Monday 9 May 2011

How much does it cost to park a car ?

Our local newspaper recently reported that Assen tied as one of the two cheapest places in the Netherlands for parking a car in the city centre. It costs just €1.67 per hour, though actually you get to park for free if you visit the supermarket at the same time.

However, this still gives a mis-leading picture. Actually, most car parking in Assen is free. That's true even just 500 m from the centre for drivers who are willing to walk a short distance.

High prices for parking or for using a car don't make people cycle. Rather, if cycling is an attractive enough option people will choose to do it. That's why Assen has a 41% cycling rate. People choose to cycle here because it's extremely pleasant and convenient. They are not made to do so under duress and certainly not because they are "punished" for driving by the high cost of parking.

Free parking in Assen, 500 m from the
city centre. It's never full.
(read an update about this car park)
It is a mistake for cycling campaigners to get involved in arguments about the cost of fuel or parking of cars. People will readily change their behaviour if a better option comes along, but they don't like to be told what to do. For cyclists to do this makes enemies of people who could be our (future) allies. Most drivers don't so much enjoy their driving as endure it. This goes double for those who regularly get stuck in traffic during commutes, with time taken on the commute having rather an unpredictable nature when driving vs. the usually very predictable time taken when cycling.

Carrots work better than sticks.

Still free, or cheap
In another blog post which discussed how it's not necessary to alienate drivers with high parking fees in order to result in mass cycling, I included this photo.

Regular car commuters to the centre of Assen can hire a garage in the centre of Assen for just €28 per month. The reason why it is so cheap is that there is an over-supply of garages. This is not because there is an especially large number of parking places, but because demand is relatively light compared with cities in other countries.

The low price of parking in Assen and the relative emptiness of car parks is a demonstration of how successful the policy to increase cycling has been. Drivers benefit from more cycling.

At many other places in Assen, car parking is free of charge. That includes other shopping areas than the centre.


Jacob Mason said...

What are your thoughts about crowded existing cities? In these places, creating legitimate cycling facilities requires the removal of automobile facilities, in the form of travel lanes or parking. It is easy to speak of creating great cycling options without using sticks in small Dutch cities, but how do you reallocate space in large US cities without angering motorists who are vigorous in defending their space? This is the case in NYC, and I don't see any way around it without either causing some sort of congestion by reducing vehicles space or by reducing demand via congestion charging.

Dweendaddy said...

I completely agree with carrots over sticks, but under market rate parking (the norm here in the US) is a silly carrot to give drivers!

Paul Martin said...

Good post David, although (t)here in Australia the provision of carrots for cycling requires some compromises on the part of motorised traffic (ie. small sticks...).

One of the most important areas I think that should be changed is the abundance of free on-street parking for cars at the expense of decent footpaths or cyclepaths - particularly on busy or popular routes. Any minor concession by 'motor vehicle drivers' (I am one from time to time) is seen as a major stick and sees great opposition by them and their 'advocacy' groups...

OldGreyBeard said...

How do your comments on car parking prices fit in with previous posts about the need to disadvantage cars?

Given the faith in the price mechanism in the UK surely the argument must be to increase the costs of motoring to cause different choices to be made.

In Leighton Buzzard the train company is proposing to increase station car park prices from £6.50 per day to £6.90. The local cycle campaign group is monitoring cycle parking levels at the station to see if there is an effect.

Cycle parking is free and the train company do not count them.

David Hembrow said...

Jacob: You'll see in any of the transformations of Dutch cities (large and small) that space has indeed been re-allocated from cars to bikes. At first, in some cases, this was controversial. But these days, even shopkeepers prefer cyclists.

Driving frequently needs to be curtailed because of the problems caused by having so many cars in one place. This is not really a cycling issue, and my message is that it is foolish for cycling campaigners to get involved in any of this. It can only bring conflict.

Cycling provides a way to avoid many problems, but if campaigners get too involved in "anti-car" measures then it is instead seen as a threat.

For cycling to "break through" and become something for more than just cycling enthusiasts to take part in, then existing drivers need to have it demonstrated to them that cycling is much more convenient than driving. This comes through sympathetic infrastructure, not by punishing drivers.

OldGreyBeard: The way in which cars are "disadvantaged" here is not the same way it is done in the UK. It's not such a blunt stick as you see in Britain, where people are given few, if any, good choices other than to drive, but then "attacked" with ever rising costs for making that logical choice. Rather, driving is easy here, but cycling is easier still.

