Mexico City is notorious for having some of the world’s worst traffic congestion. For every baby born in Mexico City, it’s estimated that the city’s vehicle population grows by two (Center for Sustainable Transport).
Until recently, Mexico City’s transport policies failed to address the congestion, pollution, and chaos that parking demand was creating in the city’s downtown districts. Prior to parking reforms, entrepreneurial men and women known as franeleros or los viene-viene had stepped into the management void. Standing curbside, these informal valets waved red flags to guide motorists toward available on-street parking (charging just a few cents for their services, and for follow-up “protection” of the parked vehicles). Vehicles were regularly parked on sidewalks and illegally parked in private driveways. Official parking regulations were widely flouted. This left the franeleros in control of one of the most effective congestion-management tools available to any city: parking management.
With traffic congestion reaching unbearable levels, Mexico City decided significant change was needed. On the heels of a successful public bike-share roll out (Ecobici), the city was inspired to continue with more transport reforms and chose to tackle on-street parking.
The goal of Mexico City’s new parking program is ambitious: to bring order and reform to an informal on-street parking culture, by applying demand-based parking management principles using parking meters and a large team of enforcement officers. Key to the effort was identifying neighborhoods where parking management would be welcomed by local stakeholders. Mexico City started the program in the commercial zones and avoided the areas considered more mixed-use/local residential. This strategy announced to residents that the goal of the project was to maximize turnover in places where short-term stays are most welcome by stores, and not to change long-term parking habits in residential districts. Initial implementation was a challenge, but the program has been remarkably successful in creating order from chaos—turning around a deeply entrenched (not to mention extra-legal) parking culture, and, most remarkably, generating popular enthusiasm for parking meters.
Despite obvious differences between Mexico City and a typical suburban community in the U.S., the following lessons are ripe for export to a downtown near you:
- Do not make it all about the money. At first, Mexico City set out to use this program to increase revenues. Unsurprisingly, this message did not sit well with the community and other stakeholders. The city worked to change its goals and messaging to instead emphasize the program’s mobility benefits, the beneficial impact on the street environment, and increased parking availability for drivers.
- Involve the key stakeholders. Mexico City authorities could have implemented the meter system and ignored the future of the franeleros. Instead, the city integrated the future of the franeleros into their larger plan: the city helped establish a new company that uses parking meter revenue to do local public works projects. Many franeleros were hired as employees of this new company. U.S. communities have a variety of problems with downtown parking—from the employees who park all day in prime on-street spaces to the pizza delivery guy who double parks every day during rush hour. A good parking management plan needs to engage all users and effectively address local nuances.
- Market a recognizable brand. ecoParq has a complete marketing and communications strategy, including a recognizable name, website, logo, social media and institutional image. Marketing began with a campaign before meters were put on the streets. PARK Smart in New York City, SFpark in San Francisco, and LA Express Park in Los Angeles have all followed suit, branding their parking initiatives with recognizable materials and easy access to information about the system.
Find out more about ecoParq and Mexico City’s parking management reform: http://www.ecoparq.com.mx/.