baker*

23 May 2011: Several European cities are in vanguard of transforming car parking management. Whilst some cities still operate demand and supply attitudes, a recent report says, overall the era of expanding supply of free or cheap parking has been re-assessed in Europe in favour of strategies which are intended to limit parking provision to levels which the roads can accommodate and is attuned to satisfactory air quality levels.

The report Europe’s Parking U-Turn, written by Stuttgart-based Gabrielle Hermann and ITDP Global Research Manager Michael Kodransky highlights best practice in case studies of 10 cities and also sensibly addresses the wide-ranging issues which impact on and are impacted by parking policy within four digestible categories. These are:
• Economic mechanisms
• Regulatory mechanisms
• Physical design
• Quality of service contracting and technologies

European cities case studied and the essence of their car parking policies:
• Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Nearly all license plates are digitized, allowing for enforcement to be handled using scan cars that rapidly photograph and assess whether a vehicle is compliant with parking rules.
• Antwerp, Belgium
A public-private partnership allows for parking to be managed more efficiently.
• Barcelona, Spain
All the revenue generated by parking fees pay for operation and maintenance of a bike-sharing scheme.
• Copenhagen, Denmark
Thousands of meters of street space have been pedestrianised over several decades with hundreds of car spaces removed.
• London, UK
Emission standards are recorded at the time of a vehicle’s registration and this has allowed several boroughs to charge CO2-based parking fees.
• Munich, Germany
Overall restrictive policies, with a goal of shifting away from car trips has proven successful.
• Paris, France
Street space has been repurposed for bike sharing and tramways.
• Stockholm, Sweden
Enforcement is outsourced to a couple private companies that better survey parked vehicles.
• Strasbourg, France
Parking provision is dependent on distance and access to transit.
• Zurich, Switzerland
Existing supply in the city center has been capped and allowable car trips generated by new developments are also capped.

Whilst the thrust of the report is that cities elsewhere, especially in Canada and the USA, should follow the parking policy which have been pioneered in Europe in the last 15 years, the authors warn that there are still many European cities which are failing to make the necessary changes.

 ‘Progress in Europe on parking reform should not be overstated. Most cities still impose minimum parking requirements on developers and few cities have imposed maximum parking requirements. While a growing number of cities have mandated charges for both on- and off- street parking they generally charge rates that are too low. ‘

Whilst that criticism is entirely reasonable, the appropriateness or otherwise of a minimum spaces policy mechanism for new development is entirely related to where that minimum is set. Munich is one of the case studies in the report and they use very low minimum criteria as part of their ensemble of policies and measures.

Since 2008 the city has empowered itself to order fewer parking places in new developments than the minimum in Bavarian law if it deems the circumstances to be appropriate. Further, if a non-residential developer does not want to include any off street parking at all they can pay a fee to the city instead.

Although minima still apply in Munich, they are significantly below late 20th century norms e.g. one space for 40 sq m of usable area for offices.

The case studies are of cities doing well and the only over-arching criticism l have of this report is that having emphasised patchy performance in Europe, the authors should have case-studied some below average cities.

The authors say tightening the valve on driving through parking reform means embracing innovations such as pay by phone services, revenue earmarking and engaging in public-private partnerships. They are broadly positive about the performance of contractors in managing parking sites.

A key lesson for parking managers in cities outside Europe is in taking full advantage of technology according to the report. It says’ innovations in technology creates new possibilities for regulating and managing parking. Much of Europe is moving to multi-space meters, which have more flexibility in terms of the allocation of spaces and pricing and tend to have lower maintenance costs.’

In the next wave of GPS system linked in-vehicle meters technology the authors point to the opportunities which will exist to further optimise parking system performance by using this technology to vary charges for individuals according to location, time of day and day of week.

The breadth and depth of information provided is valuable. For example, some of the text on physical design will be of great use to officials and activists in neighbourhoods across the world in making improvements.

The lesson from the case studies for mayors and executives of cities is that in parking, as so often in transport, the benefits of policy change or investment can take a long period of time to become evident. For politicians who have to face cyclical elections that is difficult. In Munich change began in 1993 but it was not until 2010 that all 58 parking areas included in the overall strategy had been converted to priced parking.

In Zurich the supply total of spaces was frozen so that for every new off-street space an on-street space is removed and converted to a different use. The policy decision was implemented in 1996 but its very form is a mechanism which will only make city-wide noticeable change over a protracted period. Zurich also tests the provision or otherwise of spaces in new development against ambient quality and road capacity.

* Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation by Gabrielle Hermann and Michael Kodransky. Published by Institution for Transportation and Development Policy,

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