Thursday, July 6, 2017

Parking cost - a tool of transportation policy


Baltimore is often a late adapter but not when it comes to dynamic pricing for parking. In this case the Baltimore Parking Authority is ahead of the pack with only a handful of other US cities having introduced the concept to date. The Board of Estimates gave the green light last week.

Parking kiosks:
Rising rates?
Before anybody jumps out of their skin over the City finding creative ways of milking its residents even more, consider this: The cost of parking is an important element of a comprehensive transportation strategy.

Excessive amounts of parking and low cost for it have lured cars into the central business district for decades and have enabled turning many downtowns into some type of ghost-town devoted to predominantly one thing: The resting automobile.
Parking still dominates most American Cities
(Photo: South Baltimore)

It is time that this practice comes to an end, especially on the eve of the next big disruption, the autonomous vehicle.

The leader in dynamic parking was San Francisco with its sensing equipment providing real time information about parking space usage and available open spaces a high tech version of a parking management practice that has been around in Europe for decades.

But such big up-front cost and high tech sensing technology may not be necessary with the less dynamic model that Baltimore has in mind. The Xerox company is advertising its own services and explains softer methods of demand measurement that aren't "real-time" and instead use what Xerox calls a monthly parking "thermometer".  Baltimore is not using Xerox but will apply a similar method:
When we say that prices change dynamically, we mean that a timetable of prices is fixed in advance and is changed every few weeks. We are not talking about the sort of hard-topredict minute-by-minute price changes that are common for air fares, which would make drivers’ lives even more complex. For instance, imagine you were happily parking on a street that usually costs $5 per hour and as you stepped out of the car, the price shot up to $15 per hour!  (Xerox brochure)
Demand based pricing: Parking Authority graphic
The Parking Authority describes its own new approach as an even more sluggish response to demand: Six months. On its website the agency describes its new program this way:
Beginning in the Summer of 2017, the Parking Authority of Baltimore City will use actual demand for parking spaces to determine the hourly parking meter rate on blocks in the Central Business District. Using data collected every six months, the Parking Authority will adjust rates to help create one or two available parking spaces on each block, making it easier for parkers to find parking downtown and spend more time enjoying Baltimore.
To reach our goal of one or two available parking spaces per block (15-25% availability; or 75-85% occupancy), we must use the right rate - the lowest rate that will regularly produce one or two available parking spaces on each block face.
Data will be collected and analyzed every six months to determine the average occupancy rate on each block. Meter rates will be adjusted incrementally and slowly. Rates will be adjusted up or down in $0.25 increments no more than once every six months.
If occupancy is higher than 85% in a particular block, the rate will go up.
If occupancy is lower than 75% in a particular block, the rate will go down.
If occupancy is between 75% and 85%, the rate will not change
In a way the suggested approach isn't all that new. Parking has always been more expensive where it was scarce and in high demand. But in the past the rates were more a guess and once established they were hard to adjust. The new approach is more flexible and based on actual data. The result of such a soft application of demand based pricing should not be a general increase of cost but a mix depending on how well parking in certain blocks has been utilized:
Prediction of rate change (Parking Authority)
Los Angeles, prices for parking are lower with dynamic pricing in 60% of parking spaces and higher in only 27% of spaces.
“By using pricing as a level, we are trying to balance the supply and demand for parking,” said Soumya Dey, director of the DDOT’s research and technology transfer division. “From a customer perspective, I think this is about making the parking experience improve. So they know where the available spaces are, they know how much they need to pay and the parking search time, the amount of time you spend to find an open parking space, improves.” (Parkifi)
The Parking Authority found these utilization rates in downtown Baltimore:
On 23% of blocks, the rate should go down $0.25
Average occupancy rates on these blocks were below 75% (too low)
On 41% of blocks, the rate should go up $0.25
Average occupancy rates on these blocks were above 85% (too high)
On 36% of blocks, the rate should not change
Average occupancy rates on these blocks were between 75% and 85% (just right)
The City, through its semi-governmental agency, manages 918 multispace meter kiosks and creates an annual revenue of $15.5 from meters alone. Parking is one of the hot topics in any city that is as car-centric as Baltimore. However, urban planners and transportation planners have mostly agreed lately that one cannot build oneself out of the problem of parking just as one cannot build oneself out of congestion with new roads or more lanes. The traditional approach is more like pouring gasoline into the fire.
Instead of covering the city with parking facilities which makes it ultimately a very unattractive place, the new approach manages demand both for road surface and for parking with the goal to optimize demand and supply.
Prime real estate handed over to the "resting car"

The management approach looks at the matter in a multimodal fashion as part of a transportation problem. The Baltimore Parking Authority is coordinating mobility in a comprehensive way including
  • on street and off-street parking, 
  • bike parking in City garages, 
  • Zip-Car (200 vehicles and 10,000 members in Baltimore) and also 
  • the new point to point car sharing of Car to Go. 
  • The Circulator 
The Circulator is not run by the authority but is its most progressive element since the Parking Authority is contributing funds from surcharges on garage parking. One of the Circulator's stated goal was to decrease parking demand in the center city garages by making underutilized peripheral garages more accessible for downtown workers and by reducing quick trips inside downtown by offering the free shuttle instead.
New pilot kiosk:
Based on license

The agency is considering more customer convenience through the broader introduction of new meter kiosks in which the license plate number is entered and it wouldn't be necessary to return to the car to place the paper ticket on the dash board. Three of those new meters are in testing on City owned surface lots in Waverly, Barclay and Saratoga Street.

The authority manages 17 municipal parking garages and 23 surface lots. The question whether four of the garages should be sold to fund recreational facilities for youth began under Mayor Rawlings Blake. The four garages generate $9.5 million annually but costs 7$ million to operate according to Executive Director Peter Little. The decision whether to sell the garages rests now with Mayor Pugh.

Demand based pricing is the next step in giving Baltimore a better balance between the various ways of getting around. The next round will involve the autonomous vehicle. If those self driving cars would not be privately owned like today's cars, they wouldn't have to be parked 95% of the time and instead, as part of a fleet, could be transporting passengers most of the time potentially freeing up millions of square feet of urban space currently devoted to parking. The only way to ensure that fleet-based AVs become the future of cities and not privately owned autonomous vehicles that will be sent out to get pizza, cities have to practice fleet management and vehicle parking management strategies today so they can eventually assist in managing space in the most productive way for an optimal quality of life.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore Parking Authority presentation on meter rates

BBJ about dynamic pricing plans
Nelson Nygaard 2016 Austin Parking Strategy

From Nelson Nygaard Austin Parking Masterplan 2016


  1. Missing data...
    "The four garages generate $9.5 million annually but cost $ million"

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