Using commuter parking policy to drive sustainable commuting choices

By Isobel Duxfield / Updated: 16 Aug 2021

Commuting plays a central role in determining mobility patterns in many cities. Pre-pandemic, commuting accounted for almost 20% of trips, with a decade-on-decade rise in the distances travelled. While COVID-19, and the associated stay-at-home orders, have transformed the commuting landscape for office-based professionals, at least temporarily, work-related travel continues to be a contributor to the level of mobility found in many cities and regions.

Changes to employer-paid parking regimes are seeking to encourage more sustainable commuting choices. Incentives provided by employers can have an important role in directing commuting choices: the provision of public transport tickets and cycle-to-work schemes are some of the key tools that employers can use to encourage more sustainable commuting and work-related travel choices.

In the US, access to parking is being targeted to change commuting trends. In the US, over 90% of commuters drive to work, with 95% of American car commuters parking for free at work, which is enabled by an income tax exemption for employer-paid parking. A survey of 5,060 employees and 118 employers in central Los Angeles found that commuters drive 29 km per day on average if drivers pay for their parking, while they drive 39 km per day if employers paid for their parking.

In the District of Columbia, employers (with over 20 staff) that subsidise parking are obliged to provide non-driving commuters with a similar financial recompense. This “parking cash out” follows similar legislation in California, which was passed in 1992 and which reduced solo-driving by 17% and vehicle emissions for commuting by 12%. Critically, employers find such schemes easy to navigate and implement, while federal income tax revenue increased by $48 a year for each employee who was offered the "parking cash out", because some commuters preferred taxable cash to a tax-exempt parking subsidy.

In Europe, many cities and regions are also looking to tackle commuting related emissions by providing viable alternatives. The Dutch Arnhem-Nijmegen City Region has used different incentives and improvements in active travel infrastructure to avoid 100,000 car trips during rush hour. In Belgium, the Brussels region has encouraged the use of shared mobility alternatives. As with the District of Columbia and California, commuters are not penalised, but rather provided with alternative transport options for making more sustainable choices.

This article originally appeared on Bloomberg city lab on 14 July 2021, with additional material from POLIS Network.

Photo Credit: ©diy13 hispan no permission to re-use image(s) without separate licence from Shutterstock

Region: 
Non-europe
Country: 
USA
Topic: 
Mobility management