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Published in "Parking News", the magazine of the British Parking Association, Issue 201, April 2002

Liam Keilthy won the BPA's Ernest Davies Memorial Award 2002 for this article. The Ernest Davies Award is granted annually for the 'best article' in Parking News, the magazine published by the British Parking Association.


* The Economics of Pay Car Parks
* Car Parking in Towns - A Very Big Challenge Today!
* The Economic Boom in Ireland: Parking Implications
* The Value of a Parking Space
* Cheaper parking on the way?
* Hospital Parking: Cars, Cranes and Confusion
* The Great Shopping Centre Car Park Space Hunt


Retailing in Ireland has been transformed over the past 40 years in much the same way as in the UK. Today there are almost 150 shopping centres spread throughout the country. They range from the smaller convenience local centre to the larger city centre shopping centres including ILAC Centre, St Stephens Green and Jervis Centres in Dublin, Merchants Quay in Cork, Foyleside in Derry and Castle Court in Belfast to the out-of-town centres on the edge of Dublin including Blanchardstown, Tallaght and Liffey Valley in Dublin. These latter are 350,000/400,000 sq. ft in size and include major UK retailers along with domestic leaders in the business.

The following tables illustrates the scale, number and supply of parking spaces in shopping centres in the Republic of Ireland in 2000.

Size in sq. ft. No. of Centres Average No. of Spaces
0 to 40,000 20 214
40,001 to 80,000 50 319
80,001 to 120,000 31 465
120,001 to 160,000 16 634
160,001 to 220,000 8 787
220.001+ 9 1773
Totals 134 520

The 15 million sq. ft of retail floor space represented in these centres have almost 70,000 parking spaces associated with them. Only one in six of these centres have paid parking.

Parking is ultimately a secondary activity. The days of the 'Wild West' - the cowboy arriving in town and looking for a place to stable his 'bronco' while he went off to the local stores, bars etc. - are little different from today's shopper arriving at a shopping centre and searching for a parking space to stable his/her car! They both have other things on their minds and their choice of transport was simply a means to achieving their main goal -shopping, leisure, work etc.

In this paper I hope to share with you some of the lessons learnt by Park Rite over the years at our different shopping centre car parks. In particular I want to share with you some of the results of customer research we have undertaken and to illustrate some of the differences between two different types of shopping centre car parks:

  1. A very large well established multi-storey car park serving patrons of a national shopping centre and;

  2. A large surface car park located beside a regional shopping centre in a medium sized provincial centre, and serving shoppers in a more limited area.

The car parks have a number of things in common including that they are:

  • almost exclusively shoppers' car parks with little or no contract parking and no other significant 'magnets' attracting parkers to them;

  • pay car parks trading in areas where on-street parking charges apply.

In both cases the car parks are well established and very accessible from the main road networks. For commercial reasons I won't identify the specific sites.

The basic statistics

Average stay

In the national shopping centre the average stay of parkers is fairly steady at 2.3 hours except during December when it increases to 3.5 hours reflecting the changes in shopping behaviour during this period. In the regional centre the average stay is 1.5 hours. The pattern of usage across a whole week is clearly illustrated in the following table:

Stay Hours O to 1 1 to 2 2 to 3 3 to 4 4+
National 26% 35% 23% 9% 7%
Regional 67% 16% 3% 1% 13%

Cars per space

On a busy day the city centre car park is pushed to cater for 4 cars per space per day while the regional centre comfortably caters for 6 cars per day. However when you factor in the difference in the average stays then hours sold per space are shown in the following table patterns:

Stay Cars/space Average stay Hours sold
National 3.5 2.4 8.4
Regional 6 1.1 6.6

It is not unusual for professionally managed car parks at regional/convenience centres to cater for 8 to 10 cars per space per day.

Daily occupancy levels

The average occupancy levels vary across the day, between days of the week and by time of year. However the following graph illustrates the patterns well:

The average day time occupancy levels recorded on this day were 30% to 35% in both facilities. Across the year they average 50%. The graph reflects the actual usage on a Friday in March. The regional car park has an almost flat character to it reflecting a relatively constant turnover with low average stay while the national centre reflects the twin peaks of the morning and afternoon cycles of low turnover and long stays in the surrounding shops.

The Surveys

The surveys were carried out over a full week during summer months and involved more than 1,000 personal interviews in the car parks.

Purpose of visit

When asked what the purpose of their visits on the day in question patrons replied as follows:

Purpose of visit National Regional
Shopping 77% 69%
Work 19% 15%
Leisure 1% 4%
Other 3% 12%
Totals 100% 100%

The mix of trips is a very critical factor in planning of any car park as it has a dramatic impact on the occupancy levels in a car park. If parking provision is low then long-stay parkera occupy a higher proportion of the available capacity. This results in short-stay parkers having to compete for spaces and usually these are at the perimeter of the car park and remote from the primary destinations.

Even in car parks with aggressive progressive tariffs there will always be some cars that stay for long periods. These can be service engineers visiting local premises, parking close to their destination and staying all day. They are price indifferent as the cost of the parking is being paid by their client!

