How can we ensure a park is usually available?

We all want to get around Yarra safely, so we can visit friends, the library, shops or services. But, too many people find that it’s difficult to find a park near their destination, or that they receive a fine for staying slightly too long. This isn’t merely an issue of convenience, it’s an issue of social justice for some people with disabilities, some seniors, and people who need to drive for their work. People who need to drive should be able to:

  • find a park near their destination, and
  • avoid a fine during their stay.

To ensure people can find a park, we should manage our parking bays so that there is generally always one or two vacant parking bays on each block or in each street. This means we need to manage parking using an occupancy target, e.g. 85%. To manage occupancy, especially the demand from visitors, we need to adopt demand responsive pricing, where the price varies by each hour of the day, dependent upon the historical occupancy of the parking bays in that area. When occupancy is low, e.g. below 50%, such as late at night, the hourly rate is zero. When occupancy increases above 85%, the price is increased to balance demand. Beneficially, demand responsive pricing ensures that parking charges are defined by a transparent, clearly understood rule, and not arbitrarily set by bureaucrats or politicians. 

It’s difficult to apply an occupancy target (with demand responsive pricing) to the multiple different types of parking bays found in Yarra, including:

  • Free and unrestricted
  • Free but time limited
  • Permit only
  • Metered

The solution is to standardise on:

  • permit only parking bays, with
  • digital permits, and
  • enforcement using automatic number plate recognition.

Together, this would enable demand responsive pricing targeting 85% occupancy, backed by effective enforcement. In this proposal, two types of permit only zones are defined – shopping and residential. Permit only zones to support shoppers are located near shopping streets, while permit only zones to support residents cover the remaining area of each neighbourhood.

Example of shopping (pink) and residential (green) permit only zones. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

In shopping zones, parking permits are purchased by the hour, for a duration of up to 24 hours, with drivers able to view the demand responsive parking charges for the upcoming 24 hours before they “check in” to their numbered parking bay. Payment is made via an app when they “check out”, depending upon how long they have stayed. To support traders, the first hour is free, reverting to demand responsive pricing for subsequent hours.

In residential zones, in addition to the same same short term permits that can be purchased in shopping zones; weekly, monthly and yearly parking permits can be purchased by residents, businesses and visitors, at three price levels:

  • Residents & businesses (eligible for traditional permits) at existing low pricing
  • Residents & businesses (ineligible for traditional permits) at a “half way” price level
  • Others (e.g. shoppers or commuters) at market (or demand responsive) pricing

Price levels

In this proposal, households retain their two annual permits (for vehicles they own) but visitor permits are non-transferable (linked to a number plate) and only available in daily, weekly or monthly forms. These are purchased on demand, and more than one digital visitor permit can be purchased at the same time, e.g. when multiple guests are around for dinner.

Proposed pricing levels. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Residents who aren’t presently eligible for permits

At present, residents who are ineligible for traditional on-street parking permits have to find a rare vacant parking bay without time limits, or move their vehicle every 2 or 4 hours. If each neighbourhood is converted to permit only parking, then these residents will need a permit to park. As described above, the proposal is to create a new class of residential parking permit, available at a “half way” price of e.g. $1,500 per year. The price is intended to be set at the lowest possible level (separately for each neighbourhood) that enables occupancy to stay below 85%.


With digital parking permits, each permit is linked to a vehicle’s number plate. Enforcement is conducted using smartphones installed with an app for automatic number plate recognition. Enforcement officers can simply scan a number plate to determine whether the vehicle has a valid permit or not. Even better, cameras can be fitted to vehicles so that number plates can be automatically scanned as enforcement officers drive along a street. In this manner, fewer officers can check more streets more often, compared with the traditional “walk and chalk tyres” method.

Automatic number plate recognition system. Image credit: Duncan Solutions.


We can ensure that a park is usually available (and that a fine can be avoided) by:

  • Converting all on-street parking bays to permit only
  • Converting all paper permits to digital permits, at three price levels:
    • Residents & businesses (eligible for traditional permits)
    • Residents & businesses (ineligible for traditional permits)
    • Others (e.g. shoppers or commuters)
  • Selling digital permits online or via smartphone apps
  • Linking each permit to a vehicle number plate
  • Using demand responsive pricing for hourly permits
  • Using market rate pricing for daily, weekly, monthly or annual non-resident visitor permits

In this system, existing residential annual parking permits would stay at the same low price, but would change to a digital permit that is linked to the number plate of a specific vehicle. Visitor permits would change to digital, purchased as required by the host, at a low price. Beneficially, multiple permits could be purchased for the same day, e.g. if a household has multiple guests.


