A major rationale for the supply of parking spaces in city shopping centers is that customers won't come without them. The anecdotal argument makes sense — retailers believe that most consumers arrive by car and believe free or cheap parking plays a major role in choosing a destination — but the actual evidence is scant at best. A new review of commercial centers in Greater London, released late last month (via David King), concludes that retailers vastly overestimate the role free parking plays in their success.
The review was conducted earlier this year by the cross-party policy group London Councils. The group performed a thorough meta-analysis of the existing academic and public agency research on the role of parking in urban commerce. It also sent parking questionnaires to all 33 London boroughs (comprising the city center, as well as inner and outer areas) and conducted market research with shoppers at three commercial centers in the outer regions. The findings can be reduced down to four main reasons retailers don't need free parking to thrive.