The National Parking Association recently released its third annual report entitled, “Parking in America,” a survey of the parking industry in the United States and Canada. The report, which examines parking rates, revenue, and employment trends in the industry, is based on a survey of more than 775 parking organizations throughout central business districts in cities and suburbs throughout North America.

Parking revenues feel pinch of recession-but not across the board

Not surprisingly, parking revenues have not been sheltered from the recession, according to the survey. Parking facilities that were hit the hardest were those in and near airports, with 56 percent of on-airport and 44 percent of off-airport facilities reporting a decrease in revenues from the 2009 survey.

Municipal operators, and parking facilities operated by colleges, universities, and hospitals were less impacted by the economic downturn. In fact, parking facilities in each of these sectors reported an increase in revenues.

“One of the most interesting findings of this year’s survey was that 46 percent of municipal operators reported an increase in parking revenues over the past year,” said Christine Banning, CAE, president of the National Parking Association.

One explanation is that, as a group, municipal operators were positively impacted by the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act, which brought employees and/or contractors into the central business district to work on projects funded by stimulus monies, she said.

On the other hand, Banning pointed out that 40 percent of private parking facility operators reported a decrease in revenues, a trend consistent with the rise in unemployment.

Decreases in parking rates reflect economic trends

In general, parking rates fell over the past year. The average price for a premium downtown parking space fell approximately 20 percent – from $20.01 per day to $15.92 – between 2009 and 2010, while the average premium monthly rate dropped from $281 to $240.

“These daily and monthly price trends reflect the state of the economy,” according to Banning.

While the gap between the most and least expensive average parking rates narrowed, the report revealed significant variances among cities. In New York City, for example, the most expensive 12-24 hour parking rate was $44.00, with San Francisco not far behind, at $40.00. But at the other extreme, parking patrons in Decatur, Illinois could pay as little as $2.00 to park for a 12-24 hour period, along with Canton, Ohio, whose lowest reported rate was $1.25 for the day.

While supply and demand are obvious key factors that influence parking rates, other factors can enter the equation as well. Insurance rates on public and private facilities can affect rates, along with taxes that can get tacked onto basic operating costs.

Parking as an urban planning tool

The price and availability of parking are factors that can encourage or detract people from visiting retail centers and local businesses. Community planners can encourage turnover by setting time limits, and charging appropriate fees.

By gaining insight into community needs, planners can create and/or maintain parking options that balance the inflow and outflow of vehicles as well as pedestrian traffic. Efficiency is a product of matching needs with cost.

Banning says, “Planners who understand usage patterns can make the right types of parking services available to patrons at the right time and the right price. One of the best qualities planners can bring to the table is the ability to balance the needs of consumers, businesses, and government in the community.”

“When parking is accessible, it brings people together to conduct business, attend universities, and use government services. Good planning helps create vibrant local economies and business centers.”