These reforms would deliver the following benefits:

  • People would be able find a park and avoid a fine
  • Shoppers would benefit from generally available parking near shopping streets
  • Residents would benefit from expanded permit only zones, protecting them from commuters
  • Residents would benefit from being able to offer a visitor permit to multiple guests at the same time, e.g. for a family dinner party
  • Residents who were previously ineligible for permits would be able to purchase a permit, albeit at a higher price level
  • Residents wouldn’t have to remove their physical ‘sticker’ permit from their windscreen each year and apply the new one
  • Commuters would be able to purchase a parking permit, albeit at an even higher price level
  • Council would benefit from not having to send out physical ‘paper’ or ‘sticker’ permits each year
  • Ratepayers would benefit from increased council parking enforcement effectiveness and reduced parking enforcement costs
  • Ratepayers would benefit from increased revenue, which should be reinvested directly back into the neighbourhood that generated the revenue, for trees, place making, wider footpaths, better footpath paving, pedestrian crossings, pocket parks, etc.

Preventing a black market in visitor permits

To prevent a black market in residential visitor permits, the price (for each household) would gradually escalate, e.g.:

  • The first 10 daily permits purchased within a calendar year are $2 each
  • The next 10 daily permits are $4 each
  • The next 10 daily permits are $6 each, etc, escalating upwards to a ceiling price of $20

The price would remain at this level until the end of the calendar year. At the start of the next calendar year the pricing would reset back to $2. Similar escalations would also apply to residential weekly and monthly variants. The gradually escalating price would encourage households to keep their low-priced visitor permits for their own use, instead of selling them to commuters.

If streets in residential zones are full

If streets in permit only residential zones are full, then people who need to drive (and park) are being impeded. They do not have the freedom of equal access that others (e.g. who could walk, cycle or use public transport) enjoy.

This driver can’t find a park because the street is full. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

The solution is to reform the eligibility criteria and pricing of the lowest priced residential permits. For example:

  • If a property has a crossover (indicating that they have off-street parking) then the number of permits that household is eligible for is decreased from two to one.
  • Increase the price of residential permits from 11 cents per day ($41 per year) to $1 per day ($365 per year), noting that $365 per year is still much cheaper than the other permits, or the ~ $3,000 per year shown on Parkhound.
If people can’t find a park, then one part of the solution is to increase the price for parking permits. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.


If parking was reformed as we propose, then people would be able to:

  • find a park near their destination, and
  • avoid a fine during their stay.

In addition, some families would downsize from three on-street cars to two, or from two on-street cars to one. This would free up space for the first 5-10 spots on each side street (near shopping streets) to be allocated to short term parking to support traders and shoppers. In turn, this will allow shopping streets to replace on-street parking with wider footpaths, protected bicycle lanes and level access tram stops; making the shopping street better for business, and making the whole neighbourhood better for everyone, including children and seniors.

Image credit: OCULUS

Download the proposal

Our proposal to reform on-street parking can be downloaded here. The proposal was written for Cremorne, but the principles apply to all neighbourhoods in Yarra.

Proposal to reform on-street parking. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Guidance from Austroads

Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 11 Parking is available free online, offering guidance on how to manage and price parking, including:

Drivers cannot expect long-term free parking close to their destination.

There are environmental aesthetic and financial costs associated with unlimited supply of parking.

The user pay principle is fair and applies to most services and products as well as to every other cost associated with owning and using a motor vehicle.

Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 11 Parking

Pay parking increases equity by charging users (user pay) for their parking costs and by reducing the parking costs imposed on non-drivers. Paying directly rather than indirectly benefits consumers because it reduces parking and traffic problems and allows individuals to decide how much parking to purchase giving them an opportunity to save money. Drivers may use a space as long as they want, as long as they are prepared to pay for it.

Austroads Guide to Traffic Management Part 11 Parking
Image credit: Austroads

Further information

Further information is available in this video from Adam Ruins Everything; or the free summary chapter of the book Parking and the City, edited by Donald Shoup:

Everybody wants to park for free, including me. But that doesn’t mean free parking should be a basic policy of urban planning or public finance or transportation planning, because free parking conflicts with almost all the other goals of urban planning or transportation.

Donald Shoup
Image credit: Routledge

Local champion

Your local champion for parking is David Balding – Yarra resident. View all of Streets Alive Yarra’s champions on our supporters page.

Parking is a big issue for green and lively streets and a vital public realm. Our instincts to want more of it and cheaper lead to bad outcomes – the big subsidy has a distorting effect on undermining public transport, discouraging walking and cycling because of traffic congestion, more toxic pollution and less space available for greenery and public social spaces. This is one area where we need a big dose of the free market: councils should not be trying to put private parking providers out of business, or undermining the business model of car sharing and taxi providers by taking away customers through under-price parking. Fair-price parking is good for those who need parking because it will nudge many to try alternatives such as car sharing, creating more spaces for those who really need them. There is an equity issue as well: the current free/cheap parking on Yarra streets represents a huge subsidy to about half the residents, with many of those missing out on this hand-out being among  the least well off. Rates are too high because council fails to price parking fairly. If you want vibrant Yarra streets with flourishing businesses and a fairer society, help us campaign for a fair price for parking in the public realm.

David Balding