Parking Management in Chinese Cities – Three questions to Dr. Paul Barter

Paul Barter

Paul Barter

As a consequence of rapid urbanisation and motorisation over the last decades, most of China’s major cities are facing an unprecedented growth in private car ownership. This development poses a challenge to the city authorities and planners, as it tremendously impacts on traffic congestion, air quality, road safety, urban space consumption and parking demand in Chinese megacities and metropolitan areas. To address these problems, cities are carrying out several different urban transport policies such as car ownership restrictions and driving bans for private vehicles. Nevertheless, most cities underestimate the positive effect of a well-managed on-street parking system within the cityscapes.

GIZ China’s Sustainable Transport Programme had the opportunity to interview Dr. Paul Barter – a renowned researcher, policy advisor and trainer at Reinventing Transport and adjunct professor at Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. Dr. Barter has over 20 years of research experience in urban parking policy and regulation. He also was working with major Chinese cities including Beijing and Shenzhen for many years on parking management. As an internationally notorious parking expert, Dr. Barter is regularly invited by GIZ to share his expertise on parking management.

Recently the city of Shenzhen has implemented a new on-street parking pricing policy in several pilot districts of the city. Supported by GIZ in China, Dr. Barter was invited for the evaluation process to share his valuable input on the policy. More details here.

Following is an interview with Dr. Barter discussing the major problems that the Chinese cities are facing today, with regard to parking challenges, and possible solutions.


Interview: Three questions to Dr. Paul Barter

Mr. Barter, based on your extensive international experience in the field of parking, what do you think about the current parking situation in major Chinese cities?

“Considering the rapid growth in car ownership over recent decades, the parking situation in Chinese cities is not as bad as you would expect it to be. However, some serious difficulties do exist. Right now, most Chinese cities are worrying about a parking shortage, which is often a false conclusion due to the parking chaos on the streets. However, looking more deeply into it, we can usually see sufficient parking supply especially during day time. If at all, a parking shortage is mostly acute during the night time, usually in the old city districts with narrow streets and without off-street parking facilities. Due to the assumption of insufficient parking space, cities tend to provide more parking facilities, which forces an over-supply. In result, this can be even more harmful to the overall transport system than having a parking shortage. In most of the cases the key problem is the lack of on-street parking management.
The advantage of the Chinese cities, however, is that they have parking supply which is open to the public. Moreover, priced parking is broadly accepted. This, in the end, will be an essential basis for future parking management policies, considering that the people are used to pay for parking.”

In your opinion, why is parking management relevant for urban transport and what are the fundamental steps to improve the parking situation in Chinese cities?

“Although parking management is very often neglected by the Chinese cities, it could actually play a significant role in avoiding car trips and shifting motorised individual transport towards more sustainable transport modes.
If to compare the different approaches on how parking is managed in North America and Western Europe or Japan, you can see how dramatically parking can impact on urban transport. In North America, for instance, there is a massive over-supply of parking and, in many cases, it is free of charge. This is one of the key points why many cities, especially in the USA, are so much car-dependent. On the contrary, West European and Japanese cities are usually less car-dependent, as they have much more moderate supply and they did not force as much extra parking as the USA did. Instead, they limit or allow only very little parking in areas with convenient mass transit access. They have also more pricing and what is important they adjust the parking fees according to its location. This way, areas with high parking demand and limited supply have high parking fees, whereas the ones with low parking demand and sufficient supply have lower prices.
On-street parking is more important than people usually think. Although on-street parking accounts for a very small percentage of the whole parking supply, chaotic on-street parking makes people think there’s not enough parking space.

Now, there are three steps that can be followed to improve the parking situation in cities and avoid over supply:

  1. The very first and fundamental step is to improve the on-street parking management. This means avoiding free parking and setting up an adequate pricing system for both on- and off-street parking. Besides the pricing system, there is also a need to enforce the legal mechanisms. Strong enforcement is crucial to prevent illegal parking, which in turn would equal free parking.
  2. The second step is to avoid governmental price controls for parking, especially for off-street parking. Ideally, the off-street parking should be managed by professional parking operators. They should be in charge to use pricing as one of a management tool for their parking supply and change it according to the demand.
  3. The third step implies that the authorities should deliberate about whether the city still suffers from a parking supply shortage. Very often is the case that there is no parking shortage after the first two steps are considered.

The important aspect here is not to push the limits of supply to get over-supply, because over-supply is more difficult to manage.”

What do you think of Shenzhen’s new on-street parking policy? Do you have any suggestions for other Chinese cities, in case they decide to follow Shenzhen’s example?

“Shenzhen’s parking pilot areas are a good example to demonstrate the benefits of introducing pricing and enforcement mechanisms. You can already see how the citizens changed their parking behaviour based on the increasing utilisation of off-street parking. At the same time, there is no surplus demand for off-street parking, as it only affects a small percentage of parking. This is what other Chinese cities can surely proceed with – pricing and enforcing on-street parking more vigorously, especially during day time.
Nevertheless, it is still too soon to say much about the details in Shenzhen. A concern is that the price zones could be divided into smaller sections with different pricing. This is quite common in European cities and increasingly common in the busy areas in North American cities. However, mobile payment by smart phone as a primary payment option in Shenzhen could be a very good example for other Chinese cities. It is cost effective and user friendly.
Another good practice in Shenzhen is the reduction of parking supply requirements for buildings near to metro stations. In these areas, the legally required parking supply, for instance, for real estate developers, is reduced by 20%. When cities impose too high parking requirements it can lead to a parking over supply, which ultimately leads to increasing private car use and ownership. In this context, most Chinese cities should not be too sensitive in terms of parking supply, if they can succeed in managing on-street parking better.”

Thank you!


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