Is Parking a Basic Right?
What does our community do when it offers free parking for almost everyone? Do free parking spaces constitute a needed public service such as education or health? Why am I allowed to buy a car without having to think about where I can park this car, day or night?
Why am I paying rent or property tax for my house, but use free public space to park my private tin can?
Why do I accept the fact that footpaths and cycle ways are blocked by illegally parked cars, so that my children cannot play outside, my elderly mother cannot go shopping, and I cannot get past the parked cars with the baby buggy?
What would change if every car owner had to pay parking fees or rent a garage or a parking space – as we do when we rent a room or an apartment for ourselves?
Will Bremen’s Transport Plan Change Anything?
When it comes to parking policy, Bremen’s approach is more patchwork than coherent. In the city centre, motorists are directed to a series of pay car parks. Some other city areas limit on-street parking on busy streets or offer pay parking. But there is no city-wide strategy. The great leap forward heralded by Bremen’s transport plan is the aim on page 169 – to actually implement the law as it stands and address illegal car parking. The whole subject of stationary traffic is given a total of 3 pages, pages 54f and 169, in this 192-page book “VEP.” But anyone who lives in those densely populated areas of Neustadt, Findorff or the famous “Viertel” knows what this abstract figure means in reality: motorists endlessly searching for a free space, parked cars on pavements and at junctions, blocked cycle paths. Ambulances and fire brigades no longer able to get through.
The Private Costs of Parking Spaces
If some find our tone too moralising, we can simply stick to the financial facts – the money we all spend or simply throw away when everyone can park free of charge. To do this, we need to analyse what it costs to provide parking spaces, to build and to maintain them. Then we have to deal with the overall social costs of each parking space. Even if we assume that the costs of construction and maintenance, ie the directly attributable costs of investing in a parking space, are privately paid or economically expressed, we have a large block of costs paid by wider society, so-called externalized or external costs for the community as a whole.
The American transport scientist Donald Shoup (Donald Shoup: The High Cost of Free Parking, Chicago / Washington 2011) has estimated that a parking space at the University of Los Angeles costs the city per month approximately $127 ($94 capital cost, $33 Maintenance) (p. 191). This can also be calculated for Bremen. As the construction costs of one parking space is around €20,000, we arrive at very similar figures – not the same amount but quite comparable. Whoever builds and maintains this will at least pay the private costs.
Parking’s External Costs
For the state, the consideration of external costs should be much more important than that of the internal ones. If we had fewer cars in the city, for example, we would have extensive positive effects: lower health care costs, the city becomes more attractive for tourists, the local retail sector benefits, and the overall quality of life is increased.
We have to carry out two basic calculations when we think about the follow-up costs of parking. First, we need to determine how many additional car journey miles are generated by parking spaces. Then we need to calculate the bill that these additional miles generates for the wider community. Donald Shoup has calculated this for the parking spaces provided at the University of Los Angeles.
Free Car Parking Entices People To Drive
Each parking space induces new journeys, calculated by Shoup at 82.6 per month, each journey averaging 8.8 miles. Thus 727 more miles have been driven than would have been the case without the parking space. The reason for this is easy to see: a comprehensive range of parking spaces does not “create” any car traffic, but it tempts people to use their car: “The phenomenon of vehicle travel induced by new parking spaces (added vehicle-storing capacity) is similar to the phenomenon of vehicle travel induced by new roads (added vehicle-carrying capacity). (Shoup, p. 194) The context is similar to road construction: roads attract car traffic. It’s now recognised that parking space does as well.
Various institutes have tried to determine what a mile of car travel costs society. Shoup’s estimates are based on two cost lines, which are generated by the additional car driving due to the parking spaces at the destination – congestion costs and air pollution. In total, it reaches a value of almost $117 per month for the external effects of building a parking space, in its case even of paid parking. Together with the cost of construction and maintenance costs of $127, each parking lot at the University of Los Angeles costs $244 per month.
CO2, Noise, Accidents Increase Costs Farther
Shoup himself acknowledges that his bill is extremely conservative (p. 197f). He has only included weekdays, has set low cost rates, the value of 8.8 miles is low compared to the usual travel distance of commuters in South California of 15 miles. It has not included any CO2 emission costs, no costs of noise pollution and additional accidents. He also ignored the emissions caused by the construction of the parking spaces, as well as the environmental effects resulting from the concreting over of land. Depending on the cost of creation and maintenance costs, and the most cost-effective way to estimate the external costs, we have to follow Shoup, at least $244 per month or $2928 per year, to provide a parking space for one car.
Copenhagen Factors In More External Costs
The Copenhagen Institute COWI has included in its study exactly those facts and consequential costs that Shoup elegantly circumnavigated: accidents, air pollution, climate change, noise. It has calculated that every car driver in the city per kilometre driven costs Danish society 1.13 DKK = €0.15 (in the rush hour this value rises to 1.98 DKK = €0.27). On the other hand, a cyclist increases social prosperity and reduces society’s costs with every cycled kilometre by €0.16 – because he / she is fitter, the cycle does not emit toxic gases or greenhouse gases and it makes no noise. (COWI: Economic Evaluation of Cycle Projects, December 2009, p. 5f or Samfundsøkonomiske analyser af cykeltiltag – metode og cases, January 2009, pp. 13ff).
