“If your city wants to focus on one topic for reducing traffic congestion, improving housing affordability, cleaning the air, lessening climate change, making government more efficient, and enlivening the economy – all at the same time – then it should focus on parking.” As Jeffrey Tumlin notes, parking – in particular if implemented poorly – consumes land, is expensive (especially in the case of free parking), reduces housing affordability, worsens traffic congestion, causes emissions, pollutes our rivers and seas, and can destroy walkable urbanism.
This blogpost – which was prepared for the “Next-Generation Tools of the Trade” module of SFU’s Next-Generation Transportation Certificate Program – examines how Vienna’s “Parkraumbewirtschaftung” parking management policy improved the city’s overall parking situation and reduced car traffic while also reaping positive economic and environmental benefits. It evaluates the policy’s strengths and weaknesses and concludes with recommendations to further improve this policy which has become the city’s central and most effective tool to improve urban traffic.
Parking management and parking pricing are considered the most effective transportation demand management (TDM) tools. Demand management policies do not simply give motorists more of what they think is required (i.e. more capacity) but involve measures that moderate demand, limit traffic capacity, or increase costs for individual users to better reflect social costs involved.
TDM solutions also support more strategic planning objectives such as reducing development costs and increasing affordability, fostering more compact and multi-modal community planning (smart growth), encouraging the use of alternative modes, improving design flexibility, accommodating new uses and responding to new demands, and reducing impervious surface.
Parking management reduces the demand for travel into the area encompassed and can also be quite specifically targeted as it can be applied on the basis of location and time. It can usually reduce parking requirements by 20-40% compared with conventional planning requirements and also change user behaviour (choosing other modes of transport, changing travel paths or shortening stays), thus reducing congestion and air pollution.
Parking space management (“Parkraumbewirtschaftung”) is Vienna’s central and most effective tool to improve urban traffic by distributing scarce parking spaces and reducing car traffic (which is particularly important in historically grown cities with scarce space for cars), thereby positively affecting traffic mode choice, providing environmental benefits, and increasing quality of life.
The city aims at a reduction of car traffic and environmental pollution, an improvement of public transit, the overall parking situation, economic accessibility (business and shopping traffic), and residential environments, as well as more space, higher traffic safety, and additional income for sustainable urban traffic.
Vienna has turned entire districts or large connected parts thereof into short-term parking zones. The policy dates back to 1959 when the first short-term parking zones were introduced in Vienna’s 1st district. Since 1975, fees are charged for parking in short-term parking zones.
In 1993, the 1st district became the first district-wide short-term parking zone. In the following years, area-wide short-term parking was extended to districts 6 to 9 (1995), 4 and 5 (1997), and 2, 3 and 20 (1999), covering the whole area within the second ring road. In 2012/13, a second major extension included district 15 and parts of districts 12, 14, 16, and 17.
Short-term parking restrictions apply Monday to Friday from 9 am to 7 pm (2nd extension) or 10 pm (1st extension). Parking for up to 15 minutes is free of charge, otherwise you require a prepaid parking voucher (EUR 2 per hour). Residents can obtain a permanent resident parking permit (“parking stickers”) for an annual fee of EUR 90 (2nd extension) or EUR 120 (1st extension).
All revenues are earmarked for Vienna’s transport system (municipal neighbourhood garages, public transit, traffic safety measures), therefore benefiting everyone. The policy’s causative principle guarantees that traffic costs in Vienna are borne by traffic users instead of society at large.
On-road parking management (paid parking zones, limitation of parking duration, residents’ parking privilege, etc.) is considered one of the most effective traffic demand management measures, in particular as it internalizes the external costs of car users with the help of parking fees. Studies from Vienna’s first and second expansion of area-wide short-term parking zones provide supporting evidence as they show a significant decline in demand for parking spaces and occupancy rates (see charts below):
Second expansion (outer districts 12, 14, 15, 16, 17): (Source: City of Vienna)
Moreover, the policy also brought environmental benefits (less pollution and noise) and supported the economy by essentially creating parking spaces for more customers (higher turnover of parking spaces) and businesses.
To reap these benefits, it is crucial that Vienna uses several other measures and policies that accompany its parking space management policy, such as a recent increase in short-term parking fees, enough capacity and high quality public transit, an affordable annual public transit pass for only EUR 365, Park & Ride facilities, municipal housing garages or recent changes in its building code to reduce minimum parking requirements.
However, major challenges are to avoid rebound effects by introducing traffic calming measures and converting parking spaces into public space for functions of higher value and to further extend the area covered by parking space management as this can only be decided by the individual districts with different political leadership (the City of Vienna has no legislative power for a city-wide approach).
The policy’s strengths and weaknesses can be summarized as follows:
In short, Vienna’s parking space management corresponds to the new paradigm in parking planning as it strives to use parking facilities efficiently by providing optimal parking supply and price (users should pay directly for parking).
In terms of supply, parking spaces are at or below an occupancy rate of 85-90%, representing a good balance between ease of finding a space and efficient use of resources and showing the potential for converting parking spaces to other uses. In terms of price, a significant increase in short term parking fees from EUR 1.20 to EUR 2.00 per hour in 2012 resulted in a decrease in short-term parked cars of 12-21% and an increase in available parking spaces of 19-34%, thereby highlighting the demand effects of parking pricing and the importance of defining the correct fee (despite parking being a fairly inelastic good).
While Vienna’s Parking Space Management clearly achieves the desired results, in particular a significant reduction in parking spaces occupancy rates, there is still room for improvement, especially given the policy’s stated weaknesses:
Notes: Values above 100% are due to unauthorized parking. Zone 15 SH is a special zone around Stadthalle event venue (yellow zone on map) which already had a different short-term parking regulation in the evening before.