Minimum off-street car parking requirements imposed by the state government on apartments in Melbourne are too high and may be inflating the price of property with wasted space delegated to unused parking spaces, Australian researchers have said.

A new paper1 published in the Journal of Transport Geography in June, compared car ownership data in select regions around Melbourne with the designated government-imposed car parking requirements in those areas, finding that there was “considerable scope” to lower these requirements regardless of whether people were close to built up areas with good public transport or not.

This recent research complements the findings of an earlier paper2 from January 2020 which revealed that high quality, frequent public transport actually reduced the amount of car parking needed for apartments close to trains, trams and buses in Melbourne.

Vice-Chancellor’s Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Research of RMIT University, Dr Chris De Gruyter was lead author of both papers which aimed to provide a more evidence-based approach for government agencies when managing car parking more efficiently in their areas. While the current requirements were intuitively implemented, they did not seem to be based much evidence, he said.

“There simply aren’t enough surveys being done of apartment buildings to check how many spaces are used. Over the years, I’ve been encouraging government agencies to actually do something about this and collect evidence so that we have evidence-based policies on this rather than parking requirements that have little basis and have barely changed since the 1950s,” he told Lab Down Under.

Parking overlays fine but requirements could be lower

The most recent paper examined the appropriateness of parking requirements in areas called ‘parking overlays’ which are typically based around built-up centres with high levels of activity. Areas subject to parking overlays usually contain good public transport and a mixture of facilities, services and land uses which lower the need for car use and thus have lower off-street parking requirements than other areas.

The actual figure for these requirements varies from area to area, but they are usually defined as the minimum number of car parking spaces required per dwelling or bedroom.

The researchers looked at Australian Census data, comparing demographic and car ownership levels within the parking overlays with areas immediately outside those regions. This added a kind of control to the study, Dr De Gruyter said.

“We found some significant differences which meant that these parking overlays were appropriate for where they were located because they had lower car ownership levels and therefore lower car parking demand,” he told Lab Down Under.

“However the car ownership levels within those parking overlays were still much lower in a lot of cases than the actual car parking requirements.”

While the research was specific to Melbourne, the methods used could be replicated in other cities particularly across Australia where the same type of Census data could be used, Dr De Gruyter said.

“And outside of Australia, general concerns about minimum parking requirements could be taken into account when designing future car parking requirements in other cities,” he added.

Massive waste of space drives up prices

While these parking requirements were created on an “intuitive” basis, Dr De Gruyter said they were “conservative” and have led to an oversupply of off-street parking. This then pushed up the price of real estate, he added.

“If you go into the buildings, which I’ve done in previous research, only around 60 per cent of the spaces are used on average and that’s a massive waste of space, resources and money,” he told Lab Down Under.

With individual car parking spaces costing anywhere from $30,000 to more than $100,000 depending on the location in Melbourne, this could then impact housing affordability. This is backed up by studies from the USA which show garage parking adds an extra 17 per cent to a unit’s rent and that houses without parking sold for 12 per cent cheaper than houses with parking.

“I often hear people say that minimum parking requirements are killing our cities and I couldn’t agree more with that. They indirectly affect our liveability. It sounds really weird to say a car parking requirement affects people’s liveability but when you follow the path through, having these car parking requirements set as a minimum drives up the cost of housing and have been shown to be associated with increased car use. Those things combined have an impact because greater car use, less active travel and less disposable income is going to affect our liveability.”

Dr De Gruyter noted that residents of apartment blocks were often not parking on the street either, a common but false perception amongst the owners of detached housing, because they typically were not eligible to get on-street parking permits.

“The majority of on-street parking is actually used by residents who live in detached housing. They generally have a garage but they fill it with junk and don’t put a car in it. They also have a driveway which they often don’t put their car in. They put it on the street. So the people who are often complaining are the ones who are actually causing the problem,” he said.

A closer look at car parking requirements

Dr De Gruyter recommended that Victoria’s state-wide car parking requirements be changed because the demand for car parking varied from area to area. A good way to have a more granular approach to parking was looking at public transport service levels, he said.

“So in areas where there are high public transport service levels, you could have lower car parking requirements. And in areas where there’s no public transport, you could have a higher parking requirement.”

This approach has already been taken in Greater London via something called a Public Transport Accessibility Level (PTAL) score. Regions with high PTAL scores have lower car parking requirements with the opposite being true for areas with lower PTAL scores.

Another approach was to actually scrap minimum car parking requirements altogether and replace this criteria with a maximum level, Dr De Gruyter said.

“By doing that, the developer doesn’t have to provide a minimum amount of parking. They could provide less than that and even go all the way down to zero if they wanted to. A lot of people would say that the developers would simply provide no parking then. Do you think they’d be able to sell their apartments if they did that? I don’t think they’d be doing that if they couldn’t sell anything.”

Some Victoria councils like the City of Maribyrnong in Footscray already use a combination of minimum and maximum car parking requirements so that developers have to stick within a range of required parking for their new apartments.

A third option was what Dr De Gruyter called “unbundled parking” where the parking space was sold on a separate deed to the apartment itself and a buyer could decide whether or not they wanted to pay the extra amount if they had a car.

“That way, the cost of everything is shown up-front. So say an apartment is $600,000 and if you want the parking space, that’s an extra $50,000. Then you can see it. A resident purchaser can see very clearly what the price is and actually make a decision. Do I really want a parking space? Maybe I could go without one. Or maybe I want two because we’ve got two cars and I’m willing to pay for that.”

Parking requirements for travel demand management

Dr De Gruyter said planners should use the insights from this paper with that of his earlier work of January 2020 which looked at how car ownership was influenced by public transport quality.

“The earlier paper highlighted that car ownership is influenced by public transport service quality, so in terms of how often public transport services run and their frequency. That should be taken into account more when designing parking requirements rather than just looking at how close a development is to a public transport stop.”

For example, an apartment could be close to a bus stop but if a bus passes by once or twice an hour, that would have very little impact on car ownership, and therefore car parking demand, he said.

Melbourne city planners could also look at using these car parking requirements as a travel demand management tool instead of simply catering to demand in a reactive way, Dr De Gruyter told Lab Down Under.

“We could be more ambitious and use them as a travel demand management tool where parking requirements are a bit lower and this actually forces people to really consider if they need a car. It may encourage people to not own a car as a result,” he said.

“The City of Melbourne is very good at this. They have maximum parking requirements and their parking requirements are quite low. This is associated with far lower car ownership in that area. That sort of approach could be extended to other areas of Melbourne where it’s appropriate.”

As well as RMIT, the researchers for these two papers came from the School of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences at La Trobe University and Monash Art Design & Architecture at Monash University.

For more information on Dr De Gruyter’s research, check out his RMIT University webpage, Google Scholar page, LinkedIn profile, and ResearchGate page.

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1 De Gruyter C, Davies L, Truong LT. Examining spatial variations in minimum residential parking requirements in Melbourne. Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 94, June 2021, 103096.

2 De Gruyter C, Truong LT, Taylor EJ. Can high quality public transport support reduced car parking requirements for new residential apartments? Journal of Transport Geography, Volume 82, January 2020, 102627.

Featured image: Car park. Picture by Carl S from Pixabay. Used under the Pixabay licence.

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