Thursday, September 4, 2014

Free Parking has Mixed Results on Retail in Nelson

In Nelson, at the top of New Zealand's South  Island or Te Waipounamu (Maori name), there is a hive of activity around trying to solve a main street retail parking problem.  Regularly the sunniest place in New Zealand, the issue is creating chills with some of the abuse hurled at the poor old Enforcement Officers, so much so that nelson may be showing it up as an unfriendly place.  Why?  Because they cant solve their retail parking problems.

Retail parking is a very simple issue to solve.  It’s straight up economics, not emotion, not traffic engineering, not planning, just economics.  It’s the balance of supply and demand.  Whether by time restriction or metered charging, its still just about economics.  This fact eludes most people.


I’m not sure the Council and the retailers have actually defined the issues here, so that would be a great place to start, so I will have a go here. 

1.         Provide enough parking for shopping customers to come and stay as long as they are shopping, and no longer.
2.         Provide some parking for the staff of those shops and commercial premises to park all day.
3.         Its not really a number three but I thought I would throw this in - Council will get its revenues anyway, either by parking meter or by enforcement (due to the extra traffic generated by free parking)….its never free.

There, done it.

Firstly, you have to understand how to manage the parking resource in the city. It is limited. There are only so many car parks to go around.  Generally, more people want them than there are car parks.  This makes it a scarcity so you must actively manage it.  But to what levels should you manage it?

In modern parking methodologies, the ‘occupancy rate’ is the Number 1 KPI in parking now.  You must set up your system to ensure full utilisation of parking, that is a working occupancy rate of around 60% to 85%.  Any higher, then the price should go up to control it (occupancies higher than 85% start to show signs of congestion).  Any lower then the price should go down to improve utilisation. 

There is a large amount of work now showing that people looking for car parks are up to 45% of the actual traffic in a busy city.  The answer to that is to get the pricing or time restriction signals right and then communicate that in depth so that the parking decision is made before you leave home or work.

Price is a tool but not the main goal ….. occupancy is the main goal of retail parking although retailers will try to jam you into their car parks anyway because parking relates directly to footfall and they generally don’t care about you until you get into the mall (see most malls in the country).

These days we have a lot of modern tools & technologies in the tool box to set up a modern parking system, pay and display machines, pay by phone, barrier gates, licence plate readers, parking sensors, signs, paint on the road, education and finally, parking enforcement officers.  You can use some or all of these together.  Taupo uses an enforcement only model, which is say P60-P120 with sensors on the street to keep the cars turned over.  Most big cities will use parking meters and pricing to turn cars over. 

New modern methods of setting up your parking operation work very well around the world and will be in New Zealand in no time, that is an inverse pricing method.  Most cities have a price per hour where each hour costs the same amount, e.g. $3.00 per hour plus a P120 time limit.  The new approach is to charge more for the extra hour and have no time limit.  The affect appears to be people who want to stay can – they don’t get forced out – but they must pay for the privilege.  This might look like,

1.         1st Hour - $2
2.         2nd Hour - $3
3.         3rd Hour - $5
4.         4th Hour - $7

As you can see, the rates climb significantly at the time you want to turn the car park over.  It also has the affect of being positive in nature versus the inherently negative enforcement and infringement approach; in fact it is proving around the world to reduce the need for enforcement significantly.

For staff and office workers, they can park in areas away from the parking for shoppers because, for a major proportion of them, if you can’t park shoppers, they wouldn’t have a job.  In this case you make it cheaper or with longer time limits where you want them to park to incentivise them away from the main shopping areas..  You can always improve public transport to incentivise them on to the bus (see my article on TDM here).

See, parking is easy to fix, you just need an economic bent.  Parking is about economics, not only traffic engineering or planning and certainly not just enforcement.  I suggest taking the more positive approach and organise the balance of supply and demand and cut the poor old Enforcement Officers some slack…. It’s the system, not them.

Kevin Warwood

Read the Article Here.....

These views are my own.

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