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The Downside of Park and Ride

Flicking back through older Atlantic Cities posts led to one from last year about Park and Ride catching my eye. It’s a fairly well reasoned cautionary tale which highlights the pitfalls and potential perverse outcomes from something that would appear to be a good thing that encourages public transport use.

On paper, park-and-ride facilities seem like the ultimate transport compromise. Free or cheap parking near transit stations should, if the theory holds, make partial transit riders of metro area residents who used to drive the whole way into work. The system acts like a nicotine gum for daily commutes — weaning people slowly off the single-occupancy car.

The ‘nicotine gum’ analogy is not a bad one actually. Park & ride can be a useful “entry point” to public transport for those who are very much used to driving. This does, in theory at least, make them an important part of achieving ‘modal shift’ away from driving and towards public transport. So what are the pitfalls?

In reality, some transport experts wonder whether park-and-ride does more harm than good. A study of park-and-ride facilities from the early 1990s found they don’t necessarily ease congestion because they unleash latent demand for road space. Other research has come out similarly skeptical that park-and-ride reduces car use, though much of it has centered on bus-based transit.

A new study of park-and-ride at rail-based transit stations doesn’t offer much in the way of encouragement. In an upcoming issue of the Journal of Transport Geography, Dutch researcher Giuliano Mingardo reports that park-and-ride facilities in two major metro areas create four measurable “unintended effects” that not only limit the benefits of transit but may even increase vehicle travel in the metro area.

Mingardo surveyed more than 700 travelers at nine rail-based park-and-rides around the Rotterdam and The Hague a couple years back — ranging in size from 15 parking spaces to 730. His questionnaires, given to people at afternoon rush, focused on what riders would do in the absence of the park-and-ride facility. Mingardo also conducted concurrent field observations of various stations.

Across both metro areas he found evidence for four unintended effects of park-and-ride facilities — two of which (asterisked) had never been documented:

  • Abstraction from transit. People who had once made the entire commute by transit now drove to the transit station.
  • *Abstraction from bike. People who had once made some or all of the commute on their bicycle now drove to the station.
  • Trip generation. People made more trips in general because the overall cost of transportation was lower.
  • *Park and walk. People parked at the station but walked somewhere nearby and didn’t use transit at all — potentially displacing transit riders and disrupting the area parking market.

In Rotterdam, Mingardo found that only about a quarter of park-and-ride users said they would use a car for their entire commute in the absence of the facility — which is the desired effect. The rest fell into one of the above categories. As a result, Mingardo calculates that there’s a net addition of 1,272 vehicle kilometers traveled, as well as an increase in carbon emissions.

All park and rides did not perform equally though – with some having more obvious positive impacts than others.

The situation wasn’t universally flawed. “Remote” stations — meaning park-and-ride facilities deep into the suburbs that captured city commuters early into the trip — performed well. And in The Hague, Mingardo did find a slight net reduction in vehicle travel and emissions. Still, even there, the presence of unintended effects seemed to mute most benefits of park-and-ride.

Generally speaking, in accordance with previous research, he believes that park-and-ride facilities “do present a net increase in traffic volume rather than a reduction”:

Indeed, the number of car-km saved from the P&R site to the inner city is usually more than compensated by the increase in car-km travelled to reach the P&R site by those users who switched from public transport services and bikes, those that were previously not travelling and (possibly) the Park and walk users.

Despite the findings, the takeaway here is not necessarily that park-and-ride doesn’t work. These facilities should certainly be monitored by cities to make sure they’re meeting policy goals — especially if that goal is traffic reduction. Additionally, it seems clear that suburban or “remote” park-and-rides fulfill more of that goal than those closer to the city center.

There are no huge surprises here. Park and rides “further out” are likely to serve areas where feeder buses, walking and cycling to access rapid transit are less viable options – both in terms of attractiveness and cost-effectiveness in their provision. But in more inner areas the benefits become decidedly dodgier – most likely because feeder buses, walking and cycling would work as alternatives to park and ride.

