Car parking policy – cheap isn’t good

This article first appeared at TraNZport and is republished with permission.

If you want to see heads explode, start talking about car parking. Better yet, tell someone that car park fees should be increased. Watch their face go red before exploding in rage.

It’s understandable. Well, sort of. Most people in New Zealand still get around in motor vehicles, so their thoughts about transport generally relate to ‘making my car go faster/better’. This is why it is difficult to have discussions about removing car parks for bus or cycle lanes, making streets pedestrian friendly, re-balancing transport spending from predominantly roads to a mixture of modes, including public and rapid transit. Those things actually help people by providing greater alternative transport options that, can improve transport times during peak hours for many people, and also have the benefit of removing unnecessary car journeys from our roads, which is a good thing for those who still need or prefer to drive.

However, when the default position is that most people drive a car, it can be hard for most to see how such solutions directly benefit them. Instead, it is easier to imagine that “improvements” that directly relate to their current transport choices (i.e. driving) are the best ones, even if the devil is in the detail.

The problem is that improving public transport, building cycle lanes, rapid transit investment, and so on, is really only half of the equation of changing transport behaviours. Think of those types of interventions as very much the “carrot”. The other half of the equation is very much the “stick”. Now, I could go into detail about a number of “stick”-type interventions like congestion charging, but what I want to focus on here is the price of inner-city car parking, looking at Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch and how they compare, and what outcomes each city is experiencing. I will focus on off-street and on-street parking, Monday to Friday only.

Parking in… Auckland


New Zealand’s largest city has a fairly large on-street metered parking zone in the Central Business District (CBD), and it is divided into three zones with different pricing schedules, as can be seen below.

Parking off aucks

Zone 1, in the most central part of the CBD, is the most expensive at $5 per hour for the first two hours, then $10 for every hour thereafter. After 6pm, prices halve. Zones 2 and 3 are $3.50 and $3 per hour for the first two hours respectively, and $7 and $6 respectively for every hour thereafter. Again, after 6pm, prices effectively halve.


I looked at a couple of off-street council car parks to get a feel for prices. The Downtown car park charges $4.50 per hour, and a maximum of $40 for more than eight hours. The Civic car park, further south near the “Zone 2” boundary, costs $4 per hour, and a maximum of $24 for more than five hours.

I also checked out Wilson Parking rates – which I will for each city – and they charge $5-6 per half hour, $15 for an hour, or $7.50 per half hour to a maximum of $60 per day in the area around “Zone 1”. In less central parts of the city, rates were about $5-$4 per hour and $24-$30 for 12 hours. The use of the “ParkMate” app knocked off a bit, and “early bird” parking reduced 12 hour rates by about a third. The parking rates for Wilson, however, were highly diverse, so this just provides a snapshot, and the ParkMate and earlybird deals didn’t apply across the board.

Parking in… Wellington


The capital city was surprisingly a little cheaper than Auckland, ranging from $2.50 to $4.50 per hour across the CBD and Te Aro. Unfortunately, I was not able to find a map to show this area, nor where certain charges apply, but like Auckland the hours applied are 8am to 6pm most weekdays (to 8pm on Fridays).


Wellington’s Clifton car park is $4.50 per hour throughout the day, or a maximum of $18. Other car parks offer $4 per hour parking, some with a maximum stay of two hours, others charging a $14 maximum for up to 12 hours.

Wilson parking offers a very diverse range of fees, depending on location. Near the railway station they are charging $12 for the first hour and $6 per hour thereafter, up to $45 for a 24 hour period. In other parts they charge $5-6 per hour up to a maximum of $45-48. Early bird prices apply at some car parks, knocking off more than half the price (for example at the James Cook Hotel where it is $19 to 7pm).

Parking in… Christchurch


The southern capital has most meters at $3.10 per hour, with some newly introduced $2 per hour parking in some parts of the city, making it the cheapest of the three. The real interesting thing, however, is where these charges apply and where they don’t. While I don’t have a map for Wellington, I can assure readers that metered parking has quite a bit of coverage and it is quite difficult to find a free and easy car park in the vicinity of the CBD. The map below shows Christchurch’s metered parking, and shows how the coverage is not absolute. many a person will tell you that they know there secret spots, and I myself have one or three when in the city and need to use a car. Remember, Christchurch is a flat city laid out on a grid, so walking seemingly longer distances isn’t too difficult.

