Aug 20, 2010

New parking policy blog: Reinventing Parking

"Parking" is currently the most common tag on this site and much of my research now focuses on parking. So it seemed time to consider starting a blog to focus specifically on parking policy.

So that is exactly what I have now done. It is called Reinventing Parking. Among other things, I want to try to help communities understand the parking choices they face and to help them to improve their policies.

If you agree with me that parking policy is important please visit Reinventing Parking and consider subscribing to its feed or via email.  Please spread the word to people who care about improving parking policy anywhere in the world.

Persuasive video on Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) car insurance

Here is an entertaining video explanation and exhortation on Pay-As-You-Drive (PAYD) insurance. Does your country, state or province have PAYD insurance yet?

It was made by Cliff Caprani of British Columbia, Canada. See more context at the original site where there is a link to a petition for residents of BC.

Hat tip: VTPI Newsletter, Summer 2010, by Todd Litman, one of the key experts on PAYD Insurance.

Aug 13, 2010

In urban transport be careful what you wish for

Freely flowing traffic is a good thing, right? And affordable motoring is good too, isn't it? Most motorists in most cities would surely agree. Maybe you would too?

But as citizens and voters I think we need to be careful what we wish for. When political leaders decide that the central goals of urban transport policy are 1) solving traffic congestion and 2) keeping driving affordable, they may make themselves popular with motorists, but they also risk gradually turning their city into a monster. 

I argued along these lines in a talk I gave on Wednesday to a couple of hundred junior college (high school) students (the presentation is at the end of this post). It was a non-technical talk on basic priorities in urban transport planning.

Below is part of my reasoning.

The Los Angeles region is not the world's most automobile-dependent city but it is the only mega-city to try so hard to keep driving fast and cheap.

When faced with traffic problems it is tempting to just expand roads in the hope of increasing traffic speeds. This can actually work, given enough investment in high-capacity roads (a huge amount in fact). It is also tempting to avoid congestion by planning for low densities, so traffic doesn't concentrate too much in any one place, and to require lots of parking (free of course). But if these are our key priorities, they lead to unfortunate long term results.

After a few decades of such efforts to ease traffic we will have built ourselves a much more car-dependent urban structure than before. All those roads end up buying more space, not the time savings they were expected to. On average, traffic will probably move pretty fast but a sprawling urban fabric means that most people will have no choice but to travel long distances every day. At every step in this scenario, motorists can see that the alternatives to driving are bad and getting worse while key destinations are scattering over a wide area. In such a context, price rises for vehicles, fuel, parking or road use are extremely unpopular.

Eventually, we will have created an 'automobile dependent' metropolitan area. This is what happened in most North American metro areas between the 1950s and today. Atlanta is a classic example. Suburban dwellers in such places don't perceive much alternative to driving and are desperate to keep driving cheap.

So what should we wish for, especially in Asian cities that are not yet car dependent?  How about calling for policies that focus on these three things?
  1. Focus more on REACHING things than on moving (especially not on moving vehicles). In other words, focus more on accessibility
  2. Make PLACES a higher priority (and their quality). Don’t let traffic blight key urban places. Treat streets as places and as access facilities and not just traffic facilities 
  3. Nurture alternatives to privately owned cars that are comprehensive, integrated and of high quality.

If we are successful at priorities like these would anyone worry so much about traffic speed or the cost of driving?

Here is the presentation that went with the talk.

Aug 3, 2010

Useful analogy? Your car as a jack-of-all-trades and the alternatives as contractors

Can you help me make this analogy more useful?

A household owning a car is like a tiny business hiring a jack-of-all-trades (but master of none ...). Your mobility needs during the course of a whole year can be likened to the skills and labour needs of a new business contemplating its first employee.

Having a car gives you a tool that handles most of your mobility needs. It is like hiring a full-time staffer who is a 'jack-of-all trades'. He or she is versatile but not especially skilled or quick at any particular task. There are significant fixed costs too. You have to pay him or her about the same in both busy times and slow periods.

In both cases there is an alternative. 

A family can refrain from getting a car and rely instead on the various alternatives. That's like the small business putting off that first full-time employee and deciding instead to engage a series of contractors to do tasks that the owner-founder can no longer handle, as and when they are needed.

So mobility services for hire, like public transport, taxis, carsharing, car rentals, shared bicycles, are like contract staff or consultants. We pay for them when we need them and only then. No single one of them can beat a jack-of-all-trades or generalist employee. But each can do their specific task better (when all costs are considered).

And when their work is skillfully coordinated (in a project say), they can amount to a team which can give better value than the generalist. The alternative package of services can potentially give more bang for the buck. Some cities try to create mobility packages like that.

Unfortunately, many cities today don't have a full range of high-quality mobility alternatives. That's like a small business in a tiny town, where it might be impossible to find contractors with all the skills the business might need. In such situations we are stuck with our generalists. Or we make do with inferior service.

Even if there are skilled people around, there may be too much hassle and inconvenience involved in finding contractors, paying them and coordinating their schedules. If so, you may give up and buy (I mean hire) that generalist, Mr or Ms Automobile.

Once a small business hires a jack-of-all-trades it will put them to work on a very wide range of tasks, even if they are not the best person for any of them. After all, the jack-of-all-trades is sitting right there in the driveway (oops I mean office). Now you rarely, if ever, even consider those contractors (unless you have a really special task that is beyond even your generalist).
By Milkmandan on Wikimedia Commons.
Does this analogy help you think about how to improve the alternatives to cars?