What’s not outlined in the Atlantic Cities post, but is also a clear potential disbenefit of park & ride in more inner areas, is the effect on land-use. One of the main purposes of high quality public transport is to shape the urban form and encourage the development of successful “transit oriented development” around train (and busway) stations. A sea of asphalt around the stations to provide park and ride is pretty much the antithesis of achieving successful land-use transport integration and transit oriented developments. This is important as one study I’ve seen (but can’t find right now) found that if the land used to provide parking was otherwise used to provide dwellings or employment for an equivalent number of people that you can get greater patronage gains. That provides a useful trigger point as to when we should be developing P&R sites and places like Orakei and Devonport surely fall into this category.

Fortunately, Auckland Transport’s Regional Public Transport Plan seems quite aware of the ‘balancing act’ in its policies on park & ride and only suggests that they be located in “selected peripheral locations to extend the catchment area of the public transport network and encourage patronage growth”. In saying that there are obviously some park n rides close to the city in the form of the ferry terminals and Orakei train station. How Auckland transitions away from these will be interesting to watch. They are also still planning for a huge amount of new parking to be built and are aiming to add around 10,000 carparks to the PT network for a minimum cost of $100 million.

AT Park n Ride plan

35 comments to The Downside of Park and Ride

  • Fred

    Do we believe Auckland Transport’s park and ride policies or their plans?

  • Orakei! Free parking one stop from Britomart. Crazy driving subsidy and should be gone once the area is redeveloped and local parking timed to prevent long, especially all day, parking. Or, failing that, price the parking at city rates.

    While the PNR on the northern busway looks successful, ie are full, really they simply reflect a failure to provide good feeder services and to price these amenities. Essentially they are a subsidy to persuade people to drive to the station. Free is a persuasive price.

    100 million on parking should instead be spent on new interchange stations with better bus integration, kiss n ride (drop off) and ensuring really good feeder services. Cycle lanes to stations and good bike storage should also be a focus. As Matt says PNR is still suitable for selected stations serving highly dispersed populations, but even then they musn’t form a barrier to the station nor should they be free.

    Even Devonport has very poor bus service to and from the ferry.

    • Patrick R

      Yes, at least in the case of the provision of more expensive covered and secure bike parking. HOP card payable ideally. But bike lanes, no. There cyclists are contributing by not being another vehicle on the system.

      And in general pricing should be used to incentivise what we want more of. Currently we subsidise parking and therefore driving but charge for the transit service, I think both should be priced, but if we were to make one of those free why should it be the driving over the transit use? We know that driving has all sorts of costs that are socialised and not covered by fuel taxes so it seems completely backwards to me.

    • Bryce P

      People driving to inner city PnR’s are still contributing to the city’s, congestion. Bikes aren’t. Also, provision of bike parking costs a fraction of providing inner city car parking.

      • Neil

        But no one lives near Orakei Station. The suburbs near it are not very dense so would not support feeder bus services, and on days like today walking to a bus stop and waiting for a bus is not so attractive.

        • Luke C

          the suburbs are dense enough to support a feeder. The key to make rail feeders work is not run them just as rail feeders. Rail feeding should be one of many journeys that could be undertaken on the bus, and should act as links to jobs, schools, local centers, shops etc.

        • Greg N

          Maybe not now, in the next few years, thousands will live right on top of Orakei Station. There will be no room for free park and ride.

          And many of the buses now competing with trains out that way will be heading past the nearest train station so the quickest way to anywhere will be bus to a local train station, then train from there, and if needed, bus from the train station at the other end to your ultimate destination.
          All in the same or less time than you could do yourself by driving.

        • So if no one lives near Orakei station why do we want them driving across town to park there?

          • Neil

            Perhaps we do not want them driving across town to park there, but the alternative parking is always full. Do you want them driving into town instead? Perhaps the answer is to build upward above Meadowbank or Remuera and add a parking fee to the HOP card. The only person I know who uses it drives from Remuera and has continued even after having their car broken into.

        • Luke C

          people do live within 10 minutes walking distance, just pedestrian and cycling connections awful. Luckily path is finally begin added to western side of Orakei Road at the moment which will make it easier to get to station. However to the north there is another roundabout of death for pedestrians. However if path was added through pony club land would get part of the top of Orakei within 10 minutes walk of the station, and most of the top within a 10 minute bike ride. Won’t add heaps of passengers, but a cheap way to expand the catchment.