Parking off chch


Anecdotally, I often hear (and read from angry Stuff commentators) that Christchurch has a dearth of parking. Well, check out the map below. I really don’t think that is the case at all, with six multi-level car park buildings and a plethora of other parking sites (mostly in empty building sites).


The council’s Lichfield Street car park charges $2.80 per hour, or $15 all day. Bear in mind this is right smack-bang in the centre of the CBD. It’s worth noting that there were once quite a few council owned car parks, but now most are privately owned. The Crossing car park building nearby charges just $2 for the first two hours and $2 per half-hour thereafter, for a maximum of $16 per day. The Innovation car park building charges $3 for the first hour and $1.50 per half-hour thereafter, for a maximum of $14 per day.

Wilson parking’s larger car park buildings (West End and Art Gallery) charge $4 and $5 for the first hour, then half those rates per half hour respectively to a maximum of $24 for all day parking. Earlybird and ParkMate rates are $14.

It’s also worth pointing out that there are a plethora of lower quality car parks on building sites that charge very little, sometimes just $3 an hour.

[Even 8 years on there are still plenty of these temporary carparks around town – Ed]
So, what does this all look like?

I’ve created the below table to give an overview of the parking situations in each city:

parkin comp.PNG

There are a couple of things I will point out. First, I am assuming (and will explain below) that cheap parking is a bad thing. Hence the “rankings” which are really just a bit of fun on my part. Second, it’s worth pointing out that Christchurch really appears to have poor coverage paid on-street parking in the CBD, which means it is easy to park somewhere else and walk in, paying nothing for an entire day of parking (see the map displayed earlier). It is definitely worth keeping this in mind, as it makes the Christchurch situation that much worse.

So, what does this mean?

Christchurch has the worst rates of public transport use, the worst transport behaviours, and the worst transport outcomes, by a country mile. Period.

Now, I understand that some people might suggest that the price of parking being cheaper is not necessarily a bad thing, some might even see it as an advantage over living in Auckland and Wellington where you “pay through the nose”. I have two things to say to this: first, I never want to hear someone complain about the pricing or availability of parking in Christchurch ever again; second, there is no doubt that the availability of parking in Christchurch is linked to the poor transport outcomes we are seeing, which is now seen as a millstone around the city’s economy. Total and per capita public transport use is abysmal, and as the metro area grows rapidly beyond half a million, maintaining cheap car parking policies, and other policies that encourage or subsidise car use, simply isn’t sustainable nor desirable.

Auckland, on the other hand, is really showing the way and its recent milestone of achieving a total of 100 million passenger journeys on its public transport network in a year reflects its hard work. This is includes not just investing in rapid transit and other initiatives, but also implementing polices that reflect the true value of things like car parking. You can’t expect people to use a bus or train if you’re effectively undermining it by undervaluing space.

This also illustrates why people who are criticising ‘Let’s Get Wellington Moving’ for being anti-car are extremely misguided. Focusing on mode makes us biased towards the default mode (usually cars), despite whether that is actually the best or even a workable option, and this leads to extremely poor solutions and outcomes. Take, for instance, the debacle about the Mt Victoria tunnel and whether it should be for cars or used by high capacity vehicles only. The focus should be on the best solutions to get the best outcomes, not about “what is in it for cars?”


Expensive car parking is not a problem – we should be focusing on increasing  accessibility through the means that work the best and lead to desired outcomes, not worrying about how much it costs to park your car or how close you can get your car to work or the shops. Cheap car parking will not result in the social and economic outcomes desired; it will not reduce congestion, it will not reinvigorate the local economy, and it will not improve overall access. Check out this great post by Brendon Harre for more information on this, particularly in relation to Christchurch.


Apologies to all two of my readers for such a long drink between posts, but I’ve been extremely busy lately working on things that put bread (and flat whites) on the table. Rest assured I am slowly compiling a list of topics to write on, and I should (hopefully) have a steady stream of interesting pieces going up over the next few months.

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