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Using parking reform as a tool to influence travel behavior

In the last few decades, a growing number of European cities have led the world in changing the direction of parking policy, with a number of attractive results including revitalized town centers; large reductions in car use; and decreasing air pollution and rising quality of urban life, according to a new report published by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP).

The report, Europe’s Parking U-Turn: From Accommodation to Regulation, examines European parking over the last half century, through the prism of ten European cities: Amsterdam, Antwerp, Barcelona, Copenhagen, London, Munich, Paris, Stockholm, Strasbourg and Zurich. The report found:

  • Parking is increasingly linked to public transport. Amsterdam, Paris, Zurich and Strasbourg limit how much parking is allowed in new developments based on how far it is to walk to a bus, tram or metro stop. Zurich has made significant investments in new tram and bus lines while making parking more expensive and less convenient. As a result, between 2000 and 2005, the share of public transit use went up by 7%, while the share of cars in traffic declined by 6%.

  • European cities are ahead of the rest of the world in charging rational prices for on-street parking. In Paris, the on-street parking supply has been reduced by more than 9% since 2003, and of the remaining stock, 95% is paid parking. The result, along with other transport infrastructure improvements, has been a 13% decrease in driving.

  • Parking reforms are becoming more popular than congestion charging. While London, Stockholm, and a few other European cities have managed to implement congestion charging, more are turning to parking. Parking caps have been set in Zurich and Hamburg’s business districts to freeze the existing supply, where access to public transport is easiest.

  • Revenue gathered from parking tariffs is being invested to support other mobility needs. In Barcelona, 100% of revenue goes to operate Bicing—the city’s public bike system. Several boroughs in London use parking revenue to subsidize transit passes for seniors and the disabled, who ride public transit for free.

Each parking space consumes from 15 m2 to 30 m2, and the average motorist uses two to five different parking spaces every day. In dense European cities, a growing number of citizens began to question whether dedicating scarce public space to car parking was wise social policy, and whether encouraging new buildings to build parking spaces was a good idea. No matter how many new parking garages and motorways they built, the traffic congestion only grew worse, and as much as 50% of traffic congestion was caused by drivers cruising around in search of a cheaper parking space.

In the cities reviewed here, parking policy has been reoriented around alternative social goals...Every car trip begins and ends in a parking space, so parking regulation is one of the best ways to regulate car use. Vehicles cruising for parking often make up a significant share of total traffic. Other reasons for changing parking policies were driven by the desire to revitalize city centers and repurpose scarce road space for bike lanes or bike parking.

The amount of parking available in a city is heavily influenced by public policy. On-street parking is governed by municipal or district policy, and off-street parking is generally controlled through zoning and building regulations. These are ultimately political questions: how much parking is built in new buildings, and how much public space should be dedicated to motor vehicle parking as opposed to other uses.

—Europe’s Parking U-Turn

The authors of the report caution that progress in Europe on parking reform should not be overstated. The report selects the most innovative European parking practices and discusses them as actionable measures that can be applied by any city government depending on their short- and long-term goals. Such actions include:

  • Economic mechanisms, including pricing; emissions-based parking charges; workplace levies; and earmarking/ring fencing—i.e., specifically applying parking fees to transit.

  • Regulatory mechanisms, including parking supply caps; parking maximums; and regulating the location of parking.

  • Physical design, including bollards; striped lines; repurposing public places; and street geometry.

  • Quality of service contracting and technologies, including electronic parking guidance systems; pay-by-phone; smart meters; and scan cars—i.e., digitizing license plate regulations and using a scan car to monitor parking compliance.

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. Favoring alternatives to car travel means developing a restrictive parking policy that uses financial, legal, physical, and technological measures. The net result is a more balanced transportation network with less emphasis on driving.

—Europe’s Parking U-Turn




There are many other ways to reduce the use of ICE vehicles downtown. Paris, like many European cities, has excellent subway and train systems. We did not have to use an ICE vehicle during our last extended stay.

Our North American city has decided to try to go the same way with a new plan to add 50+ Km of additional new subways lines at a cost of $7B. It will be paid with a $0.05/liter (about $0.18/gal) gas tax + a $45/year registration fee for all light vehicles.