    • Exactly, $100m would build a lot of separated cycle paths to the train and busway stations as well as very good parking facilities. Why do we keep doubling down on our past stupid transport investments of the past?

      Bayswater ferry terminal is one of the most over provided with parking. I watch people everyday drive 500m from their homes in Norwood Road to the ferry terminal. I see this regardless of weather. If you validate the parking on the ferry it is free.

      There is a bus to every Bayswater ferry and that meets every ferry. But why do that when there is plentiful cheap parking? They cant build the apartments on the car park there fast enough for my liking.

      I agree Devonport is also way overprovided with parking. The bus really needs bus lanes on Lake Road (on their way I believe) and 10min frequencies to make it attractive.

  • Benefits of P&R

    Study seemed to ignore an important element – did P&R reduce travel times for commuters below that reached with a solely PT mode? BEcause that, surely, is the key benefit: More people to work faster

    • Interesting question, and a hard one to answer properly. Problem that most systems that are invested heavily in park and ride usually don’t have anything more that rudimentary connections to rapid transit or parallel routes by PT. You tend to have big park n ride or big feeders, not both where you can actually compare.

      For example, Melbourne has 31,500 park and ride spaces on it’s rail system. With 207 stations that’s an average of 152 each. But of those 207 stations, only a single one has a timed connecting bus route. Naturally it will be much faster to drive to the station (if you can get a park) there than catch an un-intergrated bus that might happen to drop you fairly near a station. Can’t really make a valid comparison there.

      I know in my case the feeder bus to Constellation is just as fast as driving there, often much faster. It literally follows the most direct route straight there with only two stops on the way. The bus benefits from using the T2 lanes to skip traffic, and drops you right at the platform, while driving you contend with traffic and end up in the car park some distance away.
      The issue with the bus of course is that comes only once every half hour, sometimes hourly. So you only get that fast trip if you time yourself to meet it… but the park n ride is full by 7.30am, so it’s not even usable most of the time. It’s not just the speed, but the accessibility that is important.

      The bus would be great if it ran every ten minutes instead, maybe we could afford that if we hadn’t spent the money on park n ride?

      Take the recent Albany example. $5m for 500 extra carparks for about 500 extra passengers a day (actually there doesn’t seem to be any extra people, just those that used to park on street or catch the bus anyway). Again it gets full before 8am so isn’t much use except for a few early bird commuters. I heard somewhere that 90% of users of Albany lived less than 3km from the station, or something like that.

      $5m is about enough to run seven buses and drivers full time for ten years. Put those on a series of local feeder routes doing 30 minute round trips and you can fund an extra twelve or so buses an hour, all day. Those buses could deliver the same 500 passengers in one hour, and perhaps ten times that across the whole day.

      Go back to Melbourne, with their seas of carparking surrounding main stations. It actually makes it hard to walk, cycle or bus to the station because the last hundred metres or so is an open concrete parking lot… and from that their parking manages only to drum up an average of three bus loads of people per station per day.

      • I might just add that the $10,000 per space at Albany was simply the capex of forming the carpark. It doesn’t take into account the cost, or opportunity cost rather, of the land it was built on. And then there is naturally some level of operation and maintenance costs, which gets paid week in week out.

        Factor all that in and it might be more like 500 park and ride spots or twenty buses an hour, rather than twelve.

        • MRCagney once used the registration plates of PnR users (at Waitakere) to look up where they were most likely coming from.

          It would be interesting to undertake a similar exercise for PnRs like Albany to see the same – it could give some ideas as to how/where to focus feeder buses.

  • Simon

    It seems to me that PNR aims to reduce motorway trips not overall trips. In some places you might be prepared to accept an increase in cars on local roads to reduce cars going to and from the CBD.

  • John Polkinghorne

    Nice rhyming post title, Matt; we should do more of those I reckon. So what we have here is research suggesting that P&R is less effective at achieving its objectives as you get more central. This makes sense. Of course, the other part of the equation is that P&R is also more *costly* as you get more central, since the land is generally worth more. There’s a higher opportunity cost of providing P&R in Onehunga than Papakura.

