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Free parking to ease congestion? I don't get it

[Update: Looking for more parking policy information?  

A Hangzhou boulevard (almost 10 years ago now)

The article below from the China Daily online suggests that the beautiful city of Hangzhou is planning to reduce the price of car parking "to ease congestion".

Oh dear ... I hope this is a case of 'lost in translation' but I cannot understand the logic of this proposal.

There may be some (twisted) logic here. The free parking proposal might indeed reduce the total number of cars that can visit the area each day. This is because making parking free will reduce the turnover of vehicles in parking spaces. Workers will take most parking lots early in the day, leaving few spaces for business traffic and shoppers arriving later. This would be very bad for shop-keepers in central Hangzhou. I doubt this is what is intended by the plan.

And would this mean less traffic? Unfortunately no. If public parking is made free, there will be a lot more traffic. A large percentage of it will simply be searching for a parking lot (or 'cruising for parking').

The article mentions that motorists are already complaining about the lack of parking space. This suggests prices are too low, not too high. Of course car users will always complain about parking fees. But making parking free will make the parking shortage worse not better!

The item also says many cars are already parking on footways. This will only get worse when parking is free and people start hogging the legal places all day. Illegal parking of all kinds will just get worse as desperation and frustration over parking worsen.

I wish our friends in Hangzhou would take a look at Donald Shoup's ideas on this. This looks like a perfect situation for the "performance-based parking pricing" that he advocates. This involves having different parking prices at different places and at different times. At each time and place, the price must rise or fall until there are always some vacancies, so that no-one needs to search for a parking place.

The prices that emerge from performance-based pricing would give us very useful information. If they are low then maybe there was not such a parking crisis after all. But if the price that results is sky-high then, yes, the market is signalling that there is a problem.

Would that mean we need more car parking? Maybe. And private sector developers could then respond by building private parking lots. High parking prices also send a signal about a lack of diversified access to the area. Planners and public transport operators can act on this too by improving the other mobility options. This might be cheaper than increasing parking space if land values are high.

Hangzhou may offer free parking

By Lydia Chen (Shanghai Daily)
Updated: 2008-06-04 13:49

Hangzhou may enact a new traffic policy next month that will provide 58,000 free parking spaces downtown to ease congestion that has drawn numerous complaints from the public.
Public opinions were sought about the plan, Legal Daily reported Tuesday.
The locations of these parking lots can only be approved when more than 50 percent of the public agree, the report said, citing traffic police authorities in the provincial capital of Zhejiang Province.
The policy is expected to take effect on July 1.
Under the policy, almost all public parking will become free in downtown Hangzhou, including those around the famous West Lake. Presently, parking costs about 20 yuan (US$2.88) per hour in downtown lots, the report said.
Parking fees may also be sharply reduced in other areas of the city, the report said.
Hangzhou had more than 400,000 automobiles by the end of last year, compared to 90,000 in 2000, the report said.
However, parking spaces in downtown Hangzhou reached 130,000 last year, an increase of 20,000 from 2003.
More than 1,000 drivers are fined for parking illegally on sidewalks every day in Hangzhou, the report said.
Pedestrians often complain that cars block sidewalks.
Drivers have complained that there are not enough parking spaces and that fees are too high, the report said.
The Hangzhou government said it will invest more than 100 million yuan to manage these free parking lots. The government may lose more than 20 million yuan annually after the policy takes effect, the report said.


  1. I was totally agreed your views. Actually I find this report may have some mistake because I cannot find the word "free" in the original public announcement.

  2. The clue is further down the article.

    I believe the drivers chose to park illegally and hence cause congestions (to pedestrians?).


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