“The Means” is a report published for a group of London councils, examining the relationship and relevance of parking in ‘successful’ urban centres. The study involved looking at the evidence from reports prepared by foundations, industry associations and public agencies, such as Transport for London. A questionnaire was sent out to all London boroughs, requesting data on parking supply, charging and town centre economic indicators, such as footfall (number of visitors), empty retail units, business turnover and the rate of change in businesses in two town centre areas. Data from market research carried out with shoppers at 3 outer London based shopping centres was also analysed.
Key findings of the report include:
- More parking does not necessarily mean greater commercial success. A well managed parking scheme, where spaces ‘turn over’ frequently can help to increase the number of visitors coming to a town centre and thereby help business.
- There is no such thing as ‘free’ parking. The costs of developing and maintaining parking spaces and then enforcing proper use to ensure good traffic flow have to be borne by somebody. In the case of local authority operated parking (on street or off street) any costs that are not covered by parking revenue falls to local Council Tax payers.
- Shopkeepers consistently overestimate the share of their customers arriving by car. In some cases, this is by a factor of as much as 400%. In London, as well as other cities, the share of those accessing urban centres on foot or by public transport is much greater. Walking is the most important mode for accessing local town centres; public transport is the most important mode for travel to international centres, such as Oxford Street.
- Whilst car drivers spend more on a single trip, walkers and bus users spend more over a week or a month. In 2011, pedestrians in London town centres spent £147 more per month than those travelling by car. Compared with 2004, spending by public transport users and pedestrians has risen; spending by car users and cyclists has decreased.
- A good mix of shops and services and a quality environment are some of the most important factors in attracting visitors to town centres. If both these are poor, then changes to parking or accessibility are very unlikely to make a town centre more attractive.
- Boroughs collect a lot of data on parking but there is less information available on town centre economic factors. Finding ways to coordinate data collection across departments could be helpful to monitor the impacts of parking policies.
- There is very little evidence of the impacts of parking on the night time economy. This is an area that needs more research.
Given the number of local councils, lobby groups, and attention the ‘high street’ urban areas get, and the debate about free parking vs effects on the local businesses, this really solid research explores this relationship closely.
There is also a detailed appendix with data and graphical charts, providing further statistics from the research, which you can download from here.