  • Barry

    An unintended consequence of the Silverdale Park & Ride: yet another set of traffic lights on an already traffic-light heavy and heavily congested stretch of road. That directly affects the busses the Park & Ride serves.

  • George D

    People made more trips in general because the overall cost of transportation was lower.

    Surely, this is a good thing. People are getting more of something they value.

    Nevertheless, as we move from point-to-point to a spoke and hub transit system, PnR’s will occupy a less central place. People will be able to get closer to their destination, faster.

  • JimboJones

    I’m not sure the study would get the same results in Auckland – take the P&R away and more than a quarter will go back to cars! Personally I think P&R’s parks should be charged (preferably using Hop), even if the charge is very small. The might encourage some users to take the effectively free local bus instead.

    • Patrick R

      But JJ, the corollary has just been disproven. When Albany [free!] PNR was extended recently [$15mil?] while it filled up immediately, it added zero additional users to the Busway buses! Therefore that ‘investment’ of ratepayers money by AT merely incentivised current transit users to stop walking, riding, bus-using, or kiss’n’riding to the station, thereby clogging local roads etc…

      • Bryce P

        I’m glad Albany is there. The problem that Silverdale faces is that services from there take over 30minutes to get to Albany whereas a quick drive gets you there is 17minutes. This is primarily down to NorthStar buses using the old SH1 as their route rather than down the motorway.

        • Barry

          There’s relatively few North Star buses that use the old SH1, especially express buses at peak times. They all use the motorway. I’d argue the trip from Silverdale to Albany is on par with a car give or take. The trip from Orewa or Whangaparaoa to Silverdale though, now that’s another story :|

          • Luke C

            well at off peak times they all use the tortuous old route and only run once an hour. So if you only want to go to town for half a day, or think you may get back later in the evening the bus is a pain, and much easier to drive to Albany instead. The of course have to fight the timetable with its confusing mess of dashes, crosses and #’s.
            The other thing is the Expresses bypass Albany, which is great for a quick trip to the city, but as Albany growing as employment hub annoying if you want to go there. Not sure how to fix that issue. Does anyone actually get on or off the services along Dairy Flat?

          • Bryce P

            Barry, I tried to use the North Star buses for a work journey earlier this week. As planned, the only way to make it on time was to drive to Albany as the first express bus left after I needed to leave.

  • Simon

    Perhaps if the North Shore had better feeder bus services the Northern Express stations wouldn’t need such massive carparks.

  • nick1234

    Agree that things are going in the right direction at Devonport. The Marine Square development underway at the moment (an AT project) will remove 35 car parks. That’s right – AT removing carparks. There is hope!

  • Ben

    Interesting that trip generation was mentioned among the problems associated with Park & Ride. Naturally it’s a contribution to an increase in carbon emissions but presumably people taking an extra trip are getting some kind of positive utility out of their extra trip, so perhaps this particular unintended effect is not only a downside?

  • mfwic

    Park and Ride on the North Shore busway is economically inefficient. Riding on PT has a positive external benefit as each passenger is potentially one vehicle that doesn’t need to use a congested road and inflict further delay on others. Because it is an externality the person making that change doesn’t receive the benefit goes to others. That means fewer people make the change to PT than optimal. The correct economic approach to fix that market failure is to subsidise public transport. Giving free parking at a park and ride misses the target totally as people driving to the park and ride inflict delays on others (externalities). Park and ride should have a parking charge to cover the cost of parking. The subsidy should go to all PT users not just those who drive part of the trip.

    • There is a stong argument that PnR should be priced at least the same as an equivalent feeder connection (i.e. a one stage fare, or about $2)… really we should be looking at pricing to manage demand. Set the price high enough that you hit about 95% occupancy on a typical day.

    • mfwic

      Yes ideally but 95% is high for parking as you get daily variation. 85% is often used for practical capacity of a parking area. If Constellation had been priced from the start there might be less traffic through the congested interchange and a pot of cash available to build a deck if needed. We are almost at a point where it is full before the morning peak gets going. Maybe that’s not a problem depending on how you look at it. I would use the bus for meeting during the day if there was a space I could use even at $5. But there are no spaces even on the streets for quite some distance so I drive into town.