For further research: An excellent overview about studies dealing with the external cost of driving is also found here: The true costs of cars .
What Bremen Could Save
About 7 million kilometres per day are driven by “motorized private transport” (MIV), ie by car, in Bremen (see BUND Landesverband Bremen (Hrsg.): Mobilität für alle – statt Vorfahrt für Benzinkutschen, Bremen 2011). 39% of all Bremen citizens use their bicycle every day. But the VEP tells us that we could add 34% to this figure. 80% of all trips in Bremen are shorter than 10 km, and 66% even shorter that 5 km, which is an easy distance for a cyclist. But still 26% of Bremen citizens use their cars for distances under 2 Km! 42% enter their cars for trips under 5 km, and for trips between 5 and 10 km this figure rises to a dramatic 57%. (VEP, p. 33f) So a lot could be done, and a more decisive parking policy, a real blanket parking management, could help significantly reduce these figures.
Thus we need to reduce car traffic through a more ambitious parking policy and realise the potential for mode shift in Bremen. That would lead to an enormous jump in public welfare. If ,for example, two thirds of the seven million MIV kilometres would be cycled rather than driven, the community would save more than 1.4 million euros per day. In short: the quality of life in Bremen increases with the decrease of car trips in the city, and the state budget is less constrained: a positive luxury for all.
The Hidden Car Subsidy
Many motorists complain that they are already paying for the right to park via vehicle taxes. In fact, these come nowhere near to financing the real costs of car parking. If we compare what Bremen’s drivers are doing to make use of a parking space or even a garage, it’ s very clear that every car driver in Bremen is fundamentally subsidised by the public for their car. German vehicle taxes do not come close to matching this subsidy: even for an old 1600cc diesel, with high CO2 emissions of 210 g / km and without particulate filters, no more than €360 tax is charged per year. If we only take Shoup’s conservative calculation (117 €/month for capital cost and maintenance), then this diesel driver receives 1044 € per year from the state budget, taking his tax payment into account. Then we have to add the external cost, which society has to pay for every extra km driven with this diesel car, according to Shoup: 107 € every month ie 1284 € per year.Thus by using a free parking space on a public highway, this diesel driver is given around €2300 from the state budget each year. And this figure still excludes the consequential costs calculated by Copenhagen.
This leads inevitably to the question, whether the German Energiesteuer (formerly Mineralölsteuer) (based on EU-rules) makes car drivers pay for the cost they induce? The Dieseldriver has to pay 47,04 Cent per Liter before VAT, and the tax for petrol cars is 65,45 Cent. Our old Diesel uses approximately 12 Liter per 100 Kilometres, so the owner pays 5,64 € per 100 Kilometres, i.e. 5,64 Cent per Kilometre, little more than a third of the cost to society, as calculated in the Copenhagen study above.
However we look at it, driving a car in Germany is highly subsidised. Vehicle tax is extremely low, the tax on energy doesn’t cover the real cost of driving for our society, parking is cheap or doesn’t cost anything, and in most cases illegal parking is simply ignored.
And we still ask ourselves: how do we get people out of their cars?
A World Without Free Public Parking?
Would we be driving less if there were fewer free or cheap car parks in Bremen? If everyone who wants to buy a car needed to organize a garage or a privately-funded parking space? Would Bremen’s Viertel have fewer cars, if everyone who wanted to buy a car had to place this in the Theater Garage?
“It would be quite clear,” says Shoup, “We own more cars and drive them more often than we would if we paid market-rate prices for parking. The costs of congestion and pollution are hard to measure and to attribute to individual drivers, which is why they remain external costs. In contrast, charging for parking is easy, so there is no reason, why it should be an external cost.“(P.199) “The higher the price for parking, the more travelers ride public transit, carpool, bike or walk to their destinations.“ (Shoup, S. 194)
Why Does the State Not Change Its Policy?
- Because Bremen has not yet recognized the problem? The knowledge is out there. We are not the only local initiative analysing the issue.
- Because Bremen knows no solution? They are widely available from other cities like Amsterdam but also from the EU project „Push&Pull“.
- Because the pressure for a radical change in Transport Policy is not yet big enough? Certainly, transport is low on the Climate Change priorities.
- Because the State is afraid of conflicts with car owners? Most definitely.
But then what is the point of a “nanny state” if it only caters for the needs of the strong and not for the children, the elderly and those who simply do not drive? We have good conditions in Bremen to initiate traffic changes: 25% modal share for cycling, 700 kilometers of cycle paths, a tram network, and a growing car sharing scheme. How many cities can say that?
If Bremen is to tackle the parking problem head on, it only requires one missing ingredient – courage.