Is TDM designed to cause inefficiencies and now dated?
Most of my ‘parking’ working life has been primarily about trying to optimise a parking operation by getting as many people into a well run and attractive facility as possible. The single aim has been to achieve a high occupancy level, with a tipping point of too many customers demanding spaces, because the facility’s promotion and operations were too successful, then triggering a price rise. That tipping point meant I could then put prices up and start the process of marketing all over again. It doesn’t always work that way because occupancies and prices can go down too.
This is in a commercial environment and not a municipal environment that may not enjoy the freedoms from community outcomes that private facilities may. The commercial environment supposes you run each car park as a separate business and not as a single synchronous entity and I have found that this has more pros than cons.
Transport Demand Management (TDM) is about synchronising not only each individual car park space and facility but each and every part of the transport programme being, Public Transport, Road Corridors and Parking. This tends to run against the ethos of competition between car park sites and car park companies which means, it is doomed to failure straight away.
It supposes firstly that all car park companies will work together to achieve the lofty goals of TDM (they wont). Secondly, it supposes that all parts of the TDM paradigm are working efficiently (they aren’t). Thirdly, it supposes that TDM will deliver more benefits to the community than competition does (it doesn’t). TDM could be called a type of socialist transport (tongue in cheek).
I tend to think of TDM as a ‘flow’. It deals with the flow of people into the city each day, almost like a river. At its source the river starts quietly, gently working with gravity to go to a destination. As it picks up volume as more tributaries and estuaries join in, it is squeezed by its banks and forced to go where the banks want it to go. The river may get a blockage every now, causing all sorts of flooding and chaos, as the river works its way to its destination. It can’t be stopped without major construction or investment. At the destination the river is large and the combination of the collection of smaller flows, all settle into the vast peaceful ocean.
Imagine how surprised I was when I started to work in a city environment, being surrounded by traffic engineers and transport planners who spoke about using parking as a transport demand management tool. To the lay person, this speak means artificially fiddling with the price at a facility or destination to discourage customers to park and to consequently force them to take the bus, train, bicycle or suffer the fake prices. In other words, they want to dam up the river as it flows to the sea. Good luck with that.
Being a glass half full person, I could never understand how a city might try successfully to force people to travel by a mode through penalty and punishment rather than the positive outcome of enticement, incentive and motivation. People will always travel where the incentives point them. Penalties require enforcement automatically which means there will need to be a large administration of the punitive regime. Incentives require no such level of administration.
In Wikipedia, transportation demand management, traffic demand management or travel demand management (all TDM) is the application of strategies and policies to reduce travel demand (specifically that of single-occupancy private vehicles), or to redistribute this demand to other methods of travel. I get this. I really do. This should be about encouraging a different method of travel through incentives, attractiveness of the product and lifestyle or even competing values, not about hitting people over the head with the blunt mallet of pricing for parking.
In practical terms, this means that if people won’t use the bus service because it is a poor option, then the city will force us to use that bus service by hiking up parking prices by the advent of local taxes, the forced reduction of parking supply or redesigning Road Corridors to make car travel difficult. Whatever method used, this is not acceptable to most people.
The answer is very simple. Run an awesome bus and train service, reconfigure the on-street parking to allow for transport options to flow smoothly through the Road Corridors (no on-street parking impediments) and then let parking operations respond to the left-overs in a well run, efficient manner that offers a great service to those who must use a car. Incentivise those who use Public Transport with a faster, smoother and cheaper service where a person’s time-value is revered.
Symptoms of a poorly run and designed Public Transport system and poorly configured Road Corridors are easy to spot. They are spiralling parking costs due to rising parking demand, circulating and double parked traffic again due to rising parking demand and Road Corridors at a standstill during the peak hours again due to rising parking demand. Parking demand is the cleanest method of determining the how well your Public Transport system and Road Corridors are working and thought of by the public.
This is an issue that should be solved in other areas up-stream, such as Road Corridors design and operations or in Public Transport operations, not parking operations. It feels very much like the upstream road corridor, Public Transport design and traffic operations have not been able to do their jobs well enough and the result is to flush it on to parking operations to clean up! This is designing a system to run inefficiently on purpose! A city municipality owes it to the tax payers to run the parking operations well, not to artificially run it poorly …. on purpose.
Another challenge to TDM is the arrival of self driving cars and the now increasing growth of electric vehicles. Self driving cars may actually double the traffic into the city as the car parking in the city not only competes with the time values of sitting on Public transport, but also the costs of sending a car home or to a cheaper car park lot in the suburbs, awaiting the call to come into the city and pick up the owner. Cars could make four trips a day instead of the current two. On the other hand, electric vehicles should be encouraged as they don’t bellow greenhouse gases. TDM is a blunt instrument that will not filter out desired vehicles, rather punish them all, missing the chance to incentivise the right behaviours.
In the coming modern world, congestion charging or road tolling, where road users are charged based on when, where and how much they drive is a better way of controlling the travel demand. Why? Because electric vehicle can be singled out as those who can be incentivised to encourage this type of transport while four trip a day self driving cars or fossil fuelled cars will be discouraged.
However, the best method of encouraging the type of behaviour a city wants is to improve Public Transport, design better Road Corridors and allow the inner city parking stakeholders to compete and be run efficiently.
Be positive, do away with TDM.
Parking Operations Designer