France: preparing for a revolution in city parking

France: preparing for a revolution in city parking

Cities will manage pricing, supervision and collection from paid parking spaces on public roads from 1 January onwards. This is a new institutional and regulatory organisation that raises questions. Which model should prevail? What are the pitfalls to avoid? We offer an overview with François Le Vert, deputy director of Statiom, a consultancy specialising in parking and mobility. François Le Vert authored a European benchmark of best practice for GART (French Association of Public Transport Authorities).

The reform of parking systems raises a lot of questions. What do you think about it?

Local authorities are all at sea. They have concerns about the reform, which is very healthy for the transport sector. Decisions will be made as close as possible to the field in light of local factors.
Current regulations are poorly tailored. Just look at the payment rate of parking fees. Only 22% of French people spontaneously pay, a figure which plummets to 10% of Parisians. Some of our neighbours, however, are close to 80% of spontaneous payments.

What are the parking challenges for towns and cities?

Parking is an instrument for managing movements and modal practice. If we want to limit use of cars in cities, parking is a far more effective regulator than creating bottlenecks on roads.

What are the main learnings from your European survey?

If there is one to keep in mind, it would be the need for a global view in a parking policy that offers a consistent vision of all aspects of parking management: pricing, penalties, supervision, managing complaints and, more broadly, the public transport policy. In Barcelona, making sure the parking policy is consistent with the mobility policy has led to conclusive results in terms of managing public areas, lower usage of individual cars and modal sharing.
What are the pricing policies in Europe?

They differ from one country to the next. The United Kingdom opted for high hourly rates. We also note that parking prices obey trends in line with public transport prices, another example of countries where parking and mobility policies are correlated. In Spain and Portugal, however, rates are low, but I would say that the most important equation, which is more important that the amount to pay, is the price structure for parking on the street as opposed to prices applied in car parks. If we want to focus on short-term parking in the street, an exponential price based on the amount of time spent will be a deterrent, especially if the price of car parks diminishes over time. If it remains expensive, however, cars will continue to take up space on streets, especially as there are few checks.

Which penalty policies have proved themselves?

There are primarily two approaches in Europe: ‘soft’ and ‘big stick’ policies. In Spain, if you pay for only part of the parking time, you do receive a fine, but it isn’t applied instantly. If you paid for two hours and have overrun your limit, you have two hours to pay only a minor fixed-rate amount thereafter. This is very progressive and is dependent on the driver’s good faith. Acceptability is good and there is a social consensus.
In the United Kingdom, the policy is more repressive with very high fines of up to 80 euros (even though they are reduced when paying quickly). Spontaneous payment rates are as high as in Spain, but there are many complaints, however, which cost a lot to manage.

What type of controls work best?

If we want effective controls, the analysis of experiments in Europe shows that they have to be made as consistent as possible by entrusting them to a single party. Most of the countries that have entrusted paid parking controls to dedicated agents and considered for illegal parking an offence to be sanctioned by the municipal police saw parking in highly monitored and paid parking areas move to prohibited and non-monitored areas where the local police is by definition less available.

Why are you lobbying to have the payment and control chains linked?

At present in France, the sequence of payment at the parking meter and controls are quite distinct, contrary to Amsterdam, for example. The result is that in Paris there are 1,700 agents monitoring 140,000 parking spaces, compared to only 75 for 160,000 spaces in Amsterdam.
Where’s the difference? Every inhabitant of Amsterdam records his/her registration number before paying. Agents are “happy” to drive down streets at 30 km/h scanning license plates with a camera linked in real time to a computer recording all payments in the city. Failure to pay is therefore immediately logged and the fine automated by computer without the agent even having to get out of the car.

What advice would you give to local authorities?

Communicate! The United Kingdom had to face very violent press campaigns because its new regulations were poorly sold in political terms. In France, the national government doesn’t communicate; it’s up to towns and cities to inform citizens of changes that will have a major impact. The quality of communication will directly determine how well new regulations are accepted.


François Le Vert
With 30 years’ experience in the parking sector in France, François Le Vert has served as the general delegate of the Fédération Nationale des Métiers du Stationnement. He has been an active contributor to discussions in the sector for over 15 years. An expert in French parking regulations, François Le Vert heads Statiom which specialises in mobility and parking consulting.

In Paris there are 1,700 agents monitoring 140,000 parking spaces, compared to only 75 for 160,000 spaces in Amsterdam.