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. Some people need to drive, and it’s an issue of social justice that these people should be able to:

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

The problem is that free parking bays are often fully occupied; or, if drivers do find a vacant time-limited bay, they risk over-staying and getting a fine.

Yarra policy

Yarra’s Parking Management Strategy states that all visitors should pay for parking:

Require visitors to the City of Yarra to contribute to the cost of providing and maintaining the parking infrastructure they use by paying for parking;

City of Yarra Parking Management Strategy

However, almost 3/4 of Yarra’s on-street parking bays are free:

Almost 3/4 of Yarra’s on-street parking bays are free. Data source: City of Yarra. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

What Yarra can do

Yarra can ensure people can find a park by managing 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 change from free parking to paid parking, with charges just high enough to deliver some vacancies. When occupancy is low, the hourly rate is zero. When occupancy increases too much, the price is increased to balance demand. This is called demand-responsive pricing, and a benefit is that parking charges are defined by a transparent, clearly understood rule, and not arbitrarily set by bureaucrats or politicians. To make this work, we can change from free parking to permit (paid) parking. At the same time we can also increase the number of bays for car share, disabled, and loading.

Proposed reallocation of on-street parking. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Digital permits and new zones

To enable variable pricing within permit zones, we can sell digital parking permits (e.g. by the hour) that are linked to the vehicle’s number plate and to a numbered parking bay. In this proposal, two types of permit zones are defined — shopping and residential. Permit zones to support shoppers are located near shopping streets, while permit 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.

Traders and shoppers

In shopping zones, parking permits can be free for the first hour, before transitioning to demand responsive pricing, to prevent them being blocked by commuters. Payment is made via an app, with drivers “checking in” and “checking out” from a numbered bay. The app would automatically deduct a fee if the driver stays longer than one hour. Drivers can review the upcoming demand responsive hourly for any bay, before they “check in”. At times when demand and occupancy are low, e.g. late at night, then parking can be free for many hours.

Visitor permits

In this proposal, visitor permits are digital and non-transferable, i.e. they are linked to the number plate of the visiting vehicle. They are available in daily, weekly or monthly forms. They can be 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.

Enforcement

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.

Price scales

Pricing can be scaled for different groups of people. For example, if non-residents paid the full price, then residents who were ineligible for traditional permits could be offered 50% pricing, and residents eligible for traditional permits could be offered 10% pricing. Clearly, these scales can be adjusted based on community consultation.

Proposed price scales for different groups. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Pricing can be offered for different durations of stay. For example, monthly can be 1/10th of a yearly, weekly can be 1/3 of a monthly, and daily can be 1/5th of a weekly.

Proposed price scales for different durations. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

Reference prices

Prices can be scaled against a reference. For example, a reference could be the $300 per month “user pays” permit offered by the City of Moreland.

Image credit: City of Moreland

Using the $300 per month reference price, the other prices can be calculated. As shown in the table below, this would result in prices ranging from $2 per day for a residential visitor permit up to $3,000 per year for a commuter visitor permit. Note that in this example, the cost of a residential annual permit is $300. To prevent a shock price increase for residents, this can be phased in over several years.

Prices referenced to the City of Moreland. Image credit: Streets Alive Yarra.

An alternative reference could be the $2,250 to $5,000 per year value identified by the City of Yarra in their study of outdoor dining:

Value of parking bays in Yarra. Image credit: City of Yarra, agenda from 1st June 2021.

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, up to $1 per day ($365 per year).

The $365 per year price is still much cheaper than the $1,500 or $3,000 price levels, and is comparable with the cost of residential parking permits in high demand areas in other cities such as Miami Beach, Vancouver, Portland or Amsterdam, which range from AU$351 to AU$884:

Cost of residential permit. Image credit: City of Vancouver

Summary

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

  • Converting on-street parking bays from free to paid
  • Converting 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 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 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.

Benefits

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.


Outcomes

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

Guidance from experts

Guidance from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, via their free guide to the pricing of on-street parking, aligns with our proposals for reform:

Image credit: ITDP

Guidance from Austroads

Guidance from Austroads also aligns with our proposals for reform:

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

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