Transportblog’s written at length about the economic harm caused by minimum parking requirements (MPRs). By requiring every new development to adopt a “one size fits all” to parking provision, MPRs consume expensive land, drive up costs for businesses and households, and encouraging more congestion and less use of public transport, walking, and cycling.
Of course, even in the absence of MPRs many businesses and households would want to provide parking. But others might not. Different people have different needs and desires, and a one size fits all MPR doesn’t respond well to that.
Fortunately, many New Zealand cities are starting to cut back on MPRs. In Auckland, the proposed Unitary Plan removes them from town centres (following on from the highly successful removal of MPRs from the city centre in the late 1990s) and the higher-density residential zone. But it’s still leaving them in place in most residential zones, which cover the majority of the city.
Is this a good idea? One could argue, I suppose, that MPRs in residential zones won’t be very costly because the households living in these areas will all own cars and will therefore all want parking. This argument is a bit circular – if it were true, it would actually mean that there is little need to have MPRs. But is it true?
In order to find out, I took a look at Statistics NZ’s data on household car ownership from the 2013 Census. Every Census, Stats NZ gathers data on the number of cars owned by each household throughout the country. This data can give us rich insights into the demographics and location of Auckland’s car-free households.
Here’s one look at the data. I’ve broken down Auckland’s approximately 470,000 households by the number of cars that they own. As you can see, the vast majority of Auckland households own cars. This is a costly proposition, but frequently a necessary one due to Auckland’s under-investment in frequent public transport and safe walking and cycling options.
But let’s not look only at the mean: the variance is equally important when considering the impact of planning regulations. Approximately 33,500 households, or 7.6% of all Auckland households, own no cars. (My household falls into this category – three people, zero cars.) MPRs will require car-free households to buy parking spaces or garages that they don’t need. Sure, it’s possible for them to use garages for storage or workshop space, but it would be better to have another bedroom (or a smaller, cheaper dwelling) instead.
Car-free households face a double budgetary whammy from MPRs. Because they require retailers to over-provide parking, parking costs are bundled into the price of everyone’s merchandise rather than charged directly to drivers. This means that every time someone who doesn’t own a car goes to the supermarket or mall, they are effectively subsidising people who drove there.
In short, MPRs can be costly for households who don’t own cars. When considering the effects of this policy, it’s necessary to ask: Can those households afford to bear those costs?
Here’s some relevant data from the Census. It shows the share of households in each income band who don’t own cars. Almost all high-income households own cars, but a large share of low-income households don’t own cars. Almost one-third of households earning less than $20,000 and one-fifth of households earning between $20,000 and $30,000 own no cars.
Overall, two-thirds (66.7%) of car-free households earned less than $50,000 a year. For comparison, Census data shows that the median household income in Auckland was $76,500 in 2013. Car-free households are overwhelmingly concentrated in the bottom quartile of the income distribution, which means that MPRs are a sharply regressive policy. They impose high costs on the people who are least able to pay, while having few effects on high-income households.
Finally, it’s worth taking a look at the geographical distribution of Auckland’s 33,500 car-free households. One of the ways in which households can avoid the costs of car ownership is to live in places which offer other ways of getting around or good proximity to jobs, shops, and amenities.
I’ve put together a quick map showing the number of car-free households in each Auckland area unit. Dark blue shows areas with more car-free households, while yellow shows areas with few car-free households. A few things pop out from this map. The first is that the largest concentrations of car-free households are in the city centre – fewer than half of city centre households own cars. This is not surprising – it’s costly to warehouse cars downtown and easy to get by without one.
But don’t let that fool you: car-free households are distributed widely throughout Auckland’s urbanised area. Only 16% of the region’s car-free households live in the city centre. Many, many more people are living without cars in west Auckland, south Auckland, the isthmus and even the North Shore. Orewa has a surprisingly large number of car-free households due to its status as a retirement community.
Because car-free households are living more or less everywhere in Auckland, the blanket application of MPRs in residential areas is likely to be inappropriate. And, because low-income households are more likely to own no cars, MPRs will tend to be heavily regressive. It’s a policy that many Aucklanders simply can’t afford.
Fortunately, it’s possible to imagine and implement better policies. As Transportblog has consistently argued, we can:
- Let people make up their own mind about parking – if they don’t want it, don’t make them buy it!
- Give people better transport choices by providing frequent, reliable public transport services and safe walking and cycling options – in other words, give them the choice to go without a car
- Make it easier for people to live in areas where they don’t need cars, and make it easier for people to “retrofit” underperforming car-based places like Manukau centre.
What do you think about the equity impacts of MPRs? Do you think we could do things better?