Learning from Vienna: Effective Parking Management

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.


A Primer on Parking Management

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.


Vienna’s Parkraumbewirtschaftung

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.

Overview of first expansion (red) and second expansion (blue and yellow (Zone 15 SH))

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.


Policy Evaluation

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):

First expansion (inner city districts 1 to 9): (Sources: City of Vienna, COST 342)

  • Reduction in average parking spaces occupancy rates from 109% to 71% in the morning and from 108% to 89% in the evening
  • Reduction in unauthorized parking by 86% (morning) and 76% (evening)
  • Reduction in car traffic (reduction in traffic volumes in secondary streets network by 26% due to reduction in traffic in search for parking spaces from 10 to 3.3 million passenger car kilometres annually)
  • Increase in free parking spaces for residents, contributing to increase in favourable opinion towards the policy from 46% (before) to 67% (after)
  • Reduction in parked cars not from Vienna by two thirds (morning)
  • Higher than expected amount of parking stickers (74% in after-survey vs. 56% in before-survey) and higher than expected mode shift to public transport (25% in after-survey vs. 15% in before-survey) while only 5% of drivers parked their cars in neighbouring districts not under management

Second expansion (outer districts 12, 14, 15, 16, 17): (Source: City of Vienna)

  • Reduction in average parking spaces occupancy rates from 83% to 60% in the morning and from 88% to 79% in the evening
  • Reduction in unauthorized parking by 72% (morning) and 13% (evening), thus improving traffic conditions and safety for other modes/users
  • Reduction in car traffic (reduction in traffic searching for parking spots), in particular commuter traffic
  • Reduction in parked cars not from Vienna from 20% to 3% (commuters)
  • Smaller increase than expected in occupancy rates of 3-8% in the morning and 3-11% in the evening in neighbouring areas not under management

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).


Strengths and Weaknesses

The policy’s strengths and weaknesses can be summarized as follows:

[eight_col pos=”first”]Strengths

  • Decrease in occupancy rates, parking violators and car traffic
  • Availability of parking spaces for residents
  • Improvements in business and shopping traffic
  • Consistent parking prices, clear regulations
  • Collection of revenues that are earmarked
  • Less pollution and noise
  • Integrating land-use/transportation
  • Accompanying actions[/eight_col]

[eight_col pos=”last”]Weaknesses

  • No city-wide approach
  • Districts decide on inclusion
  • Fees not increasing with duration
  • No integration of access zones / road pricing
  • Spillover effects to neighbouring areas
  • Reluctance in reducing parking spaces
  • Inadequately addressing rebound effects[/eight_col]


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:

  1. Clear roadmap and legislative power for a city-wide approach: Vienna should develop a roadmap for the further expansion of the area under parking space management and think about transferring executive power from the districts to the City to foster a coherent, city-wide approach. Given the experiences and public support for such policies, citizens should be given more power to push their districts into this direction.
  2. Foster measures to prevent long-term rebound effects: To prevent long-term rebound effects, it is crucial to introduce traffic calming measures and to reduce parking spaces to use this public space for functions of higher value (transit, cycling/walking, attractive public spaces).
  3. Extend short-term parking in latest expansion areas: After the latest expansion, occupancy rates increase again in high density areas as it becomes easier to find empty parking spaces, particularly in the evening. It makes sense to extend short-term parking until 10 pm in these areas too or to introduce variable parking fees based on available parking spaces.
  4. Reduce the size of parking zones: Similarly, it would make sense to reduce the size of larger short-term parking zones to discourage inner-zone traffic (amounting to a third of all parking processes) which became attractive again (no additional parking fees, lots of empty parking spaces).
  5. Complement the policy with access management or road pricing: Generally, it makes sense to combine parking management with access management/control and/or road/congestion pricing into integrated congestion-response packages, thereby also tackling through traffic and building on each approach’s relative strengths. Given the high share of commuters, access management or a congestion charge at the city’s boundaries would be more effective than just for the already well performing inner districts.

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.

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  1. […] for public transport for 365 Euros, which led to an impressive 100% increase in sold tickets, the very controversial parking management, highly popular only after it was introduced, and the even more controversial transformation of […]

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