Leighton Buzzard's increasing the cost of parking at the railway station will likely be effective merely in reducing the number of people who travel by train.

The town makes an interesting comparison. While many people, such as Jacob above, claim that their problems are "different" because they live in a bigger city, Leighton Buzzard is an example of somewhere with a tiny population (just half that of Assen), but which still has just the same problems as NYC and virtually everywhere else outside the Netherlands. Size isn't really the point. Nor is density.

Even if cycle parking existed in LB on the same scale as that at the station in a Dutch city of the same size, because the rest of the infrastructure is so poor for cycling, the likelihood of people living in this small town switching to cycling is very low.

It's a classic example of where sticks fail, but carrots work.

The centre of Leighton Buzzard is somewhat reminiscent of the "before" photos of Assen, taken in the 1960s and 1970s. In 2009, Assen reduced the amount of car parking at the railway station, but there was no outcry about this.

OldGreyBeard said...

It's a fair point about Leighton Buzzard.

It is interesting that when compared with Tring station on the same line, it is doing rather poorly in cycling modal share. When you factor in passenger numbers Tring is about 5 times better. I think the reasons are twofold: firstly Tring station is at least 1 mile from the edge of town so walking is more difficult but secondly there is a pretty good, by UK standards, segregated cyclepath pretty much all the way to the station.

The routes to LB station by contrast vary from just about OK to hostile.

The car park is usually about 80% to 90% full and the cycle parking less than 50%. This is after 2 1/2 years of Cycle Town soft measures efforts to get people to cycle to the station.

In my view you can't sell a poor product for very long before people discover it is poor and cycling in the UK is too often a poor product.

Marco te Br├Âmmelstroet said...

Might be interesting to note that Amsterdam is planning to do some pilots on Neighborhood Auctions concerning parking space.Not taking 100.000 (!) parking spaces for granted but provide a neighborhood with parking rights that can be sold on an Auction.Also reallocating the space for bikes and/or playgrounds i in the project.Then, the real price that people are willing to pay comes affront!

Frits B said...

Assen attracts a good deal of car traffic from the villages around it, either for shopping or commuting. As the town centre is small, parking facilities were provided in the last decades, 14 at the moment. Still, as the use of these isn't free, commuters in particular took to parking their cars in the residential areas surrounding the centre. Parking outside the centre is now widely limited by a licencing system for residents. Yet, this is not a defining factor in bicycle use. People cycle here because as David explains over and over again, it's the most practical way to get around. Safe and quick. The main danger is the mayor himself who corners as if on a race track, on his bike of course.

As for parking at the train station, there are two car parks, on either side of the tracks. The one on the town side has always required a fee, so people preferred to park on the other side where parking was free. The railway company got wise and started charging for parking on the wrong side too, so commuters all parked their cars in the streets around it - which as a result were subsequently closed to them by a licence system. The main car park is still no more than half full, because it's a long narrow strip concealed behind office buildings, its entrance is well hidden and it's a relatively long walk to the station. In other words, it's far more practical to take a bus to the station, or indeed a bicycle for which there is ample parking space. Car use is discouraged but not ostentatiously so. And for those who need to use a car there is always a parking space. Carrots AND sticks, small ones.

Erik Sandblom said...

€1.67 per hour strikes me as reflecting the true cost of parking, which is often underestimated. But cars need parking at both ends of the journey. Frits B touches on this -- even if car drivers pay for parking when shopping, they often have free or cheap parking at the other end.

This is because the local authority denies building permits if you don't promise to provide parking, often at least one space per apartment. That in turn means that car parking is subsidised through rent. Experience from Sweden suggests that the true cost of a garage spot is €150 per month and up, and the construction costs amount to 20-40 thousand euros per spot.

If it were up to builders to decide how much parking to provide, building costs would be lower and car parking would probably cost more and be less convenient.

Parking Minimums Make NYC Housing More Expensive, NYU Report Finds

I agree that campaigners shouldn't be too anti-car, and that subjective safety is very important, but on the other hand campaigners need to be aware of the issues.

Anonymous said...

This is precisely why cycling promotion in the United States is such a failure. And anecdotally, Americans still insist that it's the Dutch who are more anti-car.

ibikelondon said...