  • Greg N

    While its a well accepted truism that you cannot build roads fast enough to keep ahead of traffic demand.

    A lesser known corollary to that must also be that you can’t use Park and Ride to try and beat the traffic either, when those Park and Rides are built inside city limits.

    Park and Ride in Central Auckland (particularly the Isthmus/old Auckland City Council area) has truly had its day.

    When it was first being pushed (mainly by ACC in the late 90s/early 00’s ) it was as a way to encourage people to try and use the trains and Britomart (long before the integration of buses with trains was achievable).
    That was when a few million trips a year were being taken on the trains.

    As the rail system is now pushing 11+m trips a year we don’t to keep such expensive per-passenger subsidies to encourage take up of rail passengers – they are already coming to the trains and mostly not because of the free parking at the local Park and Ride as there is not enough parking and riding space in Auckland to cater that many trips.

    Most of those using Park and Rides in the Isthmus area are doing so to avoid CBD parking charges and little else and some are driving most of the way (at peak times) to get to the Park and Ride..
    So are not actually removing traffic from the roads.

    These folks would dump using trains in a minute if they could drive all the way to town and park all day for less than the current train fare.

    Orakei is a classic case of how NOT to do it.
    As Patrick said, free all day parking for the first 200 cars, for the cost of a $3.20 train fare there and back ($1.60 each way) to the CBD using HOP, 7 minutes each way from the CBD so its closer than most paid parking in town.
    And even cheaper than using the bus from there – what a subsidy/steal. You couldn’t buy a cup of decent coffee in the CBD for that price or park your car for more than 2 hours anywhere in town for that sort of money.

    Meadowbank 1 stop further out is a little more expensive (same price as GI is), as its then 1 stage further out so costs ~$6 a day or so to use Meadowbank or GI, and indeed I’ve seen some people Park at Meadowbank, then walk the 1000-800 metre long board walk to Orakei to save that extra fare stage cost each way. Thats pretty hard core, but there are people like that who do that to save parking fees.

    So yeah, at Orakei the park and ride should be priced even its a flat fee of say $10 a weekday (weekends don’t care really and if 200 people want to park and ride on weekends, then they’re also using the trains so its 200 passengers on trains who wouldn’t be in all likelihood there otherwise so thats ok by me) – but weekday parking fees – that would raise all of $2K a day or $400K a year – I’m sure that money could be used to improve the cycling network/facilities if nothing else.

  • P&R Benefits

    The key point is that you can’t get rid of P&R UNLESS you also add in the sort of every-5-minutes feeder suggested above. Otherwise you are condemning people to very inefficient trips where they are beholden to a specific bus timetable. I’d love to see this, but the fact is it’s unlikely to happen.

    We need some sort of “average time to destination” – a door-to-door measure. This would incorporate frequency. E.g. if you have a bus every 10 minutes, and the bus takes 40 minutes, you’d have the following times: leave at 10:01, 49 minutes, 10:02, 48minutes… 10:10, 40 minutes… you average over the whole hour and that gives you a direct comparison with driving where there is no wait time involved.

    I’d also like to point out the whole “10 minutes walk”. 10 minutes is STILL a long time. My driving commute to work in the morning takes approximately 15 minutes total (approximately 9km to the CBD).

    Finally, people pointing out that the park and ride is full by 7:30am and “only a few earlybird commuters” use it – really? This sort of temporal discrimination ABOUNDS in public transport. From my location, there are precisely 3 buses before 6am, NONE before 5am, and only 1 of the 3 comes close enough to conveniently walk (the other is 1.2km away).

    However, there are buses right up to midnight. If you use midday as your halfway point, temporal discrimination allows late-risers and late-works huge PT benefits and absolutely hammers those of us who start work early.

    • Don’t moan too hard, I’m sat at constellation at 7pm on a weekday and can’t get bus home!

      It’s not discrimination, just simple economics. In most places there are precious few people commuting before 5am, and after 7pm. To expend a bus and driver to pick up one or two people very early instead of spending that same resource on moving twenty or thirty a few hours later would be an act of discrimination. That would be saying the super early riser is twenty or thirty times more important than the others.

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