More buses was rejected because of the very high driver's cost ($100,805 + $22,000 for supervision and management = $122,805/year per driver). It takes up to four drivers per city bus costing about $490,000/year or almost the price of a new regular city bus every year. More articulated city buses with 100+ passengers is a solution being applied. One can imaging a city bus train with 3 or 5 modules in the future.

The recent 4000+ city bikes (Bixi) helped during summer months but are not used during our cold winters.

One of the best solution (but very costly) for large cities seems to be many more subways with interconnecting suburban e-trains equipped with very large parking lots.


Not a single word on the impact of commerce. I have a feeling the omission was intentional.


It is not the duty of the government to torment its residents into public transport. Why do we pay taxes ?
It's perfectly possible to have a city where anyone can drive a car without congestion or parking problems. We only have to invest in subterranean parkings and tunnels. In Brussels, a few key-tunnels do most of the job. Air pollution will be a problem of the past by the time the digging is finished.
In many cases, "public transport" is an euphemism for "free transport provided by the taxpayer", and a socialist project. It is extremely expensive compared to
simply optimizing the roadsystem.
My advice : put cars underground, bikes above.
Again, simply do the math.


Bike above ground would not do so well today with all the snow we're getting. Underground is better for subways and e-trains. If built over high-rise apartment buildings or under existing highways and streets it makes commuting much easier. One driver for 1000+ passengers subway e-train is more efficient than one sole person per car even e-cars.

Driving and parking in Brussels is not as bad as in Barcelona put it can be a nightmare.


I have lived in a few of these European cities and the lack of personal independence through vehicle ownership has created a society of un-adventurous, techno-phobic, and mid-range travel-hating people. I have never seen such a bunch of uncommunicative, unhappy drones as i do on the bus/train/subway to and from work. As much as I don't believe that one should drive everyday for common commuting, I still believe that car use is an excellent driver of economic growth, personal/work options, and a sense of personal discovery to those forgotten and out-of-the-way places you simply cannot walk to from a bus-stop. Further, statistics say that those who own vehicles are more likely to have a better job and thus are likely contributing more to the maintenance of expensive transit systems. It would be interesting to see what the cost of running a car is compared to the cost of running the transit system/divided by its capacity (including their contribution to road infrastructure) - i think that you might find that a society without transit, but where everyone drives sensibly and manages their driving by sharing and staggering commute times is probably a lot cheaper of a society to run. That being said, i think that transit of itself is an excellent community building institution. So, let's take a more moderate and reasoned approach. Like the new mayor of Toronto says, 'it's time to stop the car bashing and kick-start the economy by integrating everyone and all their preferred means of transportation'.


Like the new mayor of Toronto says, 'it's time to stop the car bashing and kick-start the economy by integrating everyone and all their preferred means of transportation'.

Well said.


Is this real? To sustain economic growth and well being with more and more, bigger and bigger gas guzzlers? I can't believe it? Is that what the Big-3 managed to do for decades?

I guess that some would say that eating more and more junk food until you're either sick or weight 1000+ lbs would be much alone the same line of thinking.

Have we really gone that far down?

The new Toronto mayor is a son of the Big-3 era? He apparently worked for them and is still hooked on 4-ton vehicles. De-programming is not that easy to do.


With almost 50,000 road fatalities per year in USA, it seems that those large vehicles are used to regulate population growth? What hurts the most, is the 500,000 serious injuries and the $$$B in damages associated with road accidents/collisions. Many are in wheel chairs for the rest of their life.

The same people would say that it is good for the economy. It reduces unemployment and creates jobs for insurances, lawyers, doctors, health care people, drug makers, drug stores etc.

What a way to keep the economy going!


Actually, road fatalities have been dropping the past few years, both as a rate of deaths per million miles driven and as an absolute number. Last year US highway fatalities were about 37,000, including pedestrians and bicyclists. This was the lowest number since the 1960s.

Over a third of the US fatalities were due to drunken driving. Several European countries have achieved significantly lower fatality rates than the US.


HarveyD, bus drivers make $100k per year?.. time for some low cost AI to drive these buses.

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