I disagree, slightly, David. I think the first priority is of course to make the streets inviting for cyclists, but I don't think we should be making streets inviting for motoring too, certainly in cities and town. I remember you writing about how cyclists can cut through a town centre, whereas cars have to go around the ring road and this strikes me as a carrot and stick scenario.

I live in a highly densely populated borough and the rent per square metre on my flat is astronomical. The rent per square metre of the car parking space outside my flat is really really cheap. Less as a cyclist and more as a resident, I'm inclined to start storing my stuff in boxes in the parking spaces outside as it's cheaper than paying rent for a larger flat for all my stuff :o) I think that this demonstrates how the car has been invited in unchecked, and actually the constructs we have built up around it are pretty crazy, but we've somehow sleep walked into it...

David Hembrow said...

Mark, I'm all for making it more convenient to cycle than to drive, and of course the Dutch have achieved more than any other nation in making this the case. I'm also very keen to see cities transformed to favour cycling over driving, and again see find that the Dutch lead in this too.

British streets sadly still tend to look like the "before" photos taken in the 1970s and earlier.

Excessive car usage causes many problems, but my point with this post is really about how to campaign rather than about those problems.

For chirpy cycling enthusiasts in mostly non-cycling nations such as Britain to labour over car parking charges is simply a strategic error. It puts a minority, cyclists, in conflict with a majority who don't cycle. When cycle campaigners make such fundamental mistakes in trying to get support, is it surprising that they are seen as smug ?

It may seem difficult, but what is needed to grow cycling is to convince the population at large that it's a convenient, time-saving, safe, way of making their everyday journeys.

The only growth possible in cycling in low cycling nations is by convincing people who don't do it to start doing it. Causing conflict is not a way to win allies. Rather, cycling has to offer a solution to the problems which drivers face. It can do so, if the infrastructure is good enough. Dutch cities have higher cycling rates than those in any other country because the conditions are better than those in any other country. It is really as simple as that. As OldGreyBeard said a few comments ago, "In my view you can't sell a poor product for very long before people discover it is poor and cycling in the UK is too often a poor product." He's right. Those are exactly the terms to use to look at it. It it were good to cycle in Britain, everyone would be doing it. That they are not doing it proves that it is not good. It is almost impossible to price people out of driving for as many journeys as they can if they see no good alternative.

What we have here in Assen now is a situation where if you want to drive to the centre because you've bought some heavy object which is best collected by car, then that option is open. However, the majority of people, the majority of the time, don't do this because it's less convenient than cycling. In this city, the cost of car parking is almost completely irrelevant when people come to make their decision about how to travel. That's how it should be.

I understand your pain about rent per square metre at home, but different rules apply with residential developments. Where British developments don't provide ample car parking, they tend to look like this, which helps no-one at all, and makes life particularly difficult for cyclists.

ibikelondon said...

David said;

"The only growth possible in cycling in low cycling nations is by convincing people who don't do it to start doing it. Causing conflict is not a way to win allies. Rather, cycling has to offer a solution to the problems which drivers face."

..and he's right, of course. Point taken!

Anonymous said...

Car parks in South Gloucestershire are generally free but often with a two hour limit. I don't know who pays for the facility, either local residents or businesses through council tax and business rates. Equally the council will subsidise bus services but there is little evidence of any investment in cycling. Even my old school play ground is now a staff car park. Plenty of carrots over here, and the motorists are eating all they can get.
Mark Garrett, Bristol, UK

Anonymous said...

I agree with the main point, but I might point out that €1.67 per hour works out to €40 per day, which I'd find expensive in a city of roughly 100,000 people. Similarly sized cities in the "provinces" of my home State of California (Bakersfield, say) would generally have no parking fees at all in their central business districts. You'd have to go to the major population centers (Los Angeles or San Francisco) to find comparable prices, and even then parking lots for the main shopping areas are almost always free.

Parking prices may not be the sole determinant of cycling's mode share, but I'd wager that they're a factor.

David Hembrow said...

examinedspoke: This is the charge for the city centre parking. The most premium spot. Most car parking in Assen is free of charge, certainly at all shops, offices, restaurants and residential addresses outside the centre.

2whls3spds said...

Free parking ISN'T...that is an oxymoron. Free parking costs, it is paid for by general fund taxes, gross sprawl, etc, etc.

The USA has to be one of the worst, in many cases parking has driven out viable small businesses causing some areas to become waste lands. Parking does not add to a tax base or typically bring in any sort of viable revenue.