Residence of patrons

In Dublin there is a definite northside and southside pattern to shopping as there is to many aspects of life. In the national shopping centre southsiders shop south side and northsiders shop north side. The city has two large concentrations of shopping serving these markets - Henry St/0'Connell St on the northside and Grafton St on the southside. Because the city is located on the coast there is no eastern segment to the catchment.

Almost 70% of the national shopping centre parkers come from within Dublin county ie within a radius of c. 20 miles of the city centre. A further 23% come from the immediately adjacent counties to the west and south with very few from the north and elsewhere in Ireland.

At the regional centre 42% were from the immediate urban area while an additional 16% were from within a 5-mile radius of the centre.

Frequency of visits

When asked how often they use the particular car parks the patrons replied as follows:

Frequency of visit National Regional
Daily 2% 16%
2 or 3 times per week 14% 30%
Weekly 23% 20%
Every other week 16% 9%
Monthly 14% 8%
Less often 31% 17%

Bearing in mind that all of these people were driving cars it is interesting to note the high numbers visiting the centres on a daily basis.

Average party size

In reply to a question on the number of persons in the party the respondents in the national centres indicated 1.6 with 84% adults and 16% children. In the regional centres the figures were also 1.6 but 73% were adults and 27% children.

Timing of parking decision

We asked people when they had made the decision about where to park on reaching their destination. 79% had made this decision before they reached the city centre confirming the belief that most shoppers do not consider alternative parking options once they have decided on their primary destination ie 'I will shop in Henry St today therefore I will park at the ILAC Centre.'

Factors influencing the parking decision

The perception of many traders that price is a significant factor in the parking decision is not borne out by the Park Rite research as the following table illustrates:

Factor influencing decision National Regional
Availability of spaces/convenience 69% 68%
Security 2% 2%
Ease of entry/exit 30% 13%

Average spend

Our research indicates that the average spend,of car-borne shoppers at these facilities is 60 in the national centre and 25 per visit in the regional centre. Extending these figures to the numbers of cars per space gives a spend per space of 175 per day in the national centre and 150 per day in the regional centre.

Satisfaction with car parks

The issues that were most likely to receive a negative comment in the car parks, were signage, entry/exit and price.

Factors receiving the highest positive ratings were cleanliness staff courtesy and lighting.

Sex and age

The mixture of males and females interviewed was 40/60 in the national centre and 46/54 in the regional centre. The average age of the persons interviewed was 40 in the larger centre and 45 in the regional centre.


The key points we draw from all of this include the following:

  • The success of a shopper's car park is entirely a function of the success of the tenants in the centre. A very successful centre will generate more traffic and hence parking demand than a similar sized centre with poor tenant mix.

  • Demand for parking is going to be a direct function of the levels and times of shopping activity. Shoppers start to flow into our car parks between 10 and 11am and many of these then leave by lunchtime when a second inflow of afternoon shoppers enter. These tend to leave by 4.30/5.00pm. However on late shopping days these patterns are overlaid by the evening trade. On a day when the shopping centre is closed there is little or no demand for parking. Car parks are an important element of any shopping centre, as without them an increasing number of potential patrons will choose to shop elsewhere.

  • The average stay in a national comparison shopping centre will be between 2 and 3 hours with resulting lower turnover per space. In a regional centre the average stay will be c. 1 hours and cars per space per day will be higher at 6 or even 10 cars per day.

  • Short-stay shoppers are not price sensitive when it comes to parking. They are however very sensitive to issues of convenience and sense of both personal and vehicular security.

  • Given a choice shoppers will almost always prefer a surface car park to a multi-storey structure.

  • Research in Europe suggests that shoppers and other short stay visitors prefer not to have to walk more than about 180 metres from their cars to their destinations.

The introduction of professional parking managers to shopping centres results in:

  • Dramatic increases in availability of prime spaces for the primary customers of the centre ie shoppers:

  • The virtual guarantee that disabled parking spaces will be available for disabled drivers only;

  • The introduction of dedicated spaces for parents and toddlers spaces to ensure that they have wide spaces to cope with buggies, groceries etc in a convenient location;

  • The orderly arrangement of parking for staff of the shops;

  • The upgrading of the lighting, cleanliness, security, signage, markings and traffic flows generally;

  • The presence in the car park of shopping centre ambassadors to assist with all of the normal day to day issues that arise in a busy car park - directions to the shops, puncture repairs, flat battery, first aid and of course extra pairs of eyes for centre security;

  • If charging is introduced then the car park can become a significant source of revenues for the landlord/owners without affecting the numbers of car-borne shoppers and in many cases with an increase in usage because of improved accessibility.

As always the views expressed in this article are entirely my own. I would welcome comment and comparative analysis.

Published in:
PARKING NEWS - Issue No. 201 April 2002
The journal of the British Parking Association

Liam Keilthy
CEO of Park Rite Limited 1994-2001.
Phone: 1-353-1-2893746 Email: Liam Keilthy

Copyright © LK 2002 All rights reserved
This article is reproduced here with the permission of the author. Copyright remains at all times with the author, and the opinions expressed